I always wanted to know more about the man for whom the West Bank school was named: Archbishop Blenk. What can you tell me?
Curious on the West Bank
Archbishop Joseph Huber Blenk was promoted to the seventh Archbishop of New Orleans on April 20, 1906. He was formally welcomed by the Catholic laity at a public gathering at the French Opera House on July 3 of that year. New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman, Gov. Newton Crain Blanchard and an array of dignitaries gathered. Catholics and non-Catholics alike were present for the ceremony, which included music and lots of speeches.
Born in Germany on July 28, 1856, Blenk was the youngest of 17 children. In 1866, his Protestant family emigrated from Germany to New Orleans. Blenk's parents died when he was 12 years old, and he was raised by a Catholic family. After converting to Catholicism, Blenk was baptized, confirmed and eventually became a priest in 1885.
For a while he served as professor at his alma mater, Jefferson College (now the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, La.), and was promoted to president of the school. And for a time he was rector of the Church of the Holy Name of Mary in Algiers.
On June 12, 1899, Blenk was appointed bishop of Puerto Rico. Before he left for that post, however, the island was struck by a terrible hurricane and Blenk raised $30,000 to take with him to aid members of his new congregation who were victims of the storm. While he was there, Blenk founded a college, several schools and convents.
During his time as archbishop of New Orleans, Blenk was influential in improving Catholic education in the area. While he insisted that a parochial school should be established in each parish, he also continued segregation in Catholic schools.
Blenk worked for the restoration of St. Louis Cathedral, pledging an insurance policy worth $5,000 to the campaign to raise money for this purpose. He also organized the Louisiana State Federation of Catholic Societies in 1908, The Catholic Societies of Women of Louisiana in 1911, the Knights of Peter Claver at Opelousas in 1912 and the Catholic Women's Club in 1916.
Two events clouded Blenk's final years: the 1915 hurricane that caused widespread devastation to south Louisiana, and the outbreak of World War I.
Blenk wanted to leave bequests to many charitable institutions, but when he died on April 21, 1917, he was almost penniless. His estate amounted to about $500 after funeral expenses. His funeral at St. Joseph's Church on Tulane Avenue, however, was one of the largest ever held in the city. Like other archbishops before him, Blenk was buried under the main altar in St. Louis Cathedral.
Upon his death, The Times-Picayune wrote, "Catholics will mourn the great churchman and prelate; Protestants will mourn the great champion of truths which all Christians hold in common; agnostics will deplore the passing of a model citizen."
In 1962, a school honoring Archbishop Blenk opened on Gretna Boulevard on the West Bank. Forty-six years later and after much protest, the all-girls school merged with Immaculata High School (in Harvey) to form a new West Bank Catholic high school for girls called Academy of Our Lady.