Catholic High School – Celebrating the Past. Embracing the Future.
The 2019-2020 school year marks the 125-year anniversary of Catholic High School. From its humble beginnings in 1894 in an L-shaped wooden building in downtown Baton Rouge, the school’s legacy has been rooted in a spirit of compassion with a commitment to excellence.
In the summer of 1789, France plunged headlong into a bloody revolution setting the stage for a decade of war and unrest. It was against this backdrop of instability, Father André Coindre, a young parish priest in Lyon, France, witnessed firsthand the struggle for survival and the breakdown of social institutions. Unemployment was high and there were very few schools. Many children were orphaned, running the streets and often imprisoned – some as young as four or five years of age.
In 1818, feeling called to respond with a spirit of compassion, Fr. Coindre drafted a prospectus entitled Pieux Secours, which outlined his vision for establishing orphanages and schools across the region that would provide young people in need with a loving home, a Christian education and vocational skills. To help fulfill this mission, Fr. Coindre founded the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1821, a community of brothers who were rooted in the same spirit of compassion and trained to work with poor youth through the establishment of Christian-centered schools.
After Fr. Coindre’s death in 1826, Brother Polycarp was named Brother Superior General. By 1859, the order had grown under his leadership to more than 400 Brothers in 70 schools.
During this period of growth and success, five missionary Brothers of the Sacred Heart, at the request of Bishop Michael Portier, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama, arrived in Mobile to expand their charitable and educational work in the United States.
The brothers’ work did not remain limited to Mobile for very long. In 1854 they established St. Stanislaus College in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and in 1869, St. Aloysius College in New Orleans. Continued expansion resulted in establishment of schools and orphanages in several Midwestern states, in the south and southeastern United States, as well as in New York, New England and Canada. Today, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart serve in Mobile, Alabama; Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; New Orleans, Thibodaux, Houma, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Klagetoh, St. Michael, Arizona and Mozambique, Africa.
In 1894, expansion continued with four brothers traveling to Baton Rouge to establish St. Vincent’s Academy, a parochial school set up under contract with St. Joseph Parish, which at the time was within the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The school was located downtown on what is now Fourth Street, and was named in honor of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which had made a significant financial contribution toward its establishment. From a humble beginning with 106 students, St. Vincent’s attracted immediate attention for academic excellence and developing outstanding character in its students.
With nearly 300 students, St. Vincent’s had outgrown its L-shaped wood-framed building by the late 1920s. In January of 1929, faculty and students moved into a new modern brick facility on North and Fourth Street, and the school’s name was changed to Catholic High School.
By the early 1940s, lack of classroom space made it necessary to begin turning away applicants. As a result, the brothers started searching for a piece of property to build a new school that would accommodate a larger student body. On June 5, 1946, 36 acres of land were purchased, but lack of funds delayed construction of the new campus for nearly 10 years.
Through the generosity of many friends in Baton Rouge, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were able to begin construction in 1956. In September 1957, the faculty, along with 450 students, moved from the original property near the state capitol to the new campus — the present location on Hearthstone Drive. That same year, the school changed ownership from the Archdiocese of New Orleans to the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
The success of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart’s schools is founded in their educational mission and ministry. Based on a holistic approach, the Brothers’ educational charism is rooted in religious values, structured through friendly discipline, nurtured by personal attention and committed to academic excellence. The Brothers believe that young people learn through the total experience of the school setting. This philosophy is reinforced each day by the thousands of lay men and women who have embraced Fr. Coindre’s mission, and work side-by-side with the Brothers each day in the many schools and youth programs around the globe.
As Catholic High School celebrates 125 years of its commitment to the spirit of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and the charism of Fr. Coindre, the school also embraces the future and continues to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
In March 2019, CHS launched the next phase in its campus master plan by breaking ground on a new student center. The 32,000-square-foot facility will create a dynamic learning environment where students will dine, socialize and interact with faculty.
The two-story design includes a dining and kitchen area, a seminar room, four classrooms and study rooms, a campus ministry center, a spacious student commons area featuring an outdoor student pavilion, a large conference room, an outdoor terrace and a faculty work center. The facility will be located at the north end of Hearthstone Drive.
The new center will be dedicated in memory of Brother Donnan Berry, S.C., who served as a teacher at Catholic High School from 1950 to 1952 and later as principal from 1964 to 1974. He returned to CHS in 1980 to establish and direct the CHS development office, a role he held until 1993.
As Catholic High School looks forward to the next 125 years, the school will forever be committed to the spirit of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and will continue to embrace and be guided by their educational mission and ministry – To teach Gospel values in an environment of academic excellence according to Catholic tradition.