THE HISTORY OF SACRED HEART SCHOOL
Many Catholic parishes begin with the focus on building a church, then a school. With Sacred Heart Parish, it was the other way around.
The only Catholic Church in Lake Charles in the early 1900’s was Immaculate Conception Church, quite some distance removed from the black community. It had become standard practice for the Black Catholics of the area to meet in groups on Sunday mornings for the “walk to town” (to Immaculate Conception church) for Mass.
One Sunday morning after mass, the men of the group approached Father Cramers, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, about the need to educate their children since they themselves lacked this advantage.
Father Cramers was very kind and sympathetic. He was going to Lafayette in the next few days and would speak of this to Rev. W. J. Teurlings, pastor of St. John’s Cathedral. There followed a consultation with the Holy Family Sisters who had no nuns available at the time, but recommended Miss Eleanor Figaro as a teacher for the children of these Black Catholics.
Miss Figaro arrived in 1908 to begin her teaching career. The first year Miss Figaro was here, there were six children in the First Holy Communion Class. Miss Mary Ryan joined her to help with the growing population.
In 1910, a piece of property at the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Pine Street was purchased and the men of the Sunday morning “walks to town” were among the volunteers who erected a building, thereafter known as “the little red school”.
On August 6, 1918, came the terrible storm that did such great damage to this district. The school was blown down. By the latter part of October, 1919, the little red school had been repaired and Miss Figaro moved her small, but rapidly increasing flock within its walls.
On August, 1919, Father Hackett, the first pastor, came. For a year after his arrival, Father Hackett lived with Father Cramers. In 1920, property was bought on Mill and Louisiana Avenue. There, a rectory was built.
May, 1922, brought another step toward success. Father Hackett secured the Sisters of the Blessed Sacred Sacrament—Mother M. Amadeus, Sister M. Winifred, and Sister M. Cyprian, to help with the school. Mother Katherine Drexel financed the building of a convent for the sisters. Mother Katherine had also helped with the addition of a second story to the new church and this provided four new classrooms into which the school operation was transferred from the little red schoolhouse. The enrollment had now climbed to some 200 pupils. In May, 1923, the first graduation exercises produced three grammar school graduates: David Moless, Theodore Rochon and Naomi Porche.
In 1923, the first year of high school was added to the curriculum and the three grammar school graduates returned to Sacred Heart. The teaching staff now totaled three nuns—Mother M. Amadeus, Sister M. Winifred and Sister M. Cyprian; and three lay teachers —Miss Mary Ryan, Miss Figaro, and Miss Mary Rachon (now Mrs. Morrison).
Second and Third Year High School was added in 1924-25 and the following term ended with closing exercises held for the first time at the Palace Theater on Enterprise Boulevard.
The first high school graduation took place in 1927. The following were members of the first graduation class: Joseph A. Porche, Anita Esclavon and Eleanora Geyen.
In 1932, a Saturday Extension of Xavier University was added enabling teachers to take up second year college work. The first class consisted of 32 students, twenty of which were regular normal students.
In 1933, Miss Figaro initiated the first summer extension at Sacred Heart School. The enrollment for the Extension School was 75.
During the early 1930’s, Mother Katherine’s financial help brought about a new Domestic Science Building. Later, in the fifties, the Science Building was moved to the rear of the convent building to add more space for the Sisters.
In 1939, the Xavier Center offering regular college courses was started. It was discontinued in 1941 due to the lack of classroom space —an ever present problem with the continual growth of student enrollment at all levels.
In 1933-34, Sacred Heart School was classified Grade A, First Class, with a score of 955 (out of a possible score of 1,000) in competition with 59 other state approved schools. This is clearly indicative of the high caliber of teachers and students at Sacred Heart School. In 1940, Sacred Heart School was admitted to the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges.
In 1949, a gymnasium building and a library /home economics building was built on purchased property. The Manual Arts Shop was built in 1952 and it sparked interest among the male students.
In April 1953, the school mourned the death of its founder, Miss Eleanor Figaro. The entire student body acknowledged their loss as they solemnly paid her last tribute.
In February, 1956, the new Library-Home Economics Building was dedicated. This building was directly south of the gym on Division Street. This new building brought Sacred Heart to the pinnacle of modern educational facilities.
In 1964, the Science Building was detached from the convent. The convent was then permanently enlarged and renovated.
During the sixties, and because of the ruling on integration, Church authorities were advised that the high school should be discontinued. Black students were encouraged to attend the new central Catholic high school—St. Louis High School of Lake Charles. So in 1967, Sacred Heart School held its last high school graduation exercise. Only the elementary school remained.