This large group of “sturdy graduates” was the hopeful seekers of knowledge leaving Corpus Christi Elementary School in 1945. They were looking forward to the formation of a stable high school that would allow them (boys only) to receive the kind of further education afforded to Whites in the city of New Orleans. There already were options for co-educational high school education, including quite notably Xavier Preparatory School (Catholic) which by then had educated boys and girls for thirty years. The expectation was that over decades, through the efforts of the Creole community, along with the Catholic Church, this dream of a boy’s school would be realized. However, it came not decades later but only six years later in 1951. The realization of the dream is the famed Saint Augustine High School which to this day says “Youth Progress Program” on its front door.
The Corpus Christi Catholic Parish on St. Bernard Avenue was established in the 7th Ward in 1916, the largest of the Josephite missions. Mother Katharine Drexel donated a substantial sum of money in April 1916 which allowed the parish to purchase two frame houses on Onzaga Street which were converted into a temporary chapel and rectory. The congregation grew to nearly 400 within a year and, as the congregation grew, there came the need for a grade school. “With funds donated by parishioners and northern benefactors, with materials and services offered by local business men, the pastor, in 1919, erected a beautiful and expansive combination church and school.” Enrollment began with 300 pupils with education provided through the eighth grade. The parish grew dramatically over the years. In 1926 the newly appointed pastor laid plans to rebuild structures to accommodate a congregation of nearly 8,000 and a school enrollment of 1,100. By 1930 the pastor was able to provide more accommodation for his grade school pupils.
In 1931 the newly appointed pastor purchased more land on Onzaga Street for a playground and converted a portion of the former church and school into a kindergarten. In 1936 when the Archdiocese Board of Education in New Orleans reduced the grade school course of study from eight to seven years, he added the first year of high school work. Corpus Christie School and its supporting parish were constantly in flux the result of demographic changes with people steadily moving into the area building homes and maintaining a stable, growing population for the parish. Proof of the phenomenal growth is in the 1956 baptismal register that recorded nearly ten thousand names. The kindergarten, grade school and first year of high school had a combined enrollment of 1,213 students at that time. At the time of the publication of the above picture enrollment was noted at 1,500 students.
Corpus Christi School and Church were once a major cultural center in the 7th Ward, a neighborhood that nourished generations of Creole Catholic merchants, artisans and musicians with deep roots in New Orleans. And, although the school was closed following the devastation of the Federal Flood upon the heels of Hurricane Katrina, Corpus Christi Church is open to this day with Mass celebrated every week on St. Barnard Avenue.
Sources: Louisiana Weekly, 10 February 1945, pg. 9; The Josephites and Catholic Education in the United States (unpublished dissertation), Father George Turner, 1957.