By Beth Donze, Kids’ Clarion, Clarion Herald
On Oct. 30, fifth, sixth and seventh graders from St. Louis King of France School gained a new appreciation for the priests in their lives.
They spent most of that school day taking a behind-the-scenes tour of Notre Dame Seminary on South Carrollton Avenue, the graduate school home of a whopping 140 seminarians this academic year.
“I think (young visitors) are surprised that our men take classes and have to do homework and write papers,” said Father Deogratias Ekisa, vice rector of the seminary and a tour guide for the special field trip. ”Now they might think, ‘Oh! My priest had to go through all of this!’”
Many of the young visitors were surprised that seminarians actually lived on campus – in bedrooms on the second and third floors – and received lectures in classrooms that were even more spacious than those at their own campus in Metairie.
A special treat was strolling through the stacks of the two-floor library, which contain more than 90,000 books devoted mostly to the core subjects of philosophy and theology.
In the dining hall, which features a wooden wall carving of The Last Supper, they learned that seminarians eat three meals there, may pick up a snack anytime and bus their own tables.
In the waiting room outside the office of seminary rector-president Father James Wehner, the students noticed a pillow trumpeting the Pittsburgh Steelers, the football team from Father Wehner’s hometown.
The light-filled nook known as the “Family Room” might be the only space in New Orleans in which one can watch a Saints game next to a 700-year-old stained glass panel rescued from a church in France. Amid the framed photos of priestly ordination classes, the class photo from 1998 included two men who looked very familiar to the visitors: Father Ekisa, a former parochial vicar of St. Louis King of France; and Father Mark Raphael, the church’s current pastor and a member of the seminary’s faculty.
“This is my fourth job,” quipped Father Raphael, stepping out of a class he was teaching on Medieval history to point out historical and architectural highlights of the building.
He told his young parishioners that the seminary was built in 1923 by Archbishop John Shaw on what used to be a 40-acre dairy farm.
“When this building was designed, it was modeled on a French chateau called ‘Fontainebleau.’ You can Google that!” Father Raphael told the students.
Before Mass, while seated in the seminary’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Father Raphael said the black-and-white tiled flooring was designed to replicate the flooring inside St. Louis Cathedral. He also noted that the plain wall panels beneath the chapel’s Stations of the Cross once housed double doors that could be opened for ventilation – before the age of air conditioning.
After Mass, at the field trip’s concluding lunch around the seminary pool, seventh grader Linzy Bates said she was impressed at “how they do Mass differently here than I’ve ever experienced,” pointing to the Latin hymns, full men’s choir and the reverent way in which some seminarians got on their knees to receive Communion.
“It seemed like you could see the whole Catholic culture through the paintings and statues,” Linzy said.
The tour was organized by Melissa Brocato, St. Louis King of France School’s music instructor, and Tony Franchina, of SLKF Ludovicum KC No. 4663, to expose students to vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life.
To arrange a school tour of Notre Dame Seminary, please call 866-7426.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.