March of the Crusaders
COURTESY THE HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION
For a century, 1869-1969, St. Aloysius School educated young men in the French Quarter area under the direction of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. To the boys who were fortunate enough to attend, it was a memorable experience they still treasure years later.
“We did have a lot of school spirit back then,” Paul Voitier recalls. “One of my fondest memories was when I first went to the eighth grade and there was a big pep rally. They filled up the gym! I’ll never forget everybody cheering and yelling. In my seventh grade class at St. Augustine we only had 13 people.” Through the legacy of a priest at that Tremé parish, Voitier and other St. Augustine graduates had a half-scholarship to St. Aloysius.
The Brothers of the Sacred Heart was founded in France in 1821, and worked for the poor through the establishment of schools. By 1847 they had arrived in Mobile, Ala., and in 1869 were invited to begin a school in New Orleans. They opened St. Aloysius Academy at the corner of Chartres and Barracks streets on Sept. 26, 1869.
(Ironically the name was taken from St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit renowned for his scholastic ability as well as his piety. In New Orleans, St. Aloysius would find an athletic rival in Jesuit High School.)
By 1872, St. Aloysius advertised in the Daily Picayune that “this well established institution” was beginning a new school term, and that “the course of studies is commercial, and comprises English, French and German.”
The commercial course would continue – attorney Peppi Bruneau says that the business and bookkeeping courses could prepare one for the workplace even if one didn’t go to college. Bruneau went on to Loyola University and Loyola Law School, and he fondly remembers his typing class under Brother Lloyd.
“We had those old Underwood typewriters, with the tops of the keys covered – you had to look up at the wall-chart to see where all the keys were. Eventually, we got to the point where they took the caps off the keys, but you still weren’t supposed to look at them.
“We were taking an exercise; I was typing away. And there’s Brother Lloyd. ‘Were you looking at the key board?’
Whap! Right across the knuckles. ‘That’s for looking at the keyboard.’ Whap! Again. So I said, ‘Why?’ and he said ‘So you will remember never to look at the keys again.’ And I never did.”
Bruneau laughs. “It was just a little tap, but it stuck out. I’m a good typist, thanks to him. It’s a skill I’ve used my whole life.”
The school had moved its campus in 1892 to a building, purchased for $25,000, on Esplanade Avenue at Rampart Street that had once held a school operated by the Ursuline nuns. When The Times-Picayune covered the “Solemn Blessing of the Magnificent Edifice of St. Aloysius’ Commercial Institute,” it noted “it is now one of the most thoroughly equipped school structures in New Orleans.” In 1925 another school building was built there.
St. Aloysius alumni include the late U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender (a boarding student from 1905-1909), New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, writer Ronnie Virgets, exercise guru Richard Simmons, former Louisiana State Supreme Court Justice Pascal Calogero and several musicians including: the Assunto brothers Frank and Fred of the Dukes of Dixieland; Vince Vance (Andrew John Franichevich Jr.); and Benny “Antin” Grunch.
Some alumni, including many former athletes, informally meet on the last Friday of the month for lunch at Sidelines Grill on Veterans Boulevard. One of the greats in New Orleans prep sports, the late Coach Johnny Altobello, coached at St. Aloysius from 1947-’52, winning city, state and Catholic school titles. His 1946-’47 state champion basketball team (Nick Revon, John Cronin, Lou Bravo, Eddie Davis and Warren Duncan) is considered one of the best all-time local prep teams. In baseball, Altobello’s 1948 New Orleans Recreation Department team – with several St. Aloysius players including Revon and Dick Brennan – won New Orleans’ first All American Baseball National Championship in Johnstown, Penn.
Athletics was important at the school. “If you were an athlete you didn’t have to take physical education. The other guys had to stand in the schoolyard and do calisthenics,” says Paul Voitier.
Athletics also sparked the rivalry with Jesuit High School. Attorney Fernand Willoz played clarinet in the band while at St. Aloysius (with both Assunto brothers). As he recalls, “St. Aloysius had not beaten Jesuit in a football game until 1946. Roy Hoffman was the hero of that game. He was a very light, small, elusive running back.” The principal, Brother Martin, was very pleased with the outcome. “He gave us all a holiday that Monday.”
Besides sporting events, the band marched in parades (but not Mardi Gras parades in the 1940s). According to Willoz, the band was called into action one July. “There was a big parade in honor of Gen. Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers. We marched up Canal Street. I remember it was so hot, our black ties [bled] on our white shirts.”
St. Aloysius students had fun out of school. Gerry Solar had a Times-Picayune paper route to cover his tuition, and a drugstore delivery job for spending money. On a date “we might go to a movie, get a sandwich at the Parkway Bakery,” and then the guys would “go to the Harvest Moon on Iberville and Broad and play the pinball machine.”
Out-of-school styles could annoy the Brothers at St. Aloysius. “You couldn’t have a ‘D.A.’ (duck-tail hair style) in school – when I got there in the morning the comb went straight down the back to comb it out,” he admits.
Paul Voitier believes the Brothers “tolerated that Elvis Presley look more than madras shirts” and Beatles-style bangs. “They sent one kid down to the office because his hair was too dry” with orders to “‘make it look nice, comb it back off your face.’”
Voitier also notes that the Brothers, “treated you like a man; they didn’t treat you like a child.” Dr. James Meza, former dean of the University of New Orleans College of Education, says his work on “public schools for lower economic and ethnic minority populations is founded on the education I received at St. Aloysius.” Fernand Willoz has particularly fond memories of the principal: “Brother Martin was strict – a big, big strong man. After I went back as an adult, I couldn’t believe how short he was. But he was broad.”
Brother Martin would also serve as principal of a new boys’ school the Brothers opened in Gentilly, Cor Jesu. And in 1969, the new combined school of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart would be named for him: Brother Martin High School.
(After years of there being an empty lot, an apartment complex is nearing completion at the Esplanade and N. Rampart site where the school once stood.)
Today Brother Martin alumni director Kenny Spellman keeps all the old St. Aloysius grads informed, and welcomes them as volunteers.
Brother Martin picked up Cor Jesu’s school colors of crimson and gold, but the team name honors St. Aloysius’s school legacy.
The Crusaders are still winners.