From France to Louisiana
The first community of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel originated in Tours, France near the Loire River in 1824. Julie Thèrése Chevrel joined the community in 1825. The education of young girls was at the very core of the Sisters' mission. The young community endured adversity and was plagued by financial crisis and religious persecution spawned by France's July Revolution of 1830. There was a genuine concern about the future of this community. However, Mother St. Paul Bazire, one of the community co-foundresses, predicted that Thèrése would cross the sea and the community would survive in a new country.
Thèrése became superior of the community in 1828 at the age of 22 when Mother St. Paul died.
Amid the turbulent times, Thèrése's character and spirituality were marked by her willingness to respond faithfully to God's call. This is evident in her readiness to immigrate to the United States to fulfill a need for education and ministry in south Louisiana. Sisters Thèrése and Augustin Clerc arrived in New Orleans from France on November 2, 1833. Their journey to the new world laid the initial cornerstone for the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the United States, and their commitment to Catholic education established the groundwork for Carmelite education in Louisiana.
Initially, the bishop invited the Sisters to administer a school for free young ladies of color in New Orleans. However, upong their arrival, Sisters Thèrése and Augustin were sent to Plattenville along Bayou Lafourche to re-open a school. In 1838, the Sisters were needed in New Orleans and they returned to the city to assume administration of the St. Claude Street School from the Ursuline Sisters. In 1840, the Sisters opened a boarding and day school on Governor Nichols Street in New Orleans, the forerunner of the present-day Mount Carmel Academy, a private Catholic high school for girls in grades 8-12.
Prior to the Civil War, the Sisters' ministry also expanded from New Orleans into the Bayou regions of south Louisiana in Lafayette, Thibodaux, and Algiers. During the way and the subsequent Reconstruction years, they overcame hardships and survived the 1878 yellow fever outbreak. They remained faithful to responding to the needs of the times. Blessings soon flowed and the Sisters' congregation and ministry grew.
Mount Carmel Academy
In 1916, the Congregation elected Clare Coady as superior general. Her administration was set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century and encompassed the First World War, the changing social norms of the 1920s, and the downward economic spiral of the Great Depression. Her dedication to education and her ability to respond to the evolving requirements of Catholic education built the foundation for the present-day Mount Carmel Academy.
Among her many achievements, Mother Clare instituted professional training for teachers and accredited high school programs. She believed that the Sisters should be properly educated and trained in order for them to teach their students.While kind, Mother Clare was focused and expected excellence. She saw the need for a new motherhouse and school and chose the newly developing Lakeview area of New Orleans in the 1920s. Although some believed that the new site in Lakeview was Mother Clare's folly, in 1926 the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel built a four-story building, which provided a residence for the Sisters and housed a day and boarding school, a novitiate, and a Catholic Normal School to train teachers. The Motherhouse is still home for the Sisters today.
Under each of its four principals, Sister Mary Angela Duplantis (1926-1955), Sister Mary Grace Danos (1955-1980), Sister Camille Anne Campbell (1980-2014), and Beth Ann Simno (2014-present), Mount Carmel Academy has grown and flourished. Until 1955, the school was housed in the Motherhouse. When Sister Mary Grace Danos became principal in 1955, more space was needed to accommodate the growing numbers. She built a three-story classroom building, the Performing Arts Center (PAC), and the Instruction Materials Center (IMC). She also began construction on the Fine Arts Building.
In 1980, Sister Camille Anne Campbell became principal (and later president) and the school continued to grow. She completed the Fine Arts Building and added another three-story classroom building which included the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2002, Mount Carmel added an eighth grade and due to a full enrollment, housed 78 students in temporary buildings and began a capital campaign to build classrooms for the eighth grade. The Mother Clare Coady Classroom Building was completed in 2004, and the 36,000 square foot Mother Therese Chevrel Assembly Center was completed in 2005, to be rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina.
Mount Carmel Academy resides peacefully in close proximity to Lake Pontchartrain. However, in 2005, New Orleans and the surrounding areas were forced to face the devastating flood waters caused by breaches in the levee system during Hurricane Katrina. Each building on the Mount Carmel campus sustained 10 feet of flood water. Responding to the needs of the time, Sister Camille Anne Campbell and Beth Ann Simno, Mount Carmel's current principal, led the rebuilding and restoration efforts. Due to their leadership and the help of alumnae, parents and friends, Mount Carmel re-opened on January 17, 2006, less than five months after Katrina. Thus, the destructive flood waters caused by the levee breaches yielded to waters of blessing.
Heading into the 2014-15 school year, Beth Ann Simno, who had served as vice-president and vice-principal for many years under Sister Camille Anne, became the fourth principal and the first lay principal of Mount Carmel Academy. At the beginning of this transition, the school successfully implemented a 1:1 Apple MacBook Air program and a Faculty Learning Lab, for which the school was awarded an Innovations in Technology Award from Today's Catholic Teacher. Ms. Simno's leadership continues to foster the Carmelite spirit among the school community.