NEW ORLEANS - Sr. Lillian McCormack called them her blue roses. On Tuesday morning, she would have been proud to see hundreds of them flourishing at the school she founded - along with the thousands more whose lives they have touched in the 50 years since.
A special Mass and celebration marked the 50th anniversary of St. Michael Special School, the small Irish Channel school that Sr. Lillian opened in 1965 to educate students with developmental and learning disabilities.
Under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, it has gone on to educate and train thousands of students and young adults in the 50 years since, from childhood to adulthood.
The legendary Sr. Lillian, a member of the order of School Sisters of Notre Dame who died in 2000, loved the blue rose analogy, which she adapted once she read a book by the same name.
"Have you ever seen a blue rose?" Sr. Lillian would always write on invitations to the annual Blue Rose Ball fundraiser. "One does not exist. But if there were such a thing as a blue rose, with what care would it be nurtured? Our children are that special."
WWL-TV profiled Sr. Lillian in an award-winning 1965 documentary, "The Other Side of the Shadow."
"The bright side of this picture as I see it is the fact that each of these children has a place and has found his place in a school where he is accepted, where he is loved, where he can work within the ability of his limits, where he can produce without the pressure of failure," she said in the program, which was produced by Phil Johnson, a longtime friend of the school.
"From the very first moment that this child crosses our threshold until the last moment when at 18, 19, or 21 we release him as an adult, it is our chance to bring this child to the fullest potential that he may have."
The children who lovingly took part in Tuesday's Mass (as readers during the liturgy, as bell choir members, as participants and as members of a special procession) were a testament to that statement and the school's impact.
Special photo displays recounted the school's history and memories of Sr. Lillian. Members of her family were on hand for Tuesday's Mass, including members of the Capella family. Jane Capella Silva, Sr. Lillian's niece, was a faculty member at the school for 35 years and served as principal before her death in 2012.
Special thanks to Andrew J. Cohoon / New Orleans Snapshots for photographs.