By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
The image of Jesus’ Sacred Heart – which burns with the fire of God’s love even while wrapped in a crown of thorns – is a fitting symbol for what drives the educational mission of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, said Archbishop Gregory Aymond, delivering the homily at the Jan. 24 Mass celebrating two milestones: the 150th anniversary of the Sacred Heart Brothers’ arrival in New Orleans and the 50th anniversary of the opening of Brother Martin High School.
“The image of the heart of Jesus summarizes the personal love that our God has for us, a love that we cannot fully grasp with our human condition,” said Archbishop Aymond, speaking also as a member of the 1967 graduating class of Cor Jesu, which consolidated with the Sacred Heart Brothers’ first New Orleans school – St. Aloysius – to form Brother Martin High School in 1969.
“Jesus loves to the extreme. He lays down his life for his people,” the archbishop said. “This image calls us as church, and particularly those who are associated with the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, to recognize this love of Jesus and to (also) accept it as something that is personal – it’s not just for ‘everybody,’ though it is; it’s not just ‘out there,’ though it is. It’s in us!”
French Quarter roots
The road leading to the creation of Brother Martin, which provides a holistic education rooted in religious values, academic excellence, personal attention and friendly discipline to a current enrollment of about 1,140, stretches back even further than the 150 years being marked in New Orleans.
Founded in 1821 in Lyon, France, by Father André Coindre, the congregation was already a couple of decades into operating schools in Mobile, Alabama, and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, when the Sacred Heart Brothers arrived in New Orleans in 1869 to educate immigrant children at the request of New Orleans Archbishop Jean Marie Odin. The Brothers opened their first New Orleans school – the all-boys’ St. Aloysius College – at Chartres and Barracks streets, teaching just six students on the first day of class.
Increasing enrollment led St. Aloysius in 1892 to decamp to a cluster of buildings purchased from the Ursuline Sisters at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Rampart Street. When Rampart was widened in 1924, the buildings were demolished and a magnificent three-story brick school building rose at the same location.
With the post-war population booms in Gentilly, the Lakefront and New Orleans East, Archbishop Joseph Rummel asked the Sacred Heart Brothers to open a second high school in 1954 – Cor Jesu – at 4401 Elysian Fields Ave. It drew an opening enrollment of 700 boys.
Cor Jesu’s Gentilly campus became the site of Brother Martin High in 1969, when the Sacred Heart Brothers merged Cor Jesu and century-old St. Aloysius, whose Treme campus was experiencing declining enrollment. The newly formed high school was named for Brother Martin Hernandez, a former principal of St. Aloysius College.
Over their 150 years in the city, the Sacred Heart Brothers and their lay partners educated more than 20,000 young men at St. Aloysius, Cor Jesu and Brother Martin.
“Those who come here for their education and formation come as boys and leave as men of faith – men who dare to live their faith, men who dare to live in the world and to the best of their ability,” said Archbishop Aymond, who spoke from personal experience when he described Brother Martin as a place at which students are loved in the same way a “good shepherd” loves and feeds his flock.
Like those beloved sheep, students are “known by name,” have a sense of belonging and are actively sought out when they get lost. Boys can discover their gifts and thrive, but also feel cherished and supported in times of hopelessness, isolation, peer pressure and doubt, the archbishop said.
“It is in these halls and on this campus that those miracles happen,” he said.
Passing on the Good News
Fighting back tears after Mass, Brother Ivy LeBlanc, a former president and principal of Brother Martin and provincial for the Brothers of Sacred Heart, told those seated inside the high school’s on-campus chapel that the success of the Brothers’ three New Orleans high schools was built on a “faithful partnership” among the Brothers, their lay faculty counterparts and school families who believed in forming students’ hearts as well as their minds. When Brother Martin opened, there were 42 Sacred Heart Brothers residing in New Orleans, 30 of whom taught at the high school. About 50 current faculty also are alumni, he noted.
“This has always been about relationships in building a community of faith where we can raise our kids to do nothing less than change the world,” said Brother Ivy, currently the treasurer of the Sacred Heart Brothers’ United States Province.
“Our mission, purely and simply, is to evangelize young people through what we do – and what we do is we teach,” he said. “We are presenting the Good News to them, but more importantly, we hope to be the Good News for them, in the hope and prayer and desperate reliance on our God so that they will go out and take that experience to bring the Good News and be the Good News for this world.”
Brother Ivy recalled the unprecedented “wave of energy” he witnessed upon his arrival as Brother Martin’s principal, just four years after its consolidation with Cor Jesu and St. Aloysius. The lines of open house visitors “wrapped around the block,” and the Sacred Heart Brothers would greet alumni – who were now the fathers of prospective students – by saying, “Welcome home.”
“I would see grown men cry in the presence of their sons because that greeting tapped into an experience from many years back – in fact, it was ‘home’ for them,” Brother Ivy said.
“This place runs on passion and love,” Brother Ivy said. “I’ve been here a long time, and this school has never, ever been better. We should all be very grateful for what the Lord has done on this holy ground!”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.