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|Cabrini, 5500 Paris Avenue, 70122
Holy Cross eyeing site in Gentilly
School hopes to open there next month
Thursday, July 06, 2006
By Bruce Nolan
Holy Cross School, the historic Lower 9th Ward institution damaged by Hurricane Katrina, might remain in New Orleans after all.
The school, which briefly explored a Kenner site among several options for a new campus, has offered instead to buy the land and buildings of Redeemer-Seton High School and nearby St. Frances Cabrini Church and school in Gentilly and hopes to open the new academic year in August at the new location, officials on both sides of the transaction said.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has not yet agreed to the sale, whose price would not be disclosed. The Rev. William Maestri, Catholic schools superintendent, cautioned that important details remain to be worked out. But Maestri and Bill Chauvin, head of Holy Cross's board of trustees, both said the offer has powerful advantages to both parties.
Deep into the discussions, "I'm not aware of any substantive issues of dispute," Chauvin said.
Holy Cross proposes to buy Cabrini church, the parish elementary school and adjacent Redeemer-Seton High -- all badly damaged by Katrina, Chauvin said.
Members of the parish council told parishioners by e-mail last week that Holy Cross proposed to open the year on the second floor of Redeemer-Seton and begin renovations on the floor below.
But Chauvin said the proposal is to demolish all the buildings as quickly as possible and begin with portable classrooms transferred from the Holy Cross campus.
He said if the deal is approved, Holy Cross plans to build in short order two classroom buildings and a gymnasium, WHICH COULD DOUBLE AS A NEW CHURCH FOR CABRINI PARISHIONERS.
In a novel arrangement, the school and archdiocese later would SHARE THE COST OF BUILDING A PERMANENT CHURCH that would double as a performing arts center for the school, Chauvin said. Although Catholic, Holy Cross is a private, independent school. Its offer to HELP BUILD A PARISH CHURCH is unusual.
"We're living in post-Katrina times" that call on the archdiocese to be flexible and entertain once unorthodox partnerships, Maestri said.
If successful, the proposal would give Holy Cross a new permanent site.
Katrina flooded Holy Cross' 17-acre campus on the Mississippi River just downriver from the Industrial Canal with up to eight feet of water. The disaster convinced officials that the 127-year-old school's survival depended on moving out of its historic Lower 9th Ward neighborhood, which has grown increasingly impoverished.
Last month, Jefferson Parish School Board members said Holy Cross wanted to begin discussions to buy a 20-acre site owned by the board in Kenner. But the board said then it was uncertain it wanted to sell the site and that the school did not make an offer. Holy Cross reportedly also considered the public John F. Kennedy Senior High School, now vacant at 5700 Wisner Blvd. next to City Park.
Katrina also wrecked Cabrini parish and Redeemer-Seton High School. Cabrini has not reopened for worship since the storm. Its elementary school remains closed, as does Redeemer-Seton.
The proposal would give the archdiocese an economical way to RESTORE CATHOLIC WORSHIP in the now-dormant parish. More important, Maestri said, A FUNCTIONING CHURCH and school near Paris and Prentiss avenues could anchor the neighborhood and spark a revitalization there.
For its part, HOLY CROSS IS INTERESTED IN HELPING UNDERWRITE A NEW CABRINI CHURCH AND SUSTAINING THE PARISH AS A MAGNET for returning families who might supply new Holy Cross students in grades five through high school, Chauvin said.
Maestri said he has broached the proposal with City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and the local civic association, both of whom, Maestri said, expressed their approval. In addition, Cabrini's parish council of lay leaders unanimously supported the proposal in principle, Maestri said.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes has final say over the deal for the archdiocese, in consultation with school officials and families from Redeemer-Seton and Cabrini, Maestri said.
He said Cabrini parish is incorporated as a separate legal entity, but Hughes retains executive control.
Bruce Nolan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3344