You Are Here: Mount Carmel Academy
Every Place Has a Story
To many past and present residents of the small town of New Iberia, Louisiana, the closing of Mount Carmel Academy in 1988 can be considered the “saddest funeral on the Teche” (Indest, Joyce). This all-girls school was built nearly 170 years ago, and the structure is still standing tall on the Bayou Teche. The Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel arrived in Louisiana in 1833. The sisters came to New Iberia in 1870 and opened Mount Carmel Convent in a building located close to Saint Peter’s Catholic Church. The school in New Iberia was still very alive and active for 118 years after it was originated in the small town. This school was just up the bayou from its brother school, Saint Peter’s College (1918). Today, the traditions of both schools are cherished by the co-ed Catholic High School. Mount Carmel is still a historical beauty that holds significant memories and history to the people of New Iberia.
This exquisite school was originally built as the home of Doctor Frederick Duperier in 1850. Dr. Duperier was a prestigious doctor of the society, but what he is most famous for at Catholic High is a well-known piece of memorabilia and the story behind it. This article, known as “The Emma Window,” is a window scratched by Mrs. Duperier’s engagement ring. He and his wife met while she was vacationing on Last Isle when a hurricane struck. Dr. Duperier came to her rescue, and eventually, they were married. The large window is currently displayed prominently in the Catholic High School administrative building. After many years spent at the lovely home on the bayou, the house was sold to the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and opened as a day and boarding school in October 1872. Upon the school’s opening, Le Sucrier de La Louisiane explained the new school as “Admirably situated on the enchanting banks of our lovely Bayou Teche, so often spoken of by even our most celebrated orators and poets. The edifice is surrounded by a spacious yard to be used as playgrounds, and adorned with magnificent evergreens and other splendid trees of all shapes and dimensions.”
The Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel began in France in the early nineteenth century. Shortly after, the French Revolution was very eager to destroy the church, making many flee. The Bishop of New Orleans invited Mother Therese Chevel and Mother Saint Augustine to Louisiana to educate the children in 1833. After schools had begun in New Orleans and Lafayette, the pastor of St. Peter’s Church in New Iberia sought out for an academy along the bayou. According to New Iberia’s weekly newspaper, “The beautiful Evangeline country put in the…call for the Sisters.” The first sisters who worked and prayed on the bayou included Mother Saint John of the Cross (Superior), Sister Stephen Altheimer, Sister Albertine Passon, and Sister Mary Joseph Leo. The nuns resided upstairs from the school in tiny, simple living quarters that were not available to students. Sharon Hebert LeBlanc, current Alumni Relations Director and graduate of 1968, states that in earlier years, there was a bell downstairs the students would ring to get the sisters’ attention. Also, in the earlier years, priests worked and resided at Mount Carmel. In the 118 years of the school, they worked as teachers and coaches for girls (and some boys ) from grades kindergarten to twelfth. At all times sisters were present around the school and at almost every Mount Carmel event in the community. The girls who went to Mount Carmel had a special relationship with the nuns, who they admired and respected. A past student of Mount Carmel stated the nuns had many different personalities, like most teachers, yet their faith and devotion to the church was absolute. Jamie Nelson Hebert, a graduate of the Mount Carmel class of 1977, describes the relationship with the sisters as “tough love.” The nuns not only made up most of the school’s staff, but they had a significant place in the community especially at St. Peter’s Church masses in downtown New Iberia. Until the closing of the beloved school, the religious staff worked hard and influenced the lives of many young women in New Iberia.
Over the years, Mount Carmel was like a home to thousands of young women in southern Louisiana. After the school opened as a day and boarding school, the first girls to graduate were from the class of 1890. The school had such success in educating the young women that Father Jouen asked for the sisters to temporarily teach young men until they had their own school. In the early twentieth century, the Christian Brothers were fleeing from the Mexican Revolution and ended up in New Iberia. Once they came they were influenced to stay by Monsignor Langlois, who eventually led them to establish their own day school in 1918 for only boys. This school was known as St. Peter’s College and became Mount Carmel’s brother school. Over the years the students from the two schools had many affiliations together including dances, homecoming, and other events. A special bond between the students of the two schools grew even outside of the faith because the St. Peter’s cheerleaders were Mount Carmel girls. Eventually, the sisters of Mount Carmel also created a school for black children. In 1927, a great flood damaged the campus of Mount Carmel, causing it to expand and add many more needed areas. Once the school was settled, thanks to much help and donations from the community, it continued its vivid life. Through the school’s existence, the girls participated in many events such as their jubilees, May Festival, elocution, intramurals, homecoming, and more. To many, the main attraction of Mount Carmel was the lively girls working and playing along the Bayou Teche.
