Slice of St. Tammany: Longtime St. Scholastica leader retires

Photo by Karen Baker -- Marguerite Celestin greets St. Paul’s teacher Merle Dooley after the Mass on June 2. Dooley and Celestin taught together at Redemptorist High in Baton Rouge.
Photo by Karen Baker -- Marguerite Celestin greets St. Paul’s teacher Merle Dooley after the Mass on June 2. Dooley and Celestin taught together at Redemptorist High in Baton Rouge.

By Karen Baker

Special to The Advocate

As Covington celebrates its bicentennial, you can’t help but notice that one of landmarks in the heart of town is St. Scholastica Academy, a girls Catholic high school founded in 1903. And if you know anything about SSA, you know that Marguerite Celestin has been the heart of the school since 1979.

Celestin, the school’s president and former principal, is retiring after 34 years. A special Mass was celebrated in her honor June 2 in Our Mother of Perpetual Help chapel — the chapel that was her dream for the campus and was dedicated in 2008.

Celestin took the reins of the school when it was small, saw it through the lean late 1980s, when enrollment dipped, and nurtured its growth as the population boom hit St. Tammany Parish. But she takes none of the credit for the school’s success. “I think of Psalm 116,” she said. “ ‘How shall I return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?’ This is his day, not mine.”

Principal Mary Kathryn Villere, however, gives her friend and mentor plenty of credit. “Marguerite rallied the troops” when the oil bust hit in the late 1980s and enrollment declined at SSA. Before long, “the school grew to 225 students and it continues to grow. … she is an administrator extraordinaire.”

Celestin, a former School Sister of Notre Dame who taught at Redemptorist High in Baton Rouge and Immaculata in Marrero, is also a disciple extraordinaire, said the Rev. Ronald Calkins, who celebrated the Mass.

“It was your dream to have this chapel,” Calkins said, “Where the presence of Jesus is at the center of the lives of the young people here. … For almost 50 years in Catholic education, you have been Jesus, a reflection of his love and presence. We thank God for the witness of your life.”

As her life moves into a new stage, Celestin said, she plans to rest, to pray, to laugh, to be always grateful, and to “respond wherever the Lord leads me.” And wherever the Lord leads, she will always keep these words from the SSA alma mater in her heart: “SSA my home you’ll always be.”

Plays are the thing

The Covington Louisiana Actors Playhouse System is in full swing at the Covington High School Performing Arts Center on the school campus, 73030 Lion Drive. All tickets are $5.

The second production for this season is “Seussical Jr.” Performances are at 10 a.m. June 13 to June 15.

The third theater production for this season is Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” Performances are at 10 a.m. June 20 to June 22.

The fourth show of the season is “13, The Musical.” Performances are at 7 p.m. June 13 to June 15.

Adult tickets are $10 and student tickets are $8 with any school ID. This show is rated PG and recommended for audiences in grades 7 and older due to mature material. Tickets for all productions are available at the door 45 minutes prior to curtain.

For information and group reservations of 20 or more contact the box office, (985) 893-9843.

Milne Home returns to La.

On May 9, Milne Home announced its Louisiana Homecoming with a ceremonial groundbreaking. Louisiana State Sen. Ben Nevers and St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister joined Milne Home as it unveiled its plans for the new complex on Highway 21 N, approximately 6.5 miles north of Covington.

Founded in 1838 in New Orleans, Milne Home was originally the Milne Home for Girls. Over the years, Milne Home has expanded, evolving into a residential facility where developmentally challenged individuals — men or women, young or old — can lead safe, productive and fulfilling lives.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the original Milne Home complex in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Milne Home relocated to Laurel, Miss. The home is now looking forward to its new digs in St. Tammany Parish.

For more information regarding Milne Home and its homecoming to Louisiana, please visit http://www.milnehome.com or call (985) 674-8585.

Karen Baker writes about St. Tammany Parish. She can be reached at sliceoftammany@gmail.com.