I was able to obtain Oliver P. Carriere.’s A Sketch of the History of Jefferson College and Manresa House of Retreats Convent Louisiana through interlibrary loan. The Times-Picayune newspaper also provided in-depth coverage of the history of the college as well as of school events.
The oft-made claim was that Jefferson College was the oldest institution of higher learning in Louisiana. The original “College of Jefferson” was founded in 1830. A group of French-Louisianans, headed by Governor Andre Roman, wanted an institution of higher learning, “where our children will find the means of completing their course of studies without leaving their native land.” The college was chartered in 1831, and Main Building was completed in 1833. College of Jefferson opened its doors in February 1834 with 62 students.
In 1842 fire destroyed Main Building, leaving only the two porters lodges and the President’s Home. Though Main Building was rebuilt on its original foundation, the college was not successful, closing in 1848 when the buildings were sold at a sheriff’s sale.
Professor Louis Dafau operated “Louisiana College” from 1853 to 1856, using the Jefferson College buildings. In 1860 the buildings were purchased by Valcour Aime, who added a chapel and operated “Jefferson College” until 1862, when the buildings were occupied by Federal troops. In 1864 Aime deeded the buildings to the Marist Fathers of France. A new college officially named “St. Mary’s College of Jefferson” opened with 17 students in July 1864.
Until 1910 the college had two faculties—one French and one English. Graduation exercises included both English-language and French-language dramas. Literary and Debating Society, founded in 1878, provided cultural training for the students. Music also figured prominently in Jefferson College Commencement and Founder’s Day exercises, featuring a chorus, an orchestra and a brass band.
One of the most distinctive features of student life was that the entire school could load onto a steamboat outside the front gate for an outing up or down the Mississippi River.
Advertisements for the school in the 1920’s noted that the college was comprised of a high school with commercial courses, a junior college with pre-med, pre-legal and pre-dental courses, and a teacher training course.
When enrollment fell to 90 students in 1926-27, the college portion closed. The entire school closed a year later.
Bricks and Mortar
Jefferson College was built on the east side of the Mississippi River, about 40 miles above New Orleans. After the college closed, the Jesuit Fathers of New Orleans acquired the campus in 1931 for use as a retreat center, rechristening the main building as Manressa House of Retreats. A fund drive to build a new center failing, the 1842 Main Building—now referred to as “the Grand Dame of the River Road”—was saved and renovated; it is still in use today. The porter’s lodges and chapel are likewise still a part of the retreat. The 1911 Blenk Science Hall is the dining hall for the retreat.
In 1985 the Manressa House of Retreats was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Colors: Old Gold and Blue
Team name: At one point a New Orleans
newspaper refers to the team as the “Blue Backs,” but normally they are
called the Convent boys.
Enrollment at Jefferson College reached 150 men in 1902 but seems never to have exceeded that number—which, of course, included the high school boys. These numbers determine much of the history of sport there. Until around 1910—or even later—sports schedules included a number of high school sides. (The undefeated 1907 team claimed the high school championship of Louisiana.) The schedule often included “scrubs,” and “frosh” teams of Tulane or Louisiana State as well as club teams. Among other favorite opponents were Southwestern Industrial Institute (now Louisiana-Lafayette), Loyola of New Orleans, and Spring Hill (AL).
This photo, identified as being the football team of Jefferson College, is from Louisiana 1925-26. (<babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89073028573;view=2up;seq=208>) accessed 11-7-2017