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NCEA President’s Award
Resilience, spirit of New Orleans Catholic schools honored

Sister Mary Rose Bingham, OP (Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia) and Michael Begg

The Archdiocese of New Orleans received the NCEA President’s Award for its leadership and success in reopening schools after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The award was presented by Dr. Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), during the 20th annual Seton Awards ceremony Oct. 4 at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

The President’s Award to the Archdiocese of New Orleans honors the resilience and spirit of the archdiocese and its schools in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The award was accepted on behalf of the archdiocese by Michael Begg, president of Archbishop Rummel High School, Metairie, Louisiana, and Dominican Sister Mary Rose Bingham, former principal of Cathedral Academy. Archbishop Gregory Aymond was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans is grateful to you, Dr. Ristau, and to the NCEA for this honor. It is a tribute to our shared efforts to keep Catholic education alive and thriving,” said Mr. Begg after accepting the award. “This recognition shows that you have not forgotten us. More importantly, you continue to support the collective efforts that help make our Catholic mission stronger. Like the rest of the schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archbishop Rummel High School continues to face challenges with the same spirit and determination – because our roots are deep,” he said.

Schools in the city of New Orleans suffered the brunt of the storm damage. Almost every school in the archdiocese was affected – if not by the storm then by the turmoil of a transient population and uncertain futures.

While New Orleans public schools declared it would take a year to reopen, some archdiocesan Catholic schools were back in operation within five weeks—sometimes in double shifts and sometimes in inventive new quarters. The archdiocese believed it was critical to reopen schools to stabilize communities, to give residents a reason to return. Parents could concentrate on their own rebuilding effort knowing that their children were being educated in a safe environment. Some schools even accommodated the children of relief workers who were living on cruise ships so that the workers could concentrate on rebuilding.

“Many [children] came to us without their families intact; without a house to live in; without money; without jobs; without clothes; without books; and often times without hope,” Mr. Begg said. “School, then, became family.”

Sister Mary Rose told this story: “A few days after we re-opened, a woman came to me and said: ‘When I saw the Sisters opening the school and the priest saying to bring the children even if we can’t afford it, I knew we were going to be alright. I knew that God had not forgotten us.’”

Although overall enrollment in the archdiocese is 5 percent lower than pre-storm numbers, today 86 of the former 106 archdiocesan schools are operating. There is significant growth in enrollment numbers in suburban areas where population shifts have occurred and there are waiting lists in several schools.

The archdiocese recently completed a strategic study for the future, using demographic information that indicates as much as a 25 percent population decline in the immediate New Orleans area.

For more information about the NCEA awards, visit the NCEA web site.