Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Originally published Sept. 23, 2005

Elizabeth Moore
Business Manager

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August, Sacred Heart families fled their homes. New Orleans girls share their stories.

Although Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans suffered no water damage during  the floodsfollowing Hurricane Katrina, the school is temporarily closed due to mandatory evacuation of the city. Many students are temporarily attending other Sacred Heart schools across the nation. Sacred Heart schools in Grand Coteuau, La. and Houston have enrolled the highest number of Rosary students.
Although Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans suffered no water damage during the floodsfollowing Hurricane Katrina, the school is temporarily closed due to mandatory evacuation of the city. Many students are temporarily attending other Sacred Heart schools across the nation. Sacred Heart schools in Grand Coteuau, La. and Houston have enrolled the highest number of Rosary students.

On a Sunday morning at 6:15, New Orleans resident Caroline Mills was awakened by her mother and told to quickly pack her things. She would not be going to church that day.

She piled her makeup, hair straightener, and a few t-shirts and shorts into a suitcase. She packed no shoes and no jewelry. She thought she would be gone three days at the most.

Twenty-six days later, Mills still hasn’t returned home. On August 29, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, including the City of New Orleans, devastating thousands of properties and forcing millions of people to flee. Mills was among them.

“My family never evacuates for hurricanes,” said Mills. “We used to board up our windows, but ever since we moved to my present house we don’t board up anything. I did not take our evacuation seriously. I have lived in New Orleans all of my life and have experienced multiple hurricanes.”

“I knew that Katrina’s wind speeds were unbelievably high and it was headed straight towards my home,” Mills continued, “but so many hurricanes have started out that way. I could not picture my big, beautiful house which has been around over 100 years, torn to pieces like all of the houses you see in pictures.”

Mills, a junior at Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, also known as the Rosary, is not unique among Gulf Coast residents in her disbelief. Some families’ skepticism prolonged their making the decision to leave until it was too late.

“My aunt is the county supervisor, so she felt she had to stay to take care of her county,” said Rosary junior Katie LeBon. “After lots of tears from my grandmother, my dad convinced her this was bigger than [Hurricane] Camille. They tried to get out but the roads were closed. They had to ride out the storm in the attic of their friend’s home. They luckily survived but their house and our summer home was blown away. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Rosary seventh grader Clerc Cooper said fear dominated her escape from the Crescent City.

“All [during] the car ride, my stomach hurt and nothing would settle it,” said Cooper. “I was crying under my blanket when my mom thought I was asleep.”

Other girls remain incredulous.

“I didn’t know how strong the hurricane was at the time,” said Rosary sophomore Meredith Schiro. “After it hit and [I] saw pictures of [New Orleans], it just felt so surreal, like a really bad dream.”

A home away from home
Academy of the Sacred Heart, located on St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, suffered little damage. However, because the City of New Orleans will not allow citizens to return at least for a while, the Rosary’s approximately 850 students, nursery school through 12th grade, are temporarily relocating and attending other schools.

“I really wanted to go to a Rosary [Sacred Heart] school because they are part of the Sacred Heart family,” said Rosary sixth grader Madison Ashley, who is attending Academy of the Sacred Heart (ASH) in Grand Coteau for now. “It’s like a home away from home.”

Each of the 23 schools in the United States Sacred Heart Network offered Rosary students places in their schools. Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, La., accepted over 250 Rosary faculty and students. The school has boarding facilities and is relatively near the major cities of Lafayette and Baton Rouge, La., where many families relocated.

Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston took more than 150 Rosary faculty and students.

“I appreciate my education so much more than I did before because I am so lucky to have a school to go to,” said Rosary freshman Clesi Bennett, who is also currently at ASH. “They are doing as much as they can to place [us] in the same classes as we were taking before.”

The Sacred Heart Network has a long history of caring for its schools. When Villa Duchesne in Saint Louis was in debt in the 1830s, Sacred Heart Schools in France and in Grand Coteau raised money and sent it to the school. During World World II, United States Sacred Heart Schools collected supplies for damaged Sacred Heart Schools in Europe.

“The community of Sacred Heart is really one of a kind,” said LeBon, who is also in Grand Coteau for the time being. “Everyone cares about every single person and their situation. They are doing anything to accommodate our needs. In such uncertain times in foreign places, it’s very comforting to have these connections.”

katrina_by_numbersMany Sacred Heart students are using a bulletin board on Sofie, the Website for the Sacred Heart Network, to communicate with other families and arrange enrollment in other schools.

“It is amazing [that we have] technology to contact those who we are worried about,” said Rosary eighth grader Taylor Denson, who is temporarily attending Holy Trinity School in Norfolk, Virginia, a school not affiliated with the Network.

Tim Burns, Headmaster of Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, stated the Rosary’s commitment to its families on the Sofie bulletin board.

