Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Mount Carmel Academy has gained 29,000 square feet of instructional space with the recent purchase of the motherhouse and the land it and the school sit on from the Sisters of Mount Carmel.
The school now owns the entire block of land – more than eight acres – bounded by Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Walker Street, north and south, and Milne Boulevard and Louisville Street, west and east. Cub Corner, a preschool program on the first floor of the motherhouse, will remain.
Plans are to renovate and retrofit the remaining three floors for Fine Arts and religion and to give the school much-needed breathing room in the main campus, said its principal Beth Ann Simno.
“It’s going to free up classroom space for us, which is tremendous,” Simno said, considering the school keeps classes small.
Even with the added space, Simno said there are no plans to accept more students.
“This building was not purchased to increase enrollment,” Simno said. “It was purchased to assist the sisters in their needs and to have more space for classrooms in the school.”
Simno said the purchase agreement with the sisters has been in the works since last September.
“When they asked us what we would use it (the motherhouse) for, the first thing that came to mind was Fine Arts,” Simno said, considering the program’s tremendous growth since a Fine Arts wing of the school was built by former principal Sister Mary Grace Danos in late 1980.
At that time, there were lots of oak trees on the Milne side of campus where the building is located. But when the technology building was built adjacent to Fine Arts in 1995, it blocked all the natural light used by students in the studio arts classrooms.
“It will be nice for the fine arts teachers to again have natural light when teaching fine arts,” Simno said, about moving fine arts to the motherhouse.
As far as religion, eighth graders are introduced to the Carmelite spirituality with a tour of the motherhouse, the archives containing the history of the congregation and the chapel, which has always been used by the school, Simno said, especially for quiet reflection by students.
“This is a win-win,” said Sister Lawrence Habetz, congregation president for the Sisters of Mount Carmel. “The sisters no longer needed the space, and the leadership of Mount Carmel Academy was willing to help the sisters by purchasing the motherhouse and land.”
93 years in Lakeview
Since 1926, the Sisters of Mount Carmel have lived at the Lakeview motherhouse, after moving their convent from St. Augustine Parish in Treme. It not only has served as a residence for the sisters; it also has been a novitiate for women entering Carmel, a junior college, an infirmary and the high school that operated solely at the motherhouse through the graduating class of 1957, Simno said. The majority of classes moved to the new school after that.
Sister Lawrence said dwindling numbers of the Sisters of Mount Carmel and the school’s need for space were determining factors in the sale. The congregation’s 36th General Chapter meeting held Dec. 27, 2016-Jan. 3, 2017, began a process whereby the sisters decided to make an assessment of their resources for the future. They hired Kerber, Eck & Braeckel, LLP (KEB) of Springfield, Illinois, to conduct an 18-month study that included project planning, assessments, reality statements, visioning/exploration and evaluations/recommendations.
The sisters were engaged throughout the process, said Sister Lawrence, who was an active partner.
A total of 88 nuns remain in the Sisters of Mount Carmel, including the sisters ministering in the Philippines and Timor-Leste, Sister Lawrence said.
Of those, 11 Sisters of Mount Carmel and four Sisters of Christian Charity were living recently in the motherhouse.
“We needed help with the elderly sisters at the motherhouse,” she said. “We had elderly sisters helping elderly sisters.” Eight older Mount Carmel sisters have since moved to Chateau de Notre Dame, and those still active in ministry have moved elsewhere.
By April 2019, the sisters were ready to sell the entire square-block site to the school.
“This (sale) permits us to take care of our elderly sisters and not spend our money on upkeep of the motherhouse,” Sister Lawrence said. “Now the sisters can continue their mission, and the school can better utilize the new space. We are happy that our Motherhouse will remain ‘in the family.’”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.