A dedication ceremony was held on August 8th for the new St. Joseph Academy Student Center designed by GraceHebert Architcts.
The Catholic Commentator
August 21, 2018
By Bonny Van The Catholic Commentator
The grounds of St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge were quiet as a summer sun shone brightly on the school’s newest addition, a 23,150-square-foot Student Activity Center.
“I’m happy to be with you today for many reasons,” said Bishop Robert W. Muench. “One of which is I celebrate with you something that is twice as old as I am! It makes me feel young.”
The planning stages of the $6.7 million activity center began four years ago following a study revealing the former activity center was not large enough to accommodate the school’s 1,110 students, let alone any parents, at a single gathering.
The new student activity center also includes a training facility and workout rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. But, it’s the ability to bring everyone together, under one roof, that has generated the most excitement.
“We knew we needed a place where we could gather as a whole community to be able to invite parents to come participate in Masses and celebrations including alumnae or community members,” said Suzie Toups Adler, president of the SJA board of directors and chairman of the 150th Anniversary Celebration. “The timing of the completion of the building was not planned in the beginning but as we got closer, we thought ‘Wow! This might coincide with the 150th anniversary.’ ”
SJA athletics director Dorinda Beaumont said the building is not just for athletes but the entire SJA community.
“We’re so excited, it’s gorgeous,” said Beaumont, who has been with the school for 22 years. “We have outgrown our old activity center for Mass, so you can see the beauty of it and multipurpose use for the whole school.”
“This new facility is fabulous and just to celebrate our history with the sisters and what they’ve done and going back to them, relating what their mission was and always keeping the mission here … it’s going to be an exciting year,” said assistant athletic director Nan Murtagh, who has worked at the school for 35 years, including 25 as coach of the swim team.
The ceremony included a parade of students representing the different groups that will be using the activity center. Last in the line-up were two students hoisting the giant trophy from the 2018 National High School Championship, won by SJA cheerleaders in February in Orlando, Florida.
“None of us anticipated for this senior year to be so special, but we’re glad it is,” said Grace Wisdom.
“These students and alums that come back, they know that they’re not forgotten and this place is still standing because of people like them and that’s what I want the girls to remember and carry out … and continue to serve their dear neighbor,” said SJA principal Stacia Andricain, who has been with the school 23 years. “You’ve got to carry it out and know that they are a part of something so wonderful in this Baton Rouge community.”
In his remarks, Bishop Muench noted the amount of people, time, effort and money invested in the new facility but also mentioned there was a deeper meaning to that investment.
“It’s never the buildings that are the most important,” said the bishop. “It is the people, individually and collectively, working together for the good of you current students, future students and past students … because graduation is not the end of the journey, but the continuing of the journey in cooperation with this great place, for your well being and for you to help others.”
After blessing the activity center with holy water, Bishop Muench was presented with a lifetime pass to all SJA home volleyball and basketball games and an SJA spirit shirt, which prompted the bishop to quickly remove his jacket and put it on, to the wild cheers and applause of the audience.
Adler said she was pleased to see the turnout and excitement generated from two years of planning. She noted that an early morning balloon release by the senior class served as a reminder of her’s and others’ strong connection to the school.
“When we let the balloons go, the balloons stayed clumped together as a unit until you could barely see them,” said Adler. “They didn’t disperse, and I thought it was so symbolic.”
St. Joseph’s Academy opened in 1868 when four Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in Baton Rouge to take over an orphanage for 11 young girls left parentless by the Civil War. Two weeks later, the sisters opened St. Joseph’s Day School in a small house on Seventh Street. Through the years, the school continued to grow, and in 1941 moved from downtown Baton Rouge to its current, 15-acre location on Broussard St.
Longevity is one common theme among the current staff, a testament to the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which is rooted in the mission of Jesus Christ, to be one with God and to serve the “dear neighbor.”
Sister Joan LaPlace CSJ, associate director of mission, has been with SJA since 1964 and credits that mission with helping the school to successfully navigate through challenging times.
“It’s mind boggling to know that when I first came, (SJA) was a one-through-12 school and it wasn’t long before we were into civil rights, the Vietnam war, drugs, all of that, which had a tremendous impact on everyone,” said Sister Joan, who once also served as principal of SJA. “So, I think the challenges were greater than we even realized which is just as well because we didn’t know what to do except to pray a lot and to do our best.”
And, still the school thrived, growing and outgrowing classrooms, facilities and buildings.