St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, one of the oldest Catholic schools in New Orleans, will close at the conclusion of the current academic year, according to a letter released on March 10.
The Black Catholic parochial institution, founded by the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1893, had reportedly been struggling financially for years and is now unsustainable due to “irreversible” demographic changes in the neighborhood.
“With each passing year, fulfilling our mission has become more difficult,” reads the letter, signed by various officials associated with the parish, including the pastor Fr Charles Andrus, SSJ.
“We can assure you this decision was not made lightly and that all options to keep the school open were discussed.”
St. Joan of Arc, now in its 130th year, is located in the city’s Uptown/Carrollton neighborhood near Tulane University and serves pre-K through seventh grade. It preceded the neighboring parish church, which was founded in 1909 as the first in the city administered by the Josephites, who work specifically with African Americans.
While the area has historically been Black, gentrification has caused it to become increasingly White over the years, especially since the repopulation of the city following Hurricane Katrina—which itself occasioned a major reorganization of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
St. Joan of Arc had reportedly been on the list of schools set to close following the storm, but advocates at the parish level moved forward with a reopening plan, though with limited financial support going forward from the archdiocese.
Now, 18 years and one global pandemic later, enrollment declines brought the historic school to a breaking point.
“The financial burden the school would create to the parish would have an adverse impact on our community as a whole,” reads the closure letter, whose signees include the parish council president and a member of the parish finance council.
“In the end, it was clear that it would be in the best interest of our parish community [for the school] to close.”
The school had recently undergone a number of leadership changes, with three principals in the past four years. The immediate past principal, Deacon Lawrence Houston, arrived at the school following the closure of his previous post, the city’s historically Black St. Peter Claver Catholic School, in 2019.
Sean Goodwin, formerly an administrator in the public school system, succeeded Houston last summer—with tempers still flaring in the city after the closure of St. Rita Catholic School, a predominantly Black institution located less than two miles from St. Joan of Arc.
“It’s a ball of emotion,” said one parent speaking to WWLTV this week whose children were transferred to St. Joan of Arc from St. Rita after the latter’s closure.
“I have two girls, 6 and 11. On average I might spend two or three hundred dollars on uniforms alone and now I have to do this all over again.”
Parents, alumni, and students gathered in front of St. Joan of Arc on Thursday evening to vent their frustrations and demand the school remain open.
“We need everyone to pray for us… Whatever you can do or give to support the school, please do that for us,” said alum Vonterrance Francis.
“We don’t want to uproot our kids. We want them to stay here because it’s a family. It’s a community. We all love each other.”
Similar protests took place concerning St. Rita last year, involving a media campaign pointing out similar enrollment at predominantly White Catholic schools in the city that remain open. The efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.
Parents of students at St. Joan of Arc say they have requested a meeting with the superintendent and the parish council but have not received a response.
“I’m speechless. I’m really heartbroken,” said parent Misty Frye in her remarks at the protest.
“Black Catholic schools should be our priority.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.