Just over the Duperier Street bridge stood the strictly faith-based school, filled with the young girls of New Iberia. The many students gathered around the school with their authentic brown and white uniforms. Girls came from all around since the beginning riding horse and buggies and bikes, being dropped off, and walking to school in the morning to begin the day with morning prayer. At noon, all of campus stopped to pray the Angelus as a school. Academics were very important, and even though the school did not have special classes such as honors or AP, they had a good reputation for teaching. Mount Carmel did, however, offer various electives such as home economics, sewing, French, Spanish, yearbook, journalism, typing, bookkeeping, and so on. Throughout the years the students were taught in the downstairs old rooms of the original Duperier home and the newer addition to the school. After the sisters moved to the annex on the right side of the gym, the children learned in both the first and second floors of the home. The school had clubs and teams such as Rally, Debate, Beta, Student Council, 4-H, Sodality, Glee Club, Social Club, Spirit Club, and others that varied over the years. Along with most schools, athletics were very important to the girls of Mount Carmel. The young women were mostly involved in basketball, volleyball, tennis, and cheerleading, and as the school evolved they also participated in softball, track, and gymnastics. They went on to win many awards and state championships in Louisiana. Mount Carmel had a large role in the community of New Iberia throughout its years. The nuns were respected and did work in the community, along with influencing the girls to do the same. Past student of Mount Carmel Carole Delcambre Landry, class of 1974, states, “Even when you were around town and did something you should not, people would call the nuns on you.” The two Catholic schools created much excitement for students, parents, and other members of the town.
As the two schools grew and expanded, St. Peter’s College outgrew its residency along the bayou and moved to deLasalle Drive in 1957. After the move, the school inherited the new name of Catholic High School, a day school owned by the four main church parishes of New Iberia. Still today these include St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Sacred Heart of New Iberia, and Nativity of Our Lady. Another very meaningful milestone in the Catholic education of New Iberia, was the acceptance of young women to Catholic High 1987. Sadly, in May of 1988, under the last principal, Sister Janet Leblanc, O Carm, Mount Carmel Academy closed its doors forever. Alumni Joyce Babineaux Indest graduate of 1942 stated that there were several hundreds in attendance at the closing ceremony, where balloons were lifted into the sky along the banks of the Bayou Teche. The very last Mount Carmel yearbook of 1988 states, “As we sang ‘Lift Up Your Hearts’ and released hundreds of brown and white balloons we said goodbye to 118 years of tradition, love, and education; we said goodbye to Mt. Carmel-on-the-Teche.” Catholic High-New Iberia remains today as the largest Catholic school in The Diocese of Lafayette, and it carries on the heritage and traditions of St. Peter’s College and Mount Carmel.
The beautiful structure that was once filled with energetic sounds and excitement of young girls still stands tall along the Bayou Teche. Residents of New Iberia can easily view the old school, which is still known to many as Mount Carmel. After closing, the large structure was abandoned for several years until bought by the Schellestede family and converted into “Place Eugenie.” Now the office building is often visited by those interested in viewing the old school. When the school was closed, many were devastated and hurt by what was a great place to educate young children. One mother and past member of Mount Carmel states, “We didn’t want to join the boys…there was something special about an all-girls school and an all-boys school.” Great time and effort are focused on providing Catholic High’s students with an appreciation of the heritage of the sisters and brothers. Hopefully, for years to come, all who visit this special town on the bayou’s strong Catholic school will be able to know a little part of the legend known as Mount Carmel Academy.
A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words
View of Mount Carmel Academy from the Bayou Teche.
The entire, thirty-eight person, student body of 1893.
Sister Valerie on her Golden Jubilee, she was headmistress from 1900-1907.
Sister Veronica with her first-grade students in 1961.
The Mount Carmel Academy Pee Wee Glee Club of 1961.
Girls in 1963, on the corner of Bridge Street and Duperior Street right in front of Mount Carmel.
MCA Graduation Class of 1973 in St. Peter’s Church.
The MCA basketball team of 1954.
Joyous students in 1985, smiling and posing for the camera.
This Mount Carmel Academy memorabilia that has been collected and displayed in Catholic High School’s Administration Building.
Today, this plaque is located outside the front door of Place Eugenie.
Western view of the current office buildings located in the old Mount Carmel Academy.
View of old classrooms today.
The front door of the past Duperior Home and Mount Carmel Academy.
This is the hallway of Place Eugenie, looking from the front parlor. The doors on the side are leading into the offices that were once classrooms, and still contain chalkboards and other teaching material.
The beautiful historical monument standing tall along the banks of the bayou to this day.
Recent Daily Iberia article titled “Gratitude Prevails as Mt. Carmel Nuns Return”
Article about how the history of Mount Carmel lives on in the community
Carmel ’63.1963. Print. Mount Carmel Academy, New Iberia, LA.
Carmel ’73.1973. Print. Mount Carmel Academy, New Iberia, LA.
Carmel ’88. 1988. Print. Mount Carmel Academy, New Iberia, LA.
Coming Alive in ’85. 1985. Print. Mount Carmel Academy, New Iberia, LA.
Indest, Joyce. Personal Interview. 3 Apr. 2012.
Landry, Carole. Personal Interview. 13 May 2012.
Landry, Lily. Pictures of Mount Carmel. 2012. Private Collection. 10 May 2012. Lily
LeBlanc, Sharon. Personal Interview. 14 May 2012.
“Mount Carmel Convent.” Le Sucrier de La Louisiane. New Iberia. 7 Nov 1872: Print.
Nelson-Hebert, Jamie. Personal Interview.
Segura, Eugenie. “This is CHS,” English 101. Catholic High School. New Iberia,
Louisiana. 7 May 2012.