White, Black, and In-Between: Italian-American Women Religious and an Integrated Sacred Space & School

Authors: Katie Berchak-Irby*, River Parishes Community College
Topics: Religion, Ethnicity and Race, Women
Keywords: New Orleans, religion, ethnography, blacks, Italian diaspora, gendered spaces, memory, feminist geography, US South
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 9, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cabrini High School in New Orleans, which houses the city's St. Cabrini shrine, was one of the first New Orleans area Catholic schools to integrate.The school was founded by and is operated by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an order started by Italian-American St. Frances Cabrini. The order was warned against integrating the school by people in the archdiocese and community. Nevertheless, the sisters saw integration as a social justice issue that had to be addressed no matter the risk to the order or school. Many of the order's sisters and school's students at the time were of Italian descent and remembered when they, their parents, or their grandparents occupied a space between white and black in the racial milieu of New Orleans society. Today, Cabrini High's student body has one of the largest percentages of black students among the private high schools in the Greater New Orleans Area aside from the city's older historically black Catholic high schools. At times over the years, this has been a strength and weakness for attracting a student body large enough in size to keep the school open. This paper discusses how integration was and is "integrated" into Cabrini High's identity and physical spaces, such as the St.Cabrini Shrine, and what the legacy of integrating the school earlier than others in the area has meant and means for the school. It also explores the common experiences between so-called "white ethnics" and blacks in New Orleans.

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