“[Our students] may not be Rosary girls for the time being, but they will be God’s children,” wrote Burns. “Our girls [will] find a way to go to school wherever they are and come back when we are ready to open. At that time, our faculty [will] take them wherever they are academically and creatively manage the curriculum for the rest of the year.”

ASH organized a “satellite campus” for Rosary students.

“It will only be the Sacred Heart students and teachers from New Orleans on the satellite campus, and thus will be our school away from school,” said Mills. “It will be much more comforting to have our real teachers there with us.”

Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Conn., offered Rosary students such as junior Bridget Svenson a place with host families and organized a donation program for student needs.

“They have planned to send care packages to our friends who are uncomfortable with asking their host families for certain items,” said Svenson.

Other Sacred Heart schools hosting Rosary faculty and students include Newton Country Day School in Newton, Mass.; Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami; Villa Duchesne in St. Louis; Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Ill.; Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bellevue, Wash.; Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md.; Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York; and Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Additionally, the Regis School for Boys in Houston accepted male siblings of ASH students.

“The littlest things mean so much right now, and everything people are doing for us is so greatly appreciated,” said Schiro, who is in Grand Coteau for now. “I can’t even describe in words how much it means to us at Academy of the Sacred Heart [the Rosary].”

“It’s hard to see the City of New Orleans, which is usually upbeat and lively, so down and underwater,” said Rosary eighth grader Georgianna Cuningham, who is temporarily enrolled at Grand Coteau. “I can’t wait to get back. A life without New Orleans just wouldn’t be the same for me. I’m used to the smell of the French Quarter and the kindness of fellow residents, [and] I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Svenson, however, said she worries that residents won’t return if they have nothing to return to.

“I’m worried about my school and when it will start again,” said Svenson. “The soon[er] it starts, the more people will end up moving back to New Orleans. The longer it takes to start, the more people get settled and find jobs in the city they evacuated to. My house was flooded to the roof because I lived three blocks away from the levees. My house is ruined, so I’m not sure my mom wants to go back.”

Svenson’s sister, eighth grader Charlotte Svenson, said she wishes she had fully savored New Orleans before the hurricane.

“I hate looking back and regretting little things now [that] I know New Orleans will never be the same,” said Charlotte Svenson, who is now attending Duchesne Academy in Houston. “I miss the traditions [and] I miss the people. The list can go on for miles.”

Rosary sophomore Sophie Mauffray has similar concerns.

“My Mimi [grandmother] fell during the evacuation, and had to have hip surgery,” said Mauffray, who is now attending Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. “[The hurricane] made me appreciate being with the people you love, because now it sounds like my Mimi might stay living in Chicago.”

While rumors speculate that many residents will not return, Rosary students retain hope. Junior Eleanor McAuliffe, who is temporarily attending school in Grand Coteau, said she is confident residents will return at some point.

“Nothing in the world could chase us away,” said McAuliffe. “Once you move to New Orleans, or have lived there your whole life, it is hard to leave. It’s like no other place on Earth. It’s one big family.”

Rosary sophomore Charlotte Bauer said she will return to New Orleans despite damage to her house.

“The roof came off of our house and water got in, making the ceiling on the second floor crash down, damaging the first floor,” said Bauer, who is temporarily enrolled at ASH. “Our house is probably going to be torn down and we will rebuild. We lost a lot of stuff but we have the important things — each other.”

ASH senior Mea Boykins echoes this sentiment.

“We have to cling to one another because we are all we have,” said Boykins, who is attending Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston for now.

Mills, who had initially hoped to be gone for three days at most, is now staying with a friend’s family in Lafayette, La., about two hours away from New Orleans. She is attending Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau until the New Orleans school reopens. Mills said that while she is grateful for the kindness of people in Grand Coteau, she just wants to return home.

“There are so many things in your city, your home, that are irreplaceable,” said Mills. “Sometimes it is so stuffy [in New Orleans,] I feel like I could suffocate. But I would sleep outside for a week in the heat and mosquitoes if it meant that I could get my city back to normal.”

“If I could take away all the death, all the damage, all the heartbreak, inconvenience and pain this storm has caused, I would,” continued Mills. “Ever since [the hurricane, I‘ve] felt so much grief — more grief than I had ever before. Everything announced on the news is another needle stabbing into my heart. My dad told me there is a song that says, ‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?’ That is exactly how I feel.”

New Orleans residents may be missing their favorite aspects of the city for a while. Rosary sophomore Temple Barkate said she almost didn’t recognize images of New Orleans due to damage from Katrina.

“My hometown where I grew up and have so many memories in, so completely destroyed,” said Barkate, who is temporarily attending Saint Louis Catholic High School, which is not affiliated with Schools of the Sacred Heart. “I can’t believe that what they’re showing [on TV] is where I live.”

But when asked if she would return, she did not hesitate on her reply.

“Of course. How could I not — It’s my home.”

And that is the true spirit of the Crescent City.

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