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Archdiocese adopts school in New Orleans



A classroom at St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans shows a glimpse of the extensive damage the school suffered following the hurricane. School officials say the school is believed to be beyond repair. Photo: St. Frances Cabrini School

By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice

The students of Northeast Nebraska are full of the Christmas Spirit this year as they are opening their hearts and emptying their pockets to help students in the South get back in the classroom following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha have adopted Cathedral Academy, a Catholic school in New Orleans run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. The school reopened in October as a consolidation of two schools that suffered extensive damage from the hurricane.

In this partnership between the Archdiocese of Omaha and Cathedral Academy, archdiocesan schools will conduct at least one fund-raiser throughout this school year and the money will be sent to Cathedral Academy, said Sister Michelle Faltus, SFCC, superintendent of Catholic schools and coordinator of the partnership.

Hopefully, students in Louisiana and Nebraska will correspond with one another and develop friendships, she said.

Each school can decide what type of fund-raiser they will have and when they will hold it, Sister Faltus said. All proceeds will go to Cathedral Academy for the purchasing of textbooks and computers, help with school repairs and to replenish the school's scholarship fund. So far, the archdiocese has sent almost $3,000 to the school, she said.

'This is just the beginning. I don't know what it is going to go into," Sister Faltus told The Catholic Voice. 'We're all Catholic schools and we're in the business of educating children in our Catholic faith, so it's important that we assist them to maintain that Catholic education."

EDUCATING CHILDREN WHO ARE HURTING

Cathedral Academy is a pre-K through eighth-grade school located in New Orleans' French Quarter that serves lower to middle income African Americans, many of whom are not Catholic. Several of the students are on reduced tuition or are attending the school for free.

Cathedral Academy opened in October as the consolidation of St. Louis Cathedral School, which used the current building, and St. Frances Cabrini School, located in east New Orleans.

Peggy LeBlanc, former principal of St. Frances Cabrini, is the administrative advisor of Cathedral Academy.

St. Frances Cabrini, the larger of the two schools, suffered the most damage from the hurricane and had 10 to 15 feet of water in it for three weeks, said Sister Mary Rose Bingham, O.P., principal of Cathedral Academy. St. Louis Cathedral lost its junior high and preschool buildings in the hurricane and now uses the small auditorium for temporary classrooms.

There are now about 250 students enrolled at Cathedral Academy. However, that number continues to fluctuate as other schools begin to open and as families move back to the area, Sister Bingham said.

Lack of housing is the reason many families aren't back in New Orleans yet, she said, noting that of the 125 original students at St. Louis Cathedral, only 25 to 30 have returned. Many of the school's faculty, staff and students are still without homes, living in severely damaged homes or are sharing a home with several other families, Sister Bingham said.

'I think right now the school is considered the safest place that a lot of them have," she said. 'We're able to provide the emotional and spiritual strengthening and support."

Many of the children were airlifted or rescued from the floods by boat, were in the Superdome or were left on the interstate for several nights, Sister Bingham said. They've stayed in shelters and a majority of them have been in four schools this year as they've gone from place to place, she said.

'These children have real fears after seeing the death and destruction. For us, it's really great to use these opportunities to talk about what our life is about," Sister Bingham said. 'We have the freedom at a Catholic school to take them to our little school chapel and to help them turn to the Lord if they're worried. They're little ones taking on big worries, so it's a great time to help them remember that they have to turn this all over to the Lord who is their strength."

Sister Bingham said Cathedral Academy has received much help from schools, organizations and individuals all across the country.

'It's great for Peggy and I to have other people helping us help other people, to be providing the needs, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy," she said. 'It's really beautiful to behold the goodness of people and it makes you just love America 120 percent more. We have some of the best people in the world."

RESPONDING TO NEEDS

Response to the partnership has been enthusiastic with about 50 of the archdiocese's 76 schools participating, Sister Faltus said. The schools not participating conducted their own relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina hit, she said.

Individual students are going out of their way to help the students, she said, making note of a 7-year-old student at St. Vincent de Paul School in Omaha who asked for money for the hurricane victims instead of birthday presents and donated $200.

'It (This partnership) says to the children that we need to support our schools in other parts of the country, we need to take care of those children," Sister Faltus said. 'We're very grateful that we're taken care of here and even though we don't have a lot of wealth, we can share because we have more than they have right now."

Betty Getzfred, principal at St. Boniface School in Elgin, is happy the archdiocese is reaching out to those in need and said it is a good lesson for her students.

'Every little bit helps and I think that's what the kids have to know. I think it's important for the kids to realize that they need to give of themselves," she said. 'Stewardship is about giving, whether it's time, talent, treasure, and that's really what we want to instill in the kids. Sometimes we have it pretty easy and we don't realize what other people go through in their lives."

Principal Kayleen Wallace said when the students at Mary Our Queen School in Omaha found out about the project, they wanted to jump right in and do something right away. 'The kids are really excited about it because, number one, it's a good cause, and also because I think they're excited about working with other schools," she said. 'I'm really glad Sister Michelle organized this."

The Catholic Voice

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