The Academy of the Sacred Heart is a legacy of the Society of the Sacred Heart, an international teaching order founded in France in 1800. The story of these nuns and their endeavors in and around New Orleans parallels the history of the city itself. St. Philippine Duchesne (http://www.duchesneshrine.org), a missionary to the New World, arrived in New Orleans in 1818, exactly one hundred years after Bienville founded the city. After fifty years of pursuing missionary work in unsettled areas along the river, the nuns returned to establish a convent in the Vieux Carre.
In the late 19th century, the French Quarter was in decline. Most importantly, the established French, Catholic families from the Quarter and Esplanade Ridge, whose daughters were the mainstay of the student body, were moving across town into what was the American sector. In addition, second generation English and Irish families, who were already uptown, were seeking for their daughters a school that provided the same type of education that the religious had been providing downtown.
It was therefore no surprise that the religious sought refuge from their deteriorating urban environment and turned their attention upriver. Demographically, the nuns and the city were moving in the same direction.
The new location chosen by the nuns was the John Calhoun-S. J. Peters Greek Revival mansion built in 1847. The estate comprised two squares. The first contained the main house set far back from the major thoroughfare, St. Charles Street. The second was separated from the first by Apollo Street, now Carondelet. It was spacious enough for a vegetable garden , orange grove and farmyard. When the Mother Superior requested permission in June 1886 to purchase these two lots for $30,000,the Mother General in Paris sent a one-word telegram: 'Achetez.' Soon after this concise mandate 'to buy,' the Academy was ready to open.
This charming villa served the nuns admirably for thirteen years. By then, however, the house proved inadequate for the volume of students. As a result, the religious decided to demolish the old house and to construct a new building. The lone reminder of the Academy's origins is the large, wrought iron fountain with a swan atop that still stands today.
The new building, Colonial Revival in style, designed by the architects, Diboll and Owen, was dedicated in 1900.
As spacious as the new Academy was, it underwent three expansions in 1906, 1913, and 1996. For the first expansion the same architects added two wings to the front of the building. One wing housed a chapel of French Gothic design and the other wing served as an assembly room on the first floor and as a study hall on the second.
In the 1913 expansion, the structure grew vertically rather than horizontally. The architects added a third floor to the original building.
The 1998 expansion included the new academic wing on the corner of Jena and Carondelet Streets. The building includes six state of the art science labs, additional classrooms, computer labs, and conference room.
On August 1, 2002, the Board of Trustees of the Academy of the Sacred Heart authorized the purchase of the First Baptist Church property on St. Charles and Napoleon avenues. This was the first property acquisition for the school in 115 years. At one and a half square city blocks, the new property nearly doubles the size of the Sacred Heart campus and is located just two blocks from the Rosary Campus. Called the Mater Admirabilis Campus, it is named for our original French Quarter school.
The Mater Campus opened in the fall of 2005 and is home to the Preschool and Lower School. The new Little Hearts Early Learning Center for toddler and nursery students is also located on the site. The Nims Fine Arts Center, an auditorium with the capacity to seat 1,200 people and accommodate the entire student body for all-school liturgies as well as other large events, is a prominent feature of the campus. Other features are the gymnasium, dining hall, library, Chapel and 100-car parking lot.
The school recently opened a new Arts and Athletics Complex on the back square of the Rosary Campus that enhances the athletics, wellness, and co-curricular programs. It includes a cutting edge gymnasium with elevated running track, training and rehabilitation rooms and a workout facility. Middle and Upper School offerings will expand to include dance, choral and instrumental music, digital photography, graphic design and our traditional arts programs.
In this manner the building evolved, doubling its size while retaining its classical style. Today, the Academy, which is 124 years old, stands as a monument in uptown New Orleans. Like the city itself, it is characterized by change, but it remains a harmonious blending of the old with the new.