Mount Carmel Academy, established in 1870 and closed in 1988, holds rich memories for generations of New Iberians, who spent their formative years there; 118 years of Catholic tradition and education and much more.
Mt. Carmel was staffed and administered by the nuns of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the uniforms the students wore matched the nuns’ brown and white habits. Both boys and girls attended the school, which offered kindergarten through 12th grade. These former students recalled vividly what school was like, and the legends and stories behind the school, the teachers, and even the building itself.
For instance, mention was made by Mark Mouton of a tunnel under the school. Debbie Delahoussaye-Sundberg added that it was supposedly used by Jean Lafitte, and located under principal Sister Rose Marie’s chair – the one students sent to her office would have to sit in.
Carrie Drago Honey said, "I do recall having to go to Sr. Rose Marie’s office, for what don’t remember. I was petrified thinking the chair I was sitting was over the entrance to the so-called tunnel. I was scared she would make me crawl the length of the tunnel and end up in the bayou where no one would find me.” Sister Rose Marie wasn’t all bad, Beth Moreau remembers her turning the jump rope for the girls in the late ‘60s.
There’s the fabled ‘Emma’ window, upon which Dr. Frederick Duperier’s fiancée scratched her name with her diamond engagement ring. For years it stayed intact in the school’s parlor, then moved to Catholic High of New Iberia, and now resides at the Bayou Teche Museum.
Boys who attended Mount Carmel have unique stories to tell. Edward Granger recalls a 1956 class of 54 first grade boys taught by Sr. Simon. “We forced her to yell a lot,” he said.
Misbehaving boys were sometimes subject to some creative discipline techniques. Said Granger, “I remember Sister Simon making boys put on skirts to fight in front of the class till they were exhausted. I thought I must have been mistaken, but I asked somebody at one of our reunions about it and they confirmed it.”
Of course, misbehaving girls didn’t get off scot-free. Phyllis Belanger Mata recalls “digging for worms with Sr. Mary Carmel for detention.” And there was always Sr. Rose Marie’s chair over the tunnel.
Ritual and religion were part of school life at Mt. Carmel. Recollections include crowning Mary every May, and chapel services – if the girls forgot their chapel veils, they had to bobby pin a Kleenex to the top of their hair. Michael Baham brought to mind the pagan babies; students would drop their coins into a milk bottle to raise funds for them.
Gym also loomed large in school life at Mount Carmel. Yes, there were sports – the girls’ basketball team, volleyball, but the gym was remembered for other situations as well. Some girls, like Lisa P. Morris, got caught smoking in the gym bathrooms. “It looked like the gym was on fire, there were so many smoking,” recalled Maxine Gisclair Worsham.
Nancy Marshall has another memory of the gym. “When we were juniors the old gym was slated to be demolished and we were able to write our names all over the gym. We also threw basketballs up at the roof so we could keep the ceiling tiles as a memento. That was a fun day. That was in May of 1976
Lastly, caterpillar season at Mount Carmel. The stately oaks brought down these stinging beasties in the spring, and the students suffered through the season. Cyndi Ducote got stung wiping something off her skirt. “My hand swelled up like a balloon,” she said. “I remember showing Mrs. Belanger.” Both Katie Indest LaBauve and Marie Louise Abadie Whelen had the misfortune of sitting on a caterpillar. “An enduring memory,” said Whelen.
Enduring memories seem to be the stuff of which Mount Carmel was made. Share yours, won’t you? Drop us a comment below with your recollections.