Starting Fresh

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 08, 2005 1 min read

A Roman Catholic high school in Baton Rouge, La., will be renamed for St. Michael the Archangel, effective next school year.

The change was made because the school is now named for a former bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge who was accused of sexual abuse.

Bishop Sullivan High School, which has 777 students, will become the St. Michael the Archangel Regional Diocesan High School, said Deacon Bob Furlow, the director of communications for the diocese.

A name change was needed, Mr. Furlow said, because the late Bishop Joseph Sullivan, the head of the Baton Rouge Diocese from 1974 to 1982, has been accused of abusing a teenage boy. The school was named in the bishop’s honor.

Bishop Sullivan died in 1982. A man who is now in his 40s charged in a lawsuit filed last year that the bishop had sexually abused him in 1975, when he was 17.

The allegations were never proved, Mr. Furlow said, but the diocese publicized them and paid a monetary settlement to the accuser.

The current leader of the diocese, Bishop Robert Muench, decided to change the name of the high school “so there would be no negative connotation in the future for the school,” Mr. Furlow said.

Bishop Muench set strict criteria for the high school’s board to follow in selecting a new name, trying to ensure that the new name wouldn’t be susceptible to a similar problem.

The board had three choices. It could select a name referring to God, such as Sacred Heart; a name for the Virgin Mary, such as Queen of Peace; or the name of a saint.

In the end, the school board chose St. Michael the Archangel.

The founders of the high school, in fact, had originally decided to name the school after St. Michael the Archangel. But given that Bishop Sullivan died shortly before the school opened in 1984, and because he had been a big supporter of Catholic education, that decision was changed.

Mr. Furlow said the diocese will help pay the costs of the name change, such as altering the wording on school uniforms and signs.

Fortunately, said Mr. Furlow, the school’s new name will fit in well with the insignia of a sword, often seen on school items. For example, the sword decorates the helmets worn by the school’s football players, whose team name is the Warriors.

“St. Michael the Archangel is the guardian of the faith and is often depicted as wielding a sword against the devil,” Mr. Furlow explained.

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week