at Archbishop Shaw High School
New Orleans, Louisiana
By Fr. Steve Ryan, SDB
As a way to motivate our students toward joyful school spirit, involvement in the school community and inter-grade brotherhood, Archbishop Shaw High School in the Archdiocese of New Orleans has begun organizing our school community in a new way. Teacher Ben Russo proposed that we divide all our students (and faculty too) into four Salesian “houses”. Each house is named after a different saint and the students in that house aspire to take on the virtues of their saint. The four saints chosen are: Blessed Carlo Acutis (the newly beatified teenager), Saint Dominic Savio (the famous student of Don Bosco), Saint Francis de Sales (the gentleman bishop with a practical spirituality for all) and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (the young adult of service and social action).
Why? Why this new structure with houses named after saints? First and foremost, there is presently an urgent need to grow in virtue in our world. To combat the growing secularism in our culture, young people need models to aspire toward. In order to become disciples and missionaries (rather than just consumers of a Catholic school education), the saints of each household give our students great example for today. These saints are models (holy men and even teenagers) who went on to live an excellent Christian life. Their example will inspire the young men at Shaw to aim higher.
Secondly, just like in any high school, the students of Archbishop Shaw take their cue from the upperclassmen. The attitude and example of the older students is crucial to setting a holy, happy and healthy environment. The younger students look toward the older students for witness on how to act and what to do. Unfortunately, upperclassmen in the past have had a tendency to hang out with their own grade level. Despite assigning “big brothers” at the beginning of the academic year, we found that the structure in the school did not foster enough peer ministry and peer leadership by the upperclassmen. Hence, the introduction of the “household” concept! By enabling the seniors to be virtuous leaders of their households that include students from all the grades (8-12), we inspire the whole school community to go “higher”. Our school motto is EXCELSIOR: to strive to go higher academically, spiritually, and in all aspects of maturity as a person. The household system gives the older students the opportunity to mix with others as leaders and it creates a structure where they can really influence the underclassmen.
The household saints were chosen well: Bl. Carlo Acutis, St. Dominic Savio, St. Francis de Sales and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati all have an intriguing story for young men. All of these saints modeled the Salesian spirituality of joy, a personal relationship with Jesus, a trust in the intercession of the Blessed Mother, kindness, service and the fulfillment of their duties in their state in life. All of these saints were serious about holiness but lived it out in everyday life with their friends and family.
The leaders of each household are seniors from the Class of 2022: Dylan Vo (House de Sales), Peter Nguyen (House Savio), Kaden Robichaux (House Frassati) and Jene Baquet (House Acutis). Along with their fellow upperclassmen they encourage participation with a spirit and style that is untypical of high school boys. Instead of domination or an attitude of superiority they accompany and encourage the guys in their households. Students within a house can grow to rely on one another.
At school masses they sit together by house – not by grade level. At pep rallies, in the gym or at the stadium, they sit by house. When doing service for the community or participating at the Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives, they work together as a house. There are periodic House Meetings for the cohorts. The senior leaders call the meetings and lead the prayers and reflections.
Images of the household saints are displayed in the school and the relics of St. Francis de Sales, St. Dominic Savio and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati are on display in the lobby of the school. (We are presently working on getting a relic of the recently beatified Bl. Carlo Acutis.) Since all of our saints have connection to the Salesians, our model gives the boys more exposure to Salesian spirituality. There are display boards in the cafeteria that give recognition to the outstanding things members of each house have done. Spirit points are given to households and since boys love competition, we expect that they will aspire to outdo the other groups in friendly competition, but especially in virtue (we pray).
At Archbishop Shaw High School the “pedal” is being “put to the metal” regarding evangelization. We want our school to be strongly Catholic and strongly Salesian. The household system is a key component in our pastoral and educative community. The traditional Shaw virtues of Character, Leadership, Scholarship and Service, are being striven for with renewed vigor. This new structure advances our efforts to live EXCELSIOR – to go higher in virtue. The example of the saint is becoming more meaningful, and we pray it encourages and forms more future saints.