Ground broken for new Academy

MARRERO — Sprinkling holy water on a freshly turned patch of dirt, Archbishop Gregory Aymond blessed the site of what will be a new state-of-the-art facility for the Academy of Our Lady, a Catholic high school for girls.

Following a Mass at Immaculate Conception Church, Aymond was joined at Tuesday morning’s groundbreaking ceremony by numerous elected officials, students, alumni and faculty, as well as representatives from the various organizations who played a part in the planning, design and funding for the new school.

Salesian Sisters, wearing their gray habits under hard hats, dug shovels into the ground in anticipation of the school for which the Archdiocese of New Orleans committed $30 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

The 120,000-square-foot facility will be built on a 22-acre parcel at 5655 Westbank Expressway.

Eight buildings will house 35 classrooms, five science labs, a health care lab, a culinary arts kitchen, a 1,000-seat gym, a performing and fine arts building, an activities quad, a chapel and prayer garden and athletic fields.

The school is expected to open for the 2014-2015 school year.

Sister Michelle Geiger, the school’s principal, praised the “patience, persistence and prayer” that turned the idea for a new school into a reality.

Academy of Our Lady is currently located at 537 Avenue D in Marrero, and was opened in 2007, combining the students, educators and traditions of Archbishop Blenk High School and Immaculata High School.

About 500 students in grades eight to 12 attend Academy of Our Lady.

The school was founded by the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco with an emphasis on instilling young women with Catholic values, a strong sense of community service and drive for lifelong learning.

According to Communications Director Silvana Collins, the new campus, near Archbishop Shaw High School, will provide a space for the use of the larger community.

The performing arts center and athletic facilities will host events for other schools, and the walking track and chapel will be open for the community to use.

The health care and culinary arts programs will provide services to those in need.

The architects designed the school “according to the Salesian educational philosophy with a particular insight to the educational and relational preference of young women,” Collins wrote in a news release.

While she won’t have a chance to attend the school, Academy of Our Lady senior and student council President Ashley Hebert said the groundbreaking ceremony was a very exciting milestone for the students.

Hebert said she felt a great sense of pride and the West Bank presence will no longer be overlooked in the community of Catholic schools.

“It’s something that everyone can be proud of on the West Bank,” she said.

Aymond led the gathering in a prayer, giving thanks and asking that “what we begin today will be brought to a fruitful conclusion.”

Jan Lancaster, superintendent of schools, urged the crowd to reflect on the day’s significance.

“Years from now, we will look back on this historic day,” Lancaster said.

“And most importantly look to the youth of our future . . . and the many women we will have the honor and privilege to educate.”