Our story begins with four priests, thirty-two students, and a three-story building at 1564 Texas Avenue in what was then Southwest Shreveport. What had been little more than an idea a few years earlier was now a reality. On Thursday, Nov. 3, 1902, St. John’s College opened. The school and church were named in honor of St. John Berchmans, a saint who appeared in the 1850s to a dying nun at Sacred Heart Convent at Grand Coteau, La., and restored her to health.
The building was primarily intended to house the faculty (the priests occupied the upper two stories) and the bottom floor was used for the school. A temporary altar was constructed on the second floor.
There were eight divisions of classes – or “courses of studies” as they were known – when the school opened. The Philosophy Level was equal to a second-year college curriculum. Students at that level took courses in Mental Philosophy, Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Evidences of Religion. Other levels and their equivalents were Rhetoric (first-year college), Poetry (high school senior), First Grammar (junior), Second Grammar (sophomore), Third Grammar (freshman) and Preparatory levels, which were for seventh and eighth graders. Tuition was $6 per month and $4 for the preparatory levels – and noted that these fees were “payable in advance.”
For two decades, the school led a year-to-year existence, but the Jesuits were devoted to the training of youth. Written in an early school catalogue: “They endeavor to show themselves worthy of the confidence placed in them by evincing on all occasions a fatherly care for the physical, mental and moral advancement of those entrusted to their charge. The exercise of their authority is mild though not amiss in enforcing that regular discipline and good order so essential to the proper education of mind and heart.”
The Walter B. Jacobs Sr. estate on the 900 block of Jordan Street was purchased by the Jesuits for the location of the new church, residence, and high school in 1924. Still, the Depression ruined any immediate chances for expansion and in 1929, classes began in temporary buildings. It would be eight more years before the school would have a permanent building. In 1938, the first half of the present high school building was completed (and 11 years later, the second half would be finished). On Sept. 12, 1938, the school held its first classes in the new – and permanent – building on Jordan Street, where is now stands today.
In 1941-42, the St. John’s Educational Board had been formed to serve in an advisory capacity. (The Jesuits still served as the Board of Trustees of the school.) More than 20 years later, this board would serve a vital role in the success of the school. During these years, the school’s enrollment reached an all-time high of 163. The new building had the capability of holding 175 students, but enrollment soon reached 200. The Jesuit fathers and Bishop Charles Greco decided to conduct a city-wide drive to obtain the necessary funds to enlarge the present building – as well as a new gymnasium. Nearly $270,000 in cash was realized and the expansion of the classroom building and the “ultra-modern” gymnasium was built (completed in 1951).
In 1956, the seventh grade was discontinued, but enrollment during the 1950s began to increase significantly, reaching 335 in the 1952-53 school year. With that, the Jesuit presence began to increase at the school, with as many as 20 Jesuits serving the school. For that reason, and to give the school a personality all its own (since St. John’s Grade School was next door), it was decided to honor the service of the Jesuits by changing the name on July 1, 1960, when St. John’s High School became Jesuit High School.
It was only Jesuit High School for 22 years, but many look back on that period as the best of times. It could have also been the worst of times. On three separate occasions, the school faced the very real possibility of closing. When the school changed its name in 1960, the real wonder was why it took so long. For 58 years, it had been known as St. John’s, which meant there had been 58 years of confusion regarding identification with the grade school and the church parish. However, many other things did not change. St. John Berchmans was still the patron saint, the legal title of the school was still St. John’s College, the school nickname was the still the Flyers and the colors remained royal blue and white. The school’s Educational Board was unchanged as well.
In May 1968, Provincial of the Jesuits in New Orleans gave notice that the school would close after one more year. A committee was formed and met with the Provincial and presented a plan of operation to keep the school in operation. Under the Shreveport Plan, the Jesuits would continue to run the school and a lay board would be in charge of the finances.
