It was 1994, for my cousin’s wedding, when I last visited Ursuline Academy.That I forgot their magnificent church, The National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, confounds me.This spring on the George Rodrigue Life & Legacy Tour, I stood both transfixed and transported within this glorious temple to God and women and strength- the home to millions of prayers and boundless compassion blended with learning …and, to my greater surprise, ART!
Founded in 1727, Ursuline Academy is the oldest Catholic school and the oldest continuously-operating school for females in the United States.After some seventy schools in eighteen months on the Life & Legacy Tour, I’m pretty well-seasoned and rarely intimidated.However, the fact remains that I’m an embodiment of religious ambiguity and attended a series of, albeit excellent, public schools in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.The very idea of Ursuline Academy, located in Uptown New Orleans, caused my brow to raise, just a bit.Could I possibly relate to this house of history, pedigree, and piety?And could they possibly relate to me?
I invited my cousin to join me for the adventure.Kelly McClanahan Yeager graduated from Ursuline Academy in 1986. Together we toured the school, church, and museum, swept away by this treasure-trove of culture, history, and faith.
Along the way, I learned that Kelly was a “Skip,” and that this was obviously an important characteristic, based on the cheers and broad smiles she received throughout the day.I relaxed.Kelly’s here, and she’s cool.(And so is her super-cool oyster art and etsy shop.Check it out- https://www.etsy.com/shop/NOLAChickGifts).
Thanks to the boundless support of my team, Eldridge Tervalon, Douglas Magnus, and Douglas Shiell, I brought seven museum-quality, original George Rodrigue paintings, ranging in date from 1968 -2013, and shared them with the students over four hour-long sessions.
The girls wore ‘casual blue’ in George’s honor, triply appropriate as not only their school color, but also the signature color of autism awareness month. This important cause was beautifully interwoven into our day with a presentation by Amy Collins of the Beignet Fest and Tres Doux Foundation, “supporting New Orleans-area programs that serve children with developmental delays.” Learn more here- https://www.beignetfest.com/the-cause-mission/
In between, we admired paintings by students inspired by George Rodrigue.They explored the classic oaks and contemporary dogs in their own creative ways, with exceptional artworks that both touched and awed. We also enjoyed lunch with Ursuline Academy President Karen McNay in her grand office, where we dined on crab cakes (a Lenten Friday delicacy), discussed our confidence in and admiration for today’s young people, and experienced McNay’s own enchanting paintings!
It was the last group, however, the 7th graders, that stunned me the most on this phenomenal day.You see, up to now, I have funded this tour entirely on my own.It’s brought me to schools not only throughout Louisiana, but also Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida.This year we expand into California and Texas.Funding it alone, I can’t sustain it.And yet I must.I have witnessed the transformative potential of art, inspired by George’s story and paintings, and there’s no going back.
(pictured: Immaculate Dog, 1992 by George Rodrigue, 36×24 inches, oil on canvas)
The students presented me with a check from funds they raised to help this programming.Unbeknownst to them, it is the seed money for the all-new George Rodrigue Life & Legacy Foundation.The money will help bring George’s original art and life story to rural schools, title 1 schools, and many others, both within Louisiana and nationwide.These young Ursuline women empower me, as a woman who still feels like a girl, to fly.I won’t let you down.
Thank you, Ursuline Academy, for welcoming me to your school and allowing me to share with you about the extraordinary man and artist, George Rodrigue.You are humble, gracious, eager, generous, joyful, and super-cool!Thank you for helping me to make a difference.And thank you for inviting me back to visit with your high school students. You have inspired me, and I can’t wait!
Dream!Create!Embrace your ideas!Make a difference!Change the world!
-Photographs throughout by my husband, hero, and George’s dear friend, artist Douglas Magnus, pictured here as we strolled the levy along the Mississippi River following our special day at Ursuline Academy.