Historic Holy Rosary gets federal funds for critical restoration

by Walter Pierce

Photo by Jonathan Ahhee

Gloria Linton fights back tears when she talks about saving her alma mater, Holy Rosary Institute. Linton is in her 70s and attended Holy Rosary Institute from fourth grade through 12th grade. She didn’t offer her age and I respectfully didn’t ask.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she says, her eyes welling up, the dilapidated 104-year-old brick school house behind her on a cloudy Wednesday morning. “We’ve been working at it and praying about it.”

Moments before Lindon’s teary-eyed recollection, members of the Holy Rosary Redevelopment Board, a nonprofit formed to save the former black Catholic school, joined by representatives from Lafayette Consolidated Government, One Acadiana and the local legislative delegation, announced acquisition of a $450,000 National Park Service grant to save the aging three-story building.

“Here we are 104 years later making history again,” said a beaming Dustin Cravins, president of the HRRB, during the press conference announcing the federal grant. “We have a comprehensive plan — step by step — for what we envision for Rosary. It does have a couple of years on it.”

Dustin Cravins, gesturing, flanked by (from left) Mayor Joel Robideaux, One Acadiana President Jason El Koubi and state Rep. Terry Landry
Photo by Jonathan Ahhee

Cravins was too kind. In fact, the aging brick building on Carmel Avenue on Lafayette’s north side was nearly lost to time and gravity. Boarded-up windows and doors, crumbling staircases and bannisters and creeping fissures in the brick facade speak to decades of neglect, giving the historic building a forbidding House of Usher character. The school is enclosed by a six-foot hurricane fence topped by barbed wire — as much to protect the public from the building as vice versa.

Holy Rosary opened in 1913 as an industrial school for African-American girls; boys weren’t accepted until just after World War II. It closed in 1993 after years of declining attendance and finances. For a good part of its history, HRI was the only place black kids could get vocational and technical educations in Acadiana.

Last week, the redevelopment board learned it had secured the National Park Service grant for $450,000 through a competitive grant-application process spearheaded by Dr. Shaneá Nelson, director of LCG’s Community Development Department. According to LCG, the money is part of $7.75 million in funding the NPS is providing in 22 states to preserve the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American experience. The local funding will be used to shore up the building. Cravins estimated at the news conference that the total cost of rehabilitating the building will be upwards of $5 million, adding that the exterior will be restored with historical accuracy while the interior could serve myriad purposes including a possible community health clinic or programs for area youth.

Holy Rosary alumna Gloria Linton
Photo by Walter Pierce

Wednesday’s announcement was particularly poignant for state Rep. Vincent Pierre, HRI Class of ’82 who represents Lafayette’s north side.

“I have to honestly tell you that my heart is full today, and I know that we’re headed in the right direction,” Pierre said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We just have to work to continue to improve the grounds and do the things necessary to improve our community.”

The Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau also chipped in $15,000 to the redevelopment board’s ongoing effort to save this invaluable part of Lafayette history. Cravins said the LCVC money will be used to begin an annual fundraiser for the rehab project. It will be years before Holy Rosary Institute is restored to its original condition, but it will likely be only months before the public sees crews at work.

“Today it literally —” alumna Linton says, her words choked by emotion. “God has answered our prayers. ... It’s like I’m in a dream.”