Upon completion of their school year in May, Holy Family School began preparing for its new year by making strides into the future of the school, but in commemoration of its 65th year anniversary, faculty and staff have taken special care to celebrate the school’s past.
“When people come on to our campus … they don’t realize, fundamentally, how strong our foundation is when you can go back 65 years,” said Annette Fitzgerald, Holy Family School Advancement Director. “People attend Holy Family School, but then they also stay around and support the community that they grew up in, so even if they went to a Catholic high school across the river, they come back and live here and raise their families here.”
The school began in 1949, when Father Allard M. Domsdorf welcomed Sisters Bernadette Bircher, Jane Francis Dardenne and Paulinus Lewis to Port Allen, according to a 2007 article in the Catholic Commentator newspaper. The school opened with 146 students in grades K-3. The sisters lived in a home a few blocks from the school until the church built a convent, and the sisters moved there in 1959.
Domsdorf died in 1976.
According to current Holy Family pastor, Father David Allen, then-Monsignor William “Don” Borders also paved the way for Holy Family School to begin.
“It was his vision to have nuns and to have the school on the property,” said Father David Allen, Holy Family’s current priest. “He was known as a priest from a very early age. He was brilliant and committed to education himself.”
Borders became an Archbishop and spiritual leader to over 500,000 Catholics in the Baltimore, Md., area from 1974-’89. He died in 2010 at the age of 96 after battling colon cancer, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun newspaper in Maryland.
But it was during Domdorf’s tenure in Port Allen, that the Marionite Sisters were welcomed onto the church’s campus to begin a school.
“The Marionite Sisters were a community of very, very dedicated women. They had their heyday, as far as numbers, some time back, but they spent over 100 years on the west side of the river,” Rev. Allen said, adding that the nuns were on the HFS campus for about 57 years. “They were women dedicated to the education of kids’ minds, but really determined to instill the love of God as a foundation in every child and their unique preciousness and individual importance.
“They’ve been a long respected and dedicated group of women. They are highly intelligent, highly spirited and gifted, and very committed. They were truly a service to our school and to our community.”
Debbie Barbier, first grade teacher at HFS since 1979, said that the Marionite Sisters not only imparted into the lives of the students, but also the faculty.
“We’re just trying to continue to have those traditions and the values and continue with what the Marionite Sisters started with,” Barbier said.
Fitzgerald said that the last nun who ran the school was Joel Miller, whose 21-year tenure as principal ended in 2007.
Marie Favrot, Director of Bear Care, HFS’s after-school care, and graduate of Holy Family’s eighth grade class of 1962, said that the school is quite different now than when she was a student.
“When I was in school we had nuns, we had sisters that were here – and that’s very, very different from now,” she reminisced. “The school was run a very different way.”
She said, though, that as different as the styles of leadership were then, one thing has remained the same throughout the years – the love and involvement between the community and the school.
“It was always a community that came together,” she said. “Its name says it all – Holy Family – it’s a family. I think the involvement builds the community of our school, which is a family.”
Fitzgerald echoed Favrot’s sentiments, saying that the Holy Family is important to many in the West Baton Rouge area and surrounding areas.
“So many of the members are ancestors of the original members of this parish because they love, truly, what Holy Family is, and that’s a community that wraps their arms around you and embraces you whether you’re doing well or not … you can always rely on this parish, the church and the school to support you,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that’s one of the many things that people describe to us when they come to Holy Family. They say ‘it feels so warm and inviting,’ and it does feel like home. I think for each of our children, they do truly feel that way.”
Rev. Allen said that he believes that Holy Family is not only a home to many, but is also a symbol of hope in the community.
“Just as we, here, can look across the Mississippi River and see the state capital – the beacon of state education and a foundation for Louisiana, I’ve always felt that our steeple on this side is a symbol of a beacon of education and formation of young people on this side critical to our community … in forming kids - mind, body and spirit,” he said.
Rev. Allen said that he is proud of the strides the school has made. Fitzgerald agreed, saying she was pleased with all the changes that have taken place at Holy Family School recently, and over years, from technology to transparency, but the thing she and many teachers, administrative and staff members, are most proud of is the history of Holy Family and the community it has created.
“This is a very faith-filled community, and the school is the center of the community too,” said Barbier. “To be able to bring Christ to each child every day in whatever I say; whatever I teach, I can always come back and relay Christ to them. Regardless of the religion, just in general, being able to talk about Jesus and relate Him to our everyday lives is great.
“I just love the students, I love the faculty, I love the support that we give each other among the faculty members and the community.”