With Archbishop Rummel High School celebrating its 50year anniversary during the 2011-12 school year, school leaders wanted to get information on the early days of the school. First, they studied the writings of former Archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools, Msgr. Henry Bezou, about the events leading up to the actual opening of the school. Next they drove to Covington, LA, to speak with Brother John Fairfax, FSC, now residing at St. Paul’s School, who spoke about the actual opening of the new Metairie Catholic high school.
In his “Origins of an Educational Monument,” Msgr. Bezou wrote about Archbishop Rummel’s naming a committee “to consult with real estate agents in the area to find suitable sites for four secondary schools – two on the east bank and two on the west bank of Jefferson Parish.”
The committee reported that “Interstate 10, then being built, was bound to be a magnet with its several strategic ramps for vehicles.” Committee members speculated that Causeway Boulevard, along with nearby Severn Avenue, would eventually be major arteries in the parish, so the search committee focused its attention on the Shrewsbury area of Metairie for the boys’ high school.
Archbishop Rummel’s committee recommended purchasing six lots of land, known as the Hyland Plantation, for the new high school at a cost of $200,000. A member of the legal firm that negotiated the sale said the site “was pasture land fenced for cattle grazing.” The act of sale took place on August 25, 1960, feast of St. Louis King of France, patron of the Archdiocese.
When it came to staffing the new school, Archbishop Rummel wanted the first invitation to go to the Christian Brothers. When Msgr. Bezou called the Provincialate in Lafayette, he was told that all Provincial Superiors were in Rome. The superintendent then placed a transatlantic call and spoke in French with the Superior General of the Christian Brothers, Brother Nicet, FSC.
“The conversation was pleasant but Brother Nicet made it clear that the decision would have to rest with the Provincial and his Council. After prayer and consultation at the local level, the Christian Brothers became involved in planning and operating the new school,” he wrote.
Early in the spring of 1961, the firm of Nolan, Norman, and Nolan was chosen as architect for the boys’ school in Shrewsbury. On August 1, 1961, the architects sent letters of invitation to fourteen contractors to bid on the project. Two weeks later the low bid was accepted and the winner was Southern Builders, Inc.
The firm offered to do the entire job of constructing the religious residence, administrative suite, library, cafeteria, chapel, classrooms, and auxiliary areas for $922,250.
The Shrewsbury boys’ school ground-breaking and site blessing took place in September, 1961, with Archbishop Rummel digging the first spade of dirt. By May, 1962, construction was reported as 87% done.
In his book, Msgr. Bezou wrote, “It is interesting to recall that up to the time of groundbreaking, all legal and other documents of both architects and contractors referred to the new school as Catholic High School for Boys. Occasionally, many thought the new high school should bear the name of its location and be called ‘Shrewsbury Catholic Boys’ High School,’ since the English town of Shrewsbury is surrounded on three sides by the Severn River.”
The monsignor said when it was suggested that the boys’ school in Metairie be titled Archbishop Rummel, the Archbishop felt it inappropriate since he was still alive. He said it took the combined efforts of all school board members, clerical and lay, to convince the Archbishop that from the beginning, all four new schools would bear the names of 20th century Archbishops. They argued that since he had lived beyond the biblical lifespan of three-score and ten, and had achieved more for education than all his predecessors combined, it was an obligation that the new school be called ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH FRANCIS RUMMEL. After much protestation, the Archbishop relented.
“Some of the Archbishop’s fellow priests would tell him that once athletics were under way at the new boys’ school, newspaper pages may carry such headlines as: RUMMEL TROUNCES or RUMMEL BEATS COR JESU; or RUMMEL SLAYS THE BLUE JAYS. The Archbishop took such jests with a chuckle,” Msgr. Bezou wrote.
While the first buildings were still under construction, the Nelson-Smythe family of Chicago made an offer to the Archbishop that he accepted for the school’s gymnasium building. The archdiocesan building committee approved plans of May 9, 1962, for a cost of $441,126.30. (The gym was dedicated on May 6, 1963. In time, the gym became the place of assembly on Sundays for the new parish of Blessed (later St.) Benilde.)
By late spring of 1962, it was clear that all four new Catholic high schools would be functioning before autumn, so the about-to-open Archbishop Rummel High School scheduled two meetings for prospective students — one at St. Catherine of Siena and the other at St. Agnes. The sessions drew packed houses.
The school’s charter freshman class numbered 245 boys, a number that exceeded expectations. Four years later, when all class levels were functioning, Rummel had an enrollment of 1,104 students.
The school eventually added more land to the school’s landscape. In 1976, school officials purchased two large, wooded lots on both sides of Severn Avenue that now face West Napoleon. This land became the band practice field and the outfield of the baseball field. The cost was $200,000.
Then in 1985, the Archdiocese approved the school’s purchase of the Stuart Prep School for $1,050,000. The property eventually became the campus of the school’s junior high.
