Bankrupted Brothers: St. Paul’s Life in the Great Depression

Author’s Note:  Most local residents know the core history of the St. Paul’s School through both written records and stories that have been passed down. The school has had three generations of ownership. Dixon Academy (1900-1909) was a short-lived co-educational college preparatory school, which housed and taught students with the goal to proceed to Tulane University or Newcomb College for Women. The Benedictine Fathers of St. Joseph Abbey then acquired the campus and opened St. Paul’s College in 1911, which was eventually leased to 19  Christian Brothers who were exiled from France in 1917. After finally being purchased by the Christian Brothers in 1921, the school began its current and most successful tenure to date. With such a transformation, there had to be a factor for change. The Paper Wolf’s five-part series will go in-depth with the state of campus life through five major events with references from the text of both the Conifer’s “75th Anniversary Album” by Judy LaCour and Patti Daigle, and “The Saint Paul Story” by Bro. Ephrem Hebert, FSC.

Events to be covered:

  • The Great Depression
  • World War II
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The 9/11 terrorist attacks
  • Hurricane Katrina and beyond

•   •   •

The entire Student body of St. Paul’s College in 1921, featuring school pendants and the American flag, the wolves show their pride and patriotism. (Source: The Saint Paul’s Story)

In the Great Depression era of the 1920s and 1930s, St. Paul’s School was in the primitive years of Lasallian management, and the economic status and student body population were ever-fluctuating.

Regardless, under the leadership of the Christian Brothers, these difficult times did not let the school meet the same fate as Dixon Academy.

“Despite these reportedly difficult times, SPS continued to expand with the addition of land, facilities, and buildings,” according to the “75th Anniversary Album.” In 1921, a new Junior Gymnasium was constructed to replace the previous structure which  had been converted into a chapel in 1919. In 1925, three valuable squares of land were added to the campus.

The head position, then known as the Director of the School, changed over three times throughout the span of the 1920s, and another time in the 1930s.

In 1920, Bro. Bertaud Victor replaced Bro. Nilammon Lawrence, and in 1926, Bro. Aldebert Duret was appointed Director to take the place of Bro. Bertaud. The next man to assume the directorship of SPC was Bro. Ernest Cocagne, who had served as a sub-director from 1921 until 1925. Bro. Ernest established a departmental system for the school, and was known for overseeing the campus renovations at the time.


The Brothers of the 1920-21 school year, surrounding their signature clothed table and book. (Source: The Saint Paul’s Story)

With student enrollment at a standstill, Bro. Paul Charbonnier, FSC, who assumed directorship in 1935, decided to make an effort to increase student numbers.

According to the “75th Anniversary Album” Bro. Paul started an aggressive program to recruit new students.

“As a result of his efforts, SPC continued to show increased enrollment over the next six years. However, many of the students were on reduced tuition, and many thousands of dollars went uncollected. Bro. Paul, FSC,  just couldn’t bear to send a boy away who could not afford to pay tuition.”

Major changes to St. Paul’s College included new buildings and expansion of land, the founding of the SPC Parent’s club and the first summer camp program in 1934, as well as the establishment of the St. Paul’s Athletic Association in 1936, which was first lead by Theodore Kentzel.

In the 1939-1940 school year, near the end of the Depression, the “St. Paul’s Record,” a monthly school publication, became the “St. Paul’s Conifer,” a name which has remained since in the form of the school’s yearbook.

Students of The Saint Paul Record staff work with diligence to finish one of their monthly issues. (Source: The Saint Paul’s Story)

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