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Monday, August 24, 2009

Convent of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau, Louisiana

Grand Coteau is still a small town; the Convent of the Sacred Heart has been there since 1822, the oldest Sacred Heart convent and school in continual existence. The Jesuits also are the other presence in Grand Coteau. The only stoplight is at one corner of their property. A Mr. Charles Smith and his wife had settled there and decided that Grand Coteau needed a church. The Church of St. Charles Borromeo was built by them. However, Mr. Smith died in 1819. When Bishop Dubourg visited in 1820, Mrs. Smith asked him about founding a school for girls. He had a quick answer for her and said that he had some Religious of the Sacred Heart who had arrived in America in 1818 and they would be the ones to found another school in the South for girls. Mother Duchesne agreed and sent Mother Aude and a young sister to start the school which opened in October of 1822.
In the Spring of 1822, Mrs. Charles Smith visited the Hardey family. She was well-known to them as two of Mrs. Hardey's sisters had married two of Charles Smith's brothers! Ann Hardey had been sent the year before to the School of the Sisters of Charity at Emmitsburg where many of her Smith cousins had also gone for their education. Mrs. Hardey was wondering if Mary Ann should go, too. Mrs. Smith proposed that Mary Ann should come to the new school at Grand Coteau. It had opened some months ago with five children including Mrs. Smith's own niece; now there were a dozen children and all were learning so much under the very competent Superior and teacher, Mother Eugenie Aude.
Mary was now twelve years old and longing to go to Grand Coteau when her parents spoke to her about the new convent school. The obstacle was money for her tuition. Mr. Hardey was rich in land, but had very little cash. Mary Ann had an inspiration and asked if their slaves could not help by doing the convent washing as the nuns did not have slaves to do this. She thought this would help pay her tuition. Mr. Hardey gave his consent. The account books at the Convent record regularly $35 for Mademoiselle Hardey; the regular tuition was $45 a quarter so the labor of Mrs. Hardey's slaves gave Mary Ann the needed reduction.
When Mary Ann arrived, she realized that Mother Aude's English was not yet fluent and so she made up her mind that she would practice her French at every opportunity. She did this and withing a few months was speaking the language so well that she told Mother Aude that now she could just speak to her in French. Although entering several months after the other students, Mary Ann applied herself and was soon seen to have an outstanding intellect and quick grasp of all that was being taught.

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