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From an administrative perspective, Brother John Fairfax spoke about the actual opening of the new school on the first day. Looking back on the early days, he remembers “sand.” He said, “In the beginning, truck load after truck load of river sand was brought in to raise the ground level by three feet.” He added that in windy weather, the sand covered student desks, and floors were always gritty with sand.
When the school opened its doors, the teaching faculty consisted of five Christian Brothers and four laymen.
As assistant principal and disciplinarian, Brother John wanted to form a school newspaper, so he called together a group of students who were interested in journalism. During one of the early meetings, Ronald Frentz came up with the suggestion of calling the paper The Raiders’ Digest. The name remains today.
Since Archbishop Rummel was a brand new school of only freshmen, it had no school colors, no nickname, no traditions and no uniforms. In October students had suggested several colors for the new school and they were green and gold, maroon and gold, green and white, green and silver, and Columbia blue, red, and white. The latter won in a November vote of the student body.
When it came to a school mascot, several suggestions had much support and they were the Gladiators, the Dragons, the Lancers, the Griffins, and the Raiders. Four years later, the Raider mascot was named for senior Rufus Cressend.
To capture the Raider image on paper, Brother Ephrem, FSC, principal, commissioned famed New Orleans artist John Chase to sketch the new mascot. At the time he was the local newspaper’s editorial cartoonist.
In 1979 sophomore Paul Joseph won the “Name Rufus’s Horse Contest” with the popular entry of “Rumpus.” The name Rumpus was selected by a student body vote conducted by the Raider yearbook staff.
Joseph explained, “’Rumpus’ means a loud disturbance, just like a typical Rummel pep rally. I think Rufus and Rumpus go together as well as Rummel and Raider.”
For the school Fight Song, students took the song “Hey, Look Me Over” from the 1960 Broadway musical, “Wildcat,” starring Lucille Ball and changed the words. One student, Coleman Hardin, ’66, came up with a few lines of the Fight Song and Brother Fidelis, FSC, completed the words to the song.
“We had adopted ‘Hey, Look Me Over’ as our Fight Song way before LSU did,” said Brother John.
For Archbishop Rummel’s Alma Mater, the song and words were penned by Professor Howard Voorhies, the school’s first band director.
Early in the first year, students formed four clubs. The Benilde Club made students aware of their vocations, the Debate Team had a dozen members, the Journalism Club produced the Raiders’ Digest, and the Altar Boys Club provided servers for morning mass.
“An unofficial club was the Beautification Club that planted shrubs around campus and was ably assisted by detention students,” Brother John remembered.
The Raiders’ athletic beginning did not predict future glories. The freshmen Raiders had games against Holy Cross, Metairie Junior High, St. Paul’s, and Jesuit.
Finally, what about the student body? The charter freshman class numbered 245 and was divided into seven homerooms. On April 30, 1963, the first Student Council officers were elected. The first officers were President Thomas Boudreaux, Vice President Douglas Borne, Secretary Michael Pisciotta, and Treasurer Ronald Long, who became the first deceased alumnus of the school.
“Of the 245 students who entered the freshman class, half did not wear Rummel caps and gowns since they did not graduate, although we awarded diplomas to 221. That means that roughly half of the Class of ’66 entered as sophomores, juniors, and seniors,” he said.
Brother added, “And by the way, tuition was $200 back then. Not a month, but $200 for the whole year.”
While Brother John was still principal, he was awarded the school’s first Honorary Diploma at graduation on May 22, 1977.
In 2002 on the 40th anniversary of the school’s dedication, Brother John Fairfax, FSC, was asked to address the student body at a celebratory mass and ceremony in the gym. At the conclusion of his speech, he said, “In 40 years, things have changed and things haven’t changed. There are many, many things that I could have included, but didn’t. And I know some of the Class of ’66 will tell me lots I should have included, but enough is enough. If you want to hear the rest of the story, come back in 10 years for the 50th anniversary celebration.”
Ten years later on Friday, September 9, 2012, the school again re-dedicated Archbishop Rummel High School with a mass in the school gymnasium celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond. At the conclusion of the mass he unveiled a commemorative plaque located in the administrative wing of the school. The special mass was the first of numerous 50th anniversary events planned for the 2011-12 school year.
Two months later, the school again celebrated its 50 year anniversary by sharing a mass with its sister school, Archbishop Chapelle High School. The mass was celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans with several alumni priests of the school. After mass the assembly walked a half block for a celebratory reception at Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant.
The 2011-12 school year concluded its 50th Anniversary celebration with Brother John Fairfax, FSC, speaking to a gym assembly during the end of year liturgy. As he did 10 years prior, Brother John told the audience of students, faculty, parents, alumni, and guests of the school about the Christian Brothers’ commitment to Archbishop Rummel High School in 1962 and fifty years later in 2012.