Redemptorist High School students on Friday mourned their final year at the school, which will close in May, while alumni recounted their favorite memories of the north Baton Rouge institution.
Declining enrollment caused Diocese of Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench to announce Friday the closure of the junior and senior co-ed Catholic schools, a presence since 1947 that had more than 1,000 students at its peak. Fewer than 150 students were expected to enroll next year.
For third-generation student Shane Godso, a senior, the closing has bulldozed his dreams of eventually coaching soccer and bowling at the school. For junior Connor Callihan, the closing means being forced to find a new school where he can finish his high school studies.
And for those who have graduated, like alumna Denise Babin, the change marks the ending of an institution that built their faith.
The announcement came one day after students finished their final exams. Many clad in green and white met Friday at the parish Main Library on Goodwood Boulevard, where they tried to absorb some of the shock.
“I have to stop looking at colleges and look at high schools,” said Rachel Lessard, a 17-year-old junior.
Callihan, a Redemptorist baseball player, said the small size that’s forcing the school to close its doors is exactly what makes it special.
“Everybody knows each other, everybody’s like family over there,” said Callihan, a second-generation student. Both 16-year-old Callihan and 18-year-old Godso said they had hoped their future children would attend Redemptorist one day and carry on their tradition.
The students were visibly upset about their school closing, but also the manner in which they found out — with no forewarning and no chance for their new principal to turn things around. They said they wished they had the chance to argue about the change, or raise money or at least try to keep their school open.
Babin thinks back to her Redemptorist days every time she looks at a collection of treasures in her home: a cross, a scarf, holy water and a statue of the biblical Mary. Her favorite nun at Redemptorist brought them back for her after a trip to Rome.
Redemptorist was the first Catholic school Babin attended. She ended up loving the faith the school was grounded in, and said she remembers her senior retreat motivating her to fall even more in love with the school and with her religion.
“I don’t think I would be who I am without that faith I learned there,” she said.
The news of the closing shocked some alumni, like Chris Ferrara. The chief executive officer of Ferrara Fire Apparatus Inc. said he met his high school sweetheart when he attended Redemptorist, and he ended up marrying her.
He later helped lead a capital campaign for an addition to the school.
“I thought the diocese or some other people would pitch in or something would happen to keep the school open,” Ferrara said. “It was really just a great tradition.”
But others had seen the writing on the wall for the school for many years. George Rome, who was on the wrestling team and graduated in 1982, said he noticed the enrollment declining for many years.
He said the shrinking enrollment, a lackluster alumni reach and the creation of the Central and Zachary school districts were more than Redemptorist could overcome. Myrna Tullier, who worked at Redemptorist for several years in the ’80s and ’90s, said she also figured the school could only go so long without enough students.
Still, Rome and others said they have remained lifelong friends with their Redemptorist buddies.
That was the kind of bond Candice Scalise, a 15-year-old sophomore, hoped to form when she and some friends transferred to Redemptorist after not fitting in well at other schools.
Finally, she said, they found a place where “we’re all outcasts together.”
Godso agreed that everyone at Redemptorist is family, which he said is what he will miss most.
Godso lives across the street from the school, and said he is thankful to be graduating this year. He said he would rather be home schooled than go anywhere else.
“I really don’t think there’s any other school in Baton Rouge that has that type of tradition.”