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St. Joan of Arc Catholic School turns 60

LAPLACE — Since 1961, St. Joan of Arc Catholic School has preserved old traditions while keeping abreast of the latest trends in education.

The school is celebrating its 60th anniversary on September 5, 2021.

When academic assistant Emma Vicknair looked through 1960s journals left by the Dominican Sisters, she found firsthand reports of the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the damage Hurricane Betsy inflicted on the school. She also found detailed records of traditions that are kept alive to this day.

“There are some things that have changed, but there are some things that haven’t,” Vicknair said. “When the nuns first opened the school, they kept daily journals and highlighted all the times prayer started in schools. Those traditions have continued. We still start the morning with a prayer, we stop every day to pray when the bell rings at noon, and we end the day with prayer.”

The school has welcomed multiple generations. According to Vicknair, some current students have grandparents who attended St. Joan of Arc in its earliest days.

Several teachers at the school have transcended generations while shaping the youth of the community.

Sr. Mary Germaine Roussel served as principal for 27 years. Mary Desimone retired in 2016 after an incredible 41 years of teaching, and her daughter, Elizabeth, now teaches in her old classroom. Coach Richard Sirera has the longest tenure out of all the current staff with 33 years spent at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School.

The 2021-2022 faculty includes five former students.

Jeanne Loisel Serven’s mother once taught at St. Joan of Arc. Serven was a Viking from kindergarten through eighth grade, and she returned to her roots after obtaining her degree from Southeastern Louisiana University.

“Growing up as a child, I always felt safe here. It always felt like family. I liked the Catholic aspect of the school and how we can bring God and religion into anything that we do. That was one thing that definitely drew me back here,” Serven said.

Former student Ryan Flynn said the Holy Spirit guided his return to St. Joan of Arc, and he has strived to build it back to what he remembered from his childhood.

“It’s a bit smaller now, but what’s really cool is that the kids get to know each other on a deeper level. They form really close class bonds,” Flynn said.

He is grateful for the opportunity to teach the children of people he knows in the community.

“People say it takes a village, and being part of more villages has been really fun,” he said.

The school’s history goes back to December 1959, when St. Joan of Arc Parish purchased 18 acres of land that was formerly part of the Godchaux Plantation. Father Edward Boudreaux led a groundbreaking for St. Joan of Arc Catholic School nearly a year later, on November 14, 1960. Classes opened on September 5, 1961 with 136 students and a staff of four. Sister Mary Edmund, O.P., served as the first principal.

A third building, the South Wing, opened in the fall of 1963. A new East Wing was opened and dedicated during the 1985-1986 school year. Additional changes from ’85 to ’86 included the opening of a preschool program and the addition of computer science and physical education classes.

The Family Life Center opened in 1995 with a school gym and additional facilities, and the Alack Memorial Library was completed in 2000. Permanent softball and baseball fields were installed one year later, around the time the Viking Booster Club was created. New football and soccer fields were added in 2005.

St. Joan of Arc School became the first elementary school in St. John the Baptist Parish to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2006.

Following Sister Mary Edmund’s term, the following Catholic nuns served as principals of St. Joan of Arc: Sr. Mary Corrine, Sr. Mary Diana, Sr. Mary de Porres, Sr. Margaret Lamprect and Sr. Mary Germaine.

The first lay principal, Mr. Larry Bourgeois, assumed the role in 1999 and retired in 2014 after 34 years of service to the school. 1973 alumnus Jeffrey Montz served as principal from 2014 until 2019, at which point current principal Jenny Poulos joined the St. Joan of Arc family.

Poulos said people are drawn to the Catholicity of the school, which is strengthened by the active church parish on site. St. Joan of Arc is also a leader in education, Poulos said, noting classroom enhancements and new technology allow for continuous improvement in academics and extracurricular activities.