Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy. St. Francis de Sales Academy. St. Francis de Sales High School. Houma Central Catholic High School. Vandebilt Catholic High School.
Houma’s lone Brothers of the Sacred Heart school has boasted many different names and many different campuses in its long history, but as VCHS approaches its 150th anniversary of existence this fall, its central mission remains the same.
“It would be short-sighted to say that we’re just celebrating 150 years of being open. We’re celebrating 150 years of excellence,” VCHS President Jeremy Gueldner says. “I believe Vandebilt is one of those special places where you can get a world-class education, develop your faith and we take a holistic approach to child development.”
VCHS as it stands today on South Hollywood Rd. opened its doors on Sept. 1, 1965 as Houma Central Catholic High School. At the time, it was an institution with separate wings for boys and girls.
In the spring of 1966, the school was dedicated as Vandebilt Catholic High School in memoriam of Father August Vandebilt, a longtime pastor at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. At the start of the 1966-1967 school year, VCHS officially took on its new name. In 1968, it ended its two-division model and became the co-educational school it is today.
However, VCHS’ history dates back to 1870, when the Marianites of the Holy Cross made their way to Houma to open an all-girls Catholic high school housed in the former property of Houma College, which resided on what would become Point St.
The school, known as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy, officially opened on Oct. 11, 1870 with 25 students enrolled. Nine years later, the Marianite sisters changed its name to St. Francis de Sales Academy.
In 1888, the sisters were asked to open a boys’ school. By May of the next year, boys were admitted to St. Francis for the first time, often moving to different locations and buildings due to inadequate facilities for the Academy’s growing enrollment.
In 1952, the school building would become St. Francis de Sales Boys’ High School, while a new St. Francis de Sales High School for Girls, which also housed a primary school for boys and girls, opened on Verret St.
St. Francis Boys’ School was then staffed for the first time by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who would ultimately take the reins in continuing VCHS’ legacy begun by the Marianites.
By 1964, ground was broken for Houma Central Catholic High School, and the rest is history.
For many who have served at VCHS, being a part of that 150-year story holds a powerful meaning.
“We are part of something that is so big—150 years. It gives you a different perspective, that we are only stewards of this great gift of Catholic education,” David Boudreaux, former VCHS president, says.
Boudreaux, who handed off his presidency to Gueldner in July after announcing his retirement last fall, first came to VCHS in 1978 as a music and religion teacher. He would ultimately go on to leave VHCS and return two more times in his career, once as a teacher and administrator and again, most recently, as president of the school.
“I came here three times, and every time I left, there were great schools I went to, but Vandebilt just felt like the place you wanted to go back to. It felt like home. It felt like the charism of the Brothers was alive here, and it’s just something I wanted to be part of,” Boudreaux says.
Gueldner’s path to VCHS, his wife Mary Catherine’s alma mater, looked a little different, as he accepted the vacant principal’s job just four years ago.
Now stepping into his new role as president, Guelder says that being part of the continuation of VCHS’ legacy can be “intimidating” at times.
“For me, as someone who moved here four years ago and now will become only the third president in the history of the school, it can be intimidating. This school is a staple of this community,” Gueldner says. “It can be daunting when you think about just the history of the school and the impact the school’s had on the community.”