St. Peter Catholic School

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History of St. Peter School

History of St. Peter Catholic School

St. Peter Parish was established in 1843, the oldest church on the Northshore. A school was tried and abandoned that same year. Not until 1878 was another attempt recorded. Nine Benedictine sisters from Kentucky had come to New Orleans in 1869, and on Feb. 29, 1878, three of them, Sister Justina, Sister Lawrence and Sister Lioba from St. Benedict Convent in New Orleans, arrived in Covington. Under the supervision of Father Bernadine Dolwick, a Benedictine monk who was pastor of St. Peter Parish, they established a school and convent across the street from the parish church. In his first annual report, Fr. Bernadine discussed his new school. He reported that the church had taken in $178, but expenses were $236, and the sisters '' fared even worse because their only income was from the school tuition and most of the settlers were too poor to pay anything.''  They rented a house for $25 a month.  ''Gradually this house was adequately furnished, but for some time the sisters used flour barrels as washstands, boxes as chairs, and tin cans as pitchers, glasses, and cups; yet they spoke of these days as being extremely happy.'' 

The children were described as ''unruly, almost uncivilized.'' The sisters had to teach the boys to use the door instead of exiting through the windows. The only subjects that were taught were Religion and the three R's. Students ranged in age from six to eighteen.  Only a few of the students could pay the tuition of 50 cents a month; some paid 25 cents, many paid nothing. ''The net income from the thirty to forty students never amounted to more than $8.'' This did not cover the sisters' living expenses. To survive, they rented their house to weekend guests who sought the rest and relaxation of Covington. The sisters had plenty of guests. In fact, there were times when they gave up their beds and slept on the chairs or desks in the school.

They struggled for four years to keep their mission going.  Despite their efforts, the mission closed four years in 1882  and the sisters left the school due to financial problems and the fact that the pastor of St. Peter moved to Mandeville, and no priest was in residence to say mass. Later  Fr. Bernadine died of yellow fever.

In September 1890, upon the arrival of Fr. Joseph Koergel, Sister Justina and Sister Lawrence, and later Sister Lioba, returned and reopened the school. Since a new church was being built where the AT&T building near SSA is today, the old church on the river housed the school from 1890 until 1910. A new three-room school was built at that time. The influence of the Benedictine sisters expanded when they built a convent and founded St. Scholastica Academy in 1903. In 1910, there were approximately 50 students attending St. Peter Catholic School. In 1915, a hurricane destroyed the old church building, but it was immediately rebuilt. In the meantime, classes were held in St. Scholatica Academy’s recreation hall. In 1922, a two-story frame school was built on the present day school property on Theard Street to accommodate the growing enrollment of 140 students. It had 6 classrooms, halls, and a ground level area used like our pavilion today. The cost of the school was $17,000. There was a stage on the back of the school which was extended in 1927 and given a roof, making it a sort of auditorium. 

In 1949-1950, fund raising was started to build a school which would accomodate the enrollment of 223. The main campus of St. Peter School was dedicated in 1956. The main brick building is still in use today as Elementary Building. Since that time, the facilities have been expanded to accommodate our increasing enrollment. Since the mid-1950’s, St. Peter Catholic School has continued to grow and thrive. Our enrollment has more than tripled and today over 740 pre-kindergarten through seventh grade students attend our school. They are served by a faculty and staff of over 60 professionals. The campus has been expanded to accommodate our growth and we presently occupy six buildings in a two block area."

The source for the early history of the school is a paper written by Sister M. Philippine Swett, O.S.B.,; Origin and Development of Catholic Education in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana   (pp. 63-75).