April 23, 2006
Reported by Pam Dixon
81 year old Earline Olivier is one of the oldest living alumni of Sacred Heart Catholic School. Her tuition in the 1930s cost 50-cents a month. Some years she earned her tuition by sweeping classroom floors. Olivier says, "Everybody in my family went to Sacred Heart."
Olivier's father, James Olivier, was among a group of African American men who were instrumental in starting one of the area's oldest Catholic schools in 1908, 11 years before they built a church. Olivier says, "All these people like my parents had no formal education and they wanted a school for their children."
Sister Katharine Drexel, a wealthy Philadelphia nun who later would be canonized as a saint, walked the halls of Sacred Heart, bringing money and nuns from her sisterhood. Sacred Heart librarian and former student herself, Nita Guice, remembers seeing Sister Drexel in sixth grade. Guice says, "Just to say a saint walked on our grounds is remarkable."
Today 132 students attend the school now named after its beloved saint. 8th grader Spencer Mathews says, "Being in a small school I like knowing everybody in the school." 6th grader Justin Barker says, "It's good to go on in this world and you have a good education, but unless you have God, you don't have anything. So it's good that they teach you that here."
Three generations of former students work or teach here. Willa Golden, Sacred Heart class of 1962, says, "The people were so open and loving and particularly the nuns." Linda Papion, Sacred Heart class of 1966, says, "The historical background that this school plays in North Lake Charles is almost overwhelming."
Sacred Heart's 80 year old school building took a beating from wind and water damage during Hurricane Rita. It's completely gutted waiting for repairs. Principal Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow says, "It was devastation for many in this community because Sacred Heart has been a landmark for so long."
For the last year and a half elementary students have been using the old Immaculate Heart of Mary School two miles away, while the middle school students remain across the street from the main building. Dorsey Bellow says, "It's teaching us patience. It's teaching us to be humble to accept help and prayers from others, and making us more sensitive to others in need." Patience will pay off. The school is expected to be renovated by the end of the year with updated features on the inside, just in time for its 100th anniversary in 2008.