The result was a “New Corporation,” which would establish, lease, operate, administer, finance and conduct the school – with the cooperation of the New Orleans Province.
Since the mid-1960s there had been great concern among most Jesuits at the falling number of recruits to the Order. Consequently, the Province couldn’t realistically continue to staff all the Jesuit schools in the future, with the same large number of Jesuits relative to lay faculty in each school. The ratio of Jesuits to lay teachers had been almost three-to-one, but that could not continue for long. Considering the schools were expanding in enrollment yearly, the only way to continue was to hire lay teachers.
In 1971 it seemed that the ax was about to fall when the Jesuit Province in the person of its Provincial, Fr. Thomas Clancy, S.J., notified the Board of the New Corporation at the Jesuit Shreveport school that, since there were too few Jesuits to meet commitments to the other schools, it would have to cancel the contract. But now, the school would no longer have a Jesuit as its principal. With the hiring of Robert Ernst in 1972, it meant that someone other than a Jesuit was in charge of the day-to-day operation for the first time in 70 years. It signaled a new era, but it also showed that the efforts of keeping the school open had been successful.
In a letter dated July 10, 1980, Rev. Thomas H. Stahel, S.J., Provencial of the New Orleans Province, gave notice of termination to the Board of Trustees of Jesuit High School. Cited as the main reason was a lack of manpower for assigning qualified Jesuits in Shreveport. On July 31, 1982, the name “Jesuit” would no longer apply. The buildings on Jordan Street became the property of the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport (now Diocese of Shreveport).
Still, the school had been a Jesuit institution for 80 years. Sure, the school would continue to run as before, but many wondered why the school couldn’t continue to be known as “Jesuit.”
The name ‘Jesuit’ was a copyrighted name and we were told that we would be unable to use.
So the search for a new name began. Catholic-Shreveport. Cathedral High School. Even a return to St. John’s High School. But nothing met with universal support until Fr. Joseph Riviore, S.J., who was the school’s alumni director, met with Ernst. “Father Riviore was a big supporter of the name Loyola,” Ernst says. “He came into my office one day and told me that Loyola should be the choice because Catholics would know the connection between Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits.” The name “Loyola” not only gave the school a Catholic presence but also had a Jesuit presence. Loyola College Prep became the school’s new name at the start of the 1982-83 school year.
In 1980, the graduating class of 104 was the largest in school history and the school had an enrollment of 425. In only four years, the number of graduates had been reduced to only 65 mostly due to the downturn in the local oil & gas economy. In late 1986, a feasibility study was commissioned by Loyola’s Board of Trustees under the directorate of Most Rev. William B. Friend, Bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport. Representatives of Shreveport’s three Catholic high schools – Loyola, St. Vincent’s and Notre Dame – all met to discuss the feasibility of a merger. But after the negative reaction was received from St. Vincent’s and Notre Dame, Loyola decide to proceed with its own plans to become a co-educational entity. The results were immediate; in the 1987-88 school year, 106 girls enrolled (though only 10 seniors) and the school’s overall enrollment jumped 14 percent. On Sept. 3, 1987, the school became coed.
The winds of change were constantly blowing in the 1980s. But because of those turbulent times, the school has enjoyed remarkable stability in the years since.The school began offering Advanced Placement courses (AP) in 1981-82, giving students the opportunity to receive college credit while in high school.
As the school continues in its second century, it has a typical enrollment of 440 students and is the only four-year Catholic high school within 100 miles. Catholic and non-Catholic students from more than 20 middle schools enroll at Loyola College Prep. The school offers honors courses in English, mathematics, languages and science and AP courses in 11 different subject areas. There are two scholars programs – Latin and Math/Science – and high percentages of students elect to take upper-level math and science electives. Each student is required to perform 100 hours of community service before graduation. ACT and SAT test scores of Loyola students are consistently higher than the national and state averages, and historically, 98 percent of Loyola’s graduates enroll in college and more than 50 percent receive a merit or athletic scholarship.