Couvent School – Board of Directors, 1917

Board of Directors, Couvent School, 1917
Top row (standing): George Doyle, Louis Charbonnet, Walter L. Cohen, Alphonse Hopkins, Antoine Surle
Lower Row (seated): Radamis Lalonier, Paul Despues, Louis J. Joubert, Barthelemy A. Rousseve, Paul Dominguez

The Institute Catholique des Orphelins Indigent, also known as the Catholic Institute for Indigent Orphans, was a school founded in the Faubourg Marigny in 1848 dedicated to providing an education to children of color. Run by a board of directors and dedicated volunteers and instructors, the school remained under the leadership of lay people of color until 1915. The school was initially financed from a trust established in the will of Madame Marie Justine Cirnaire Couvent, the Widow Bernard Couvent, a philanthropic free woman of color, who was born in Guinea. Although she was a former slave and could not read and write, Madame Couvent understood the importance of receiving an education.

Some of the illustrious teachers and principals of the schools were Felicie Coulon Cailloux, wife of patriot Andre Cailloux; the poet Armand Lanusse, journalist and linguist Paul Trevigne, and mathematician Louis Nelson Foucher.

In 1893, when the Creole of color philanthropist, Thomy Lafon, died, he left a substantial sum to the school in his will for the construction of a new building. That school was destroyed by the disastrous Hurricane of 1915. Lacking money to rebuild the school quickly, the Board of Directors agreed to terms proposed by Saint Katharine Drexel, the foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Xavier University. She offered to build and operate a new school on the site, under the name St. Louis School (attached to the newly-formed Holy Redeemer Parish), on the condition that it would be operated by a religious community. The Sisters of the Holy Ghost of San Antonio, Texas agreed to staff the school, which they did for several decades.

Among its more well known alumni are Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the first mayor of color in New Orleans, and Keith Weldon Medley, author of We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson.

From 1993-2006, the school was used as the Bishop Harold Perry School for Boys. It is now home to the Saint Gerard Majella Alternative School.

Photograph Source: Dedication Booklet, Saint Louis School, 1917.

J.C.L.H.

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