Catholic School Matters

April 22, 2018

Learning to Listen

When I became principal of Catholic High in New Iberia in 2006, I was aware that the school played a role in the book Dead Man Walking (published in 1993) by Sr. Helen Prejean. I found out that the couple murdered were David LeBlanc, a senior at Catholic High Class of 1978, and Loretta Bourque, a student at New Iberia Senior High. They were killed after the Catholic High Homecoming football game in the fall of 1977 and their bodies weren’t discovered until Saturday, the date of the Homecoming dance.

I found out that the Class of 1978 had taken care of David’s parents, especially his mother. I discovered that Sister Helen’s role with Patrick Sonnier (one of the two brothers who was executed for the murder) was painful for this highly-Catholic community. “She never reached out to the family,” I often heard. There is still palpable bitterness in New Iberia directed toward Sister Helen.

For their 30 year reunion, I asked the class if they’d like to invite Mrs. LeBlanc back for the Homecoming Mass. She accepted the invitation and for the first time since her son had died, she visited Catholic High. This is the same gym where police appeared on that Saturday night and asked the Christian Brothers if they could identify the class ring with a “DL” engraved inside.

I had always wanted to talk to Sister Helen and ask her about that community perception. Last month, I had the chance to talk to her and recorded it for the Catholic School Matters podcast. Before I did, however, I re-read Dead Man Walking. There it was on page 32, her admission that she forgot to reach out to the victims’ families.

I see now that I devoted my energies exclusively to Pat Sonnier’s plight when I should have shouldered the struggles of victims’ families as well. I should have reached out to the Bourques and LeBlancs immediately and offered them love and comfort, even if they chose to reject it. Now, as I befriend each new man on death row, I always offer my help to his victim’s family. Some accept my offer. Most angrily reject it. But I offer.

I listened to Sister Helen speak in the co-Cathedral before I interviewed her. She offered the same admission—that she had made mistakes and had learned. She also shared the story of how David LeBlanc’s father felt pressured to support the death penalty. He reached out to Sister Helen; they prayed together. He also reached out to Patrick Sonnier’s mother, offering his support and later attending her funeral.

When I embarked on this conversation with Sister Helen, I thought I would find meaning in her arguments against the death penalty. However, the meaning I found in the conversation was that we need to listen to each other. Sister Helen didn’t listen to the Bourques and LeBlancs originally. And the good people in New Iberia didn’t bother to listen to Sister Helen’s apology and have been carrying 40 years of resentment.

In addition, I've included the conversations and arguments on this divisive issue. If you’re like me, tracking the arguments is difficult. And we often don't reach out beyone our own thought bubbles to listen to the other side. So I have tried to present some of the best articles below so you can read, learn, and listen.

Want to keep up with the conversations surrounding Catholic education? Set up your own Google Alert, subscribe to this newsletter by clicking "follow," subscribe to the Catholic Schools Daily, or subscribe to the Catholic School Matters podcast.

Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Articles about Capital Punishment

Catholic Arguments For Capital Punishment

Catholic Arguments Against Capital Punishment

What I'm Up To

This week, I'm spending 4 days in Richmond, VA as part of the Diocesan AdvancEd review. I'll head back to Helena on Wednesday night and spend the next couple of days in Butte and Great Falls. My podcast conversation this week (as alluded to above) is with Sister Helen Prejean.

Last week, my podcast conversation with Pamela Lyons, the new superintendent of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic schools, dropped. It's a great conversation about leadership and change and we talk about her integration of Disney principles of customer service as well as making the Eucharist the center of each school.

Thanks for any help spreading the word. Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Sunday: AdvancED Diocesan Review in Richmond, Day 1
  • Monday: AdvancED Diocesan Review in Richmond, Day 2; Podcast #126: Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ.
  • Tuesday: AdvancED Diocesan Review in Richmond, Day 3
  • Wednesday: AdvancED Diocesan Review in Richmond, Day 4; Wed book blog: Teamwork: What Can Go Wrong/ What Must Go Right (1989) by Carl Larson & Frank LaFasto.
  • Thursday: Office (Helena) & Butte meetings
  • Friday: Great Falls meetings
  • Saturday: Missoula Catholic Schools Auction

Miles this week: 539 driving miles; 1,878 air miles

Miles travelled in 2017-18: 22,522 road miles; 41,605 air miles


Summer Conferences

  1. New Directions Assessment Conference, June 18-20 Philadelphia
  2. 16th Annual Education Law Symposium July 5-8, Louisville
  3. Institute for Catholic School Leaders, July 15-18, Los Angeles
  • April 26: The Effects of Mindset in your School Community
  • May 1: Triage for the Bullied Child

April Parent Engagement Flyer: Avoiding the Summer Spiritual Slide

What I'm Reading

  1. Inside the Vatican: The Politics & Organization of the Catholic Church (1998) by Thomas Reese, SJ.
  2. A Flock of Shepherds: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1992) by Thomas Reese, SJ.
  3. Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church (1989) by Thomas Reese, SJ
  4. Principles (2017) by Ray Dalio
  5. Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business (2017) by Freek Vermeulen

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading along with links to Wed Book Blogs

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

April 15, 2018 "The Community of Catholic Schools"

March 25, 2018 "The Passion of St. Francis School"

March 18, 2018 "March Madness"

March 11, 2018 "Special Issue on School Violence"

March 4, 2018 "Bishop McNamara Leads the Way"

February 25, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 3"

February 18, 2018 "New Catholic Schools, Week 2"

February 11, 2018 "New Catholic Schools"

February 4, 2018 "Turnaround Schools, Part 2"

January 28, 2018 "Turnaround Schools"

January 21, 2018 "Synthesizing Church Documents"

January 14, 2018 "What's Brewing in Milwaukee"

January 7, 2018 The 411 on 529's

December 17, 2017 Best of the Fall Issue

December 10, 2017 Serving Hispanic Catholics

December 3, 2017 Building Culture the ND Way

November 12, 2017 "How Are We Building Relationships?"

November 5, 2017 "Journal of Catholic Education"

October 29, 2017 Church Documents

October 22, 2017 Momentum Special Issue

October 15, 2017 "Anthem Protests"

October 8, 2017 Classroom Managment Special Issue

October 1, 2017 "The Un-Themed Issue"

September 24, 2017 "Joy of the Gospel"

September 17, 2017 "ESSA"

September 10, 2017 "On Leadership"

August 27, 2017 "American Catholic News"

August 20, 2017 Back to School Issue