Xavier Prep gets new lease on life, new name

Parents, students and alumni, many clad in black and gold, crowded the auditorium of Xavier Prep on Monday evening and cheered enthusiastically as they learned that the Catholic girls school would not only remain open but would have a new name: St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory High School.

A group of six alumni of the 98-year-old school had announced earlier in the day that they have an agreement to buy the Uptown campus from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The order had announced in February that it was closing the school as of next year after determining that it could not be sustained financially.

Monday’s meeting was a victory rally of sorts for the school’s community and its active alumni, who came together quickly after the announcement earlier this year to find a way to keep the school open.

The curtains of the stage opened to reveal the new name, along with a profile of Drexel and the words, “Continuing the Drexel Dream.”

Karen Wells Roby, a federal magistrate judge and one of the alumnae who formed the 5116 Magazine Street Preparatory High School Corp., addressed the crowd.

She said she knew families had many questions, including whether they would have new uniforms, school colors or a different mascot.

“You say, ‘But I’m a yellow jacket — will that change?’ And we say no,” she said, reassuring the crowd that the traditions would live on.

“It’s time to get invested, stay invested, don’t quit, keep going. Let’s go get ’em because we’ve got girls to educate,’’ she said.

Organizers also told those gathered that their goal is to keep administrators and teachers who students already know, and Joseph Peychaud, the school’s president, praised the faculty for staying the course.

“No one left, no one considered leaving,” he said, and he also praised the students and their parents for having faith that a solution would be found.

What will change is the school’s ownership. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament will no longer be affiliated with the school, which will operate as an independent Catholic girls school for grades seven to 12, with the support of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, according the organizers.

Roby said that there would be a modest increase in tuition but that the school’s tuition would remain below what most Catholic schools charge and that there would be no increase in fees.

The terms of the purchase were not made public by either party, according to spokeswoman LaKeisha Hammett, although FNBC was introduced as the bank that will finance the deal.

Earlier this year, Peychaud had estimated the cost of the property at between $4 million and $6 million.

The closure announcement galvanized the school’s large alumni base, drawing 500 people to a citywide strategy meeting held days afterward.

Another member of the group of six alumnae, Civil District Court Clerk Dale Atkins, praised the Xavier Prep community for taking on the challenge. “Our prayers have been answered,” she said. “God is good — all the time,” she said, as the crowd echoed, “All the time.”

“Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow, the work begins,” Atkins said.