Photography by John DeMajo and Kathleen DeMajo Adams

Ursuline Avenue at Galvez St. New Orleans, LA.
Pre-Hurricane Katrina view of the abandoned building that once housed St. Joseph Academy in New Orleans.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph (CSJ) taught in many of the New Orleans Archdiocesan schools and in their own high school and novitiate. For many years, this venerable building in the 2100 block of Ursuline Avenue served as the main convent as well as St. Joseph Academy High School. The sisters also operated a boarding school for girls here well into the 1950's. In the late 1950's, the Order came to the realization that the Ursuline Street building was in need of major upgrading to comply with building codes for schools and student housing. A decision was made to construct a new novitiate building on Mirabeau Avenue in the city's newly developing Oak Park section. Shortly thereafter, land was acquired a few blocks away on Crescent Street, and a new St. Joseph Academy was constructed.

When the sisters sold the Ursuline Street building, it was renovated to some extent and it became a an annex of Andrew J. Bell Junior High School, which was a school operated by the New Orleans Public School Board.

After leaving Ursuline Avenue, the sisters operated their new school and novitiate for the next forty years in the Oak Park locations. Well before Hurricane Katrina, the number of nuns joining the order had declined substantially. As their numbers dwindled, the order withdrew their teaching nuns from many of the New Orleans area Catholic schools that they had serviced for decades, including St. Pius X, Holy Rosary, St. Rose Of Lima, St. Ann and others. Although the Sisters of St. Joseph retained some small presence in the community as missionaries for the education of illiterate adults and special needs clients, St. Joseph Academy was closed and the property was turned over to another institution for use as a co-educational Catholic high school.

A small contingent of missionary nuns continued to live and work at the Mirabeau Street property until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. At that time, their property was abandoned as it was heavily damaged in the Katrina flooding. Shortly thereafter the building was struck by lightning and it burned. It was totally demolished following the fire. The remaining few members of the community, most of whom were well up in age, were transferred to schools and convents in other cities.

A 1950s aerial view of the original St. Joseph Academy, located in the 2700 block of Ursuline Avenue, as it appeared when it was still owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The facility was later sold to the Orleans Parish School Board and became Andrew J. Bell Middle School. The Sisters constructed a new school in the Oak Park area of New Orleans, which served as St. Joseph Academy High School until it was closed prior to Hurricane Katrina.
The view above was taken in July of 2013 as work was being performed to restore the building.
Above, a 2003 view of the front of the old St. Joseph Academy chapel. View below is as the chapel appeared in 2013.
The original 2 manual four-rank Kilgen organ, from the Saint Joseph sisters' Ursuline Street chapel, was moved to the Mirabeau Avenue Novitiate when the sisters left the Ursuline Street location. The instrument was Kilgen Opus 5432 dating to the year 1935. The organ was destroyed when the New Orleans levees broke after Hurricane Katrina, and the St. Joseph Novitiate was first flooded and then subsequently burned.

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