A Catholic school founded by a charismatic and beloved Jesuit priest whose goal was to serve low-income and at-risk children is preparing to move to a larger campus where it can serve even more students.
On Wednesday, leaders of The Good Shepherd School broke ground at their new location at 1839 Agriculture Street. An $11 million capital campaign is underway to raise the remaining funds needed for construction and to move the school from its tiny campus in the Central Business District to the new location. School leaders say the school has outgrown its CBD location.
The school was the vision of Father Harry Tompson, S.J., who died on April 5, 2001, right before the school opened its doors on Baronne Street.
On Wednesday, benefactors, friends and many of his former students at Jesuit High School (where Tompson was president), said that the school he founded has made great strides towards accomplishing his mission and will do even more in its new, state of the art location.
“For a man that was a bit later in his life, he had a zeal and a passion for lifting up children in the city of New Orleans that other people left behind,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who graduated from Jesuit High School and was one of Fr. Tompson’s students. “If he were here today, he would be very happy with this space. He would think this is probably the right space for the Good Shepherd School although at the end of the day he didn’t really care, because he never left perfect be the enemy of good. He was just in the business of getting it done.”
Good Shepherd, a tuition-free school supported by benefactors and a community-based board, serves at-risk children from low income and inner city families, in the Jesuit tradition and with a holistic educational plan (the so-called Nativity model) that is integrated with the students’ personal, moral and spiritual development. That includes an extended school day where students receive more instructional and enrichment time as well as two meals. There is a low student-teacher ratio and strong parental/family programming to reinforce the family's commitment to their child’s education.
The school boasts a 100 percent on-time high school graduation rate for its students, which is higher than the 71 percent national average and the 70 percent average citywide. School leaders also tout a college enrollment rate of 96 percent for its students who go onto high school.
“Father Harry Tompson’s goal was simple, profound and powerful,” said Tommy Moran, a former student of Fr. Tompson's who is now president of Good Shepherd. “It was to have a Good Shepherd School in every neighborhood, on every corner where poverty and hopelessness exist,” Moran said. “And he showed us with his very life and his very actions, how to stare down poverty, how to stare down this world and bring Jesus everywhere. He boldly did that.”
“At his core, Fr. Harry Tompson was a believer. He believed we were powerful. He believed we were created to create and he believe we were blessed with power to make a difference,” said Moran.