The earliest days of the parish were shaped by the interplay of two men, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel, an experienced church administrator and shepherd forged in the pre-Vatican II church, and Ernest B. Norman, Sr., a landowner and real estate developer whose holdings in Lower Algiers would shape the face of the community, and the parish.
Around 1951, it was Ernest Norman Sr. who set into motion the events that would lead to the creation of St. Andrew the Apostle. Immediately after World War II, however, the stirrings of a post-war boom began to appear in Algiers. One developer, James N. Harsh, created Huntlee village, a subdivision of about 300 houses centered on Huntlee Drive, between Gen. Meyer and the river. Meanwhile, Norman and his sons had resumed the development of their subdivision, Aurora Gardens, a slightly smaller development about three-quarters of a mile downriver on Gen. Meyer, between Woodland Avenue and Aurora Drive. In 1951, the Normans had two small subdivisions up and a third on the drawing boards, Norman approached the archbishop and proposed to donate land for a church and school to serve the growing area.
On June 5, 1952 Archbishop Rummel created St. Andrew Parish and assigned as its first pastor the Rev. Morris N. Dummet. There was no church; the first Masses would be in private homes-and the first, on June 29, was celebrated under Gus and Nat Flattmann’s roof. It consisted on paper only with 300 families. The first church and early classroom and office buildings would be built in such a way that they could be converted and sold as houses after their initial use. As further evidence of their generosity, the Normans designed the buildings and built them at cost. Parishioners refinished secondhand pews acquired from a synagogue in Houma, and on Christmas Eve of 1952, swept, cleaned and decorated the church against a looming deadline: Midnight Mass that night was the first service in St. Andrew’s first church.
St. Andrew School opened September 14, 1953 with classes in Kindergarten through third grade. Its faculty numbered four – two laywomen and two nuns-with one of them, Sr. Mary Patricia, doubling as third grade teacher and principal. It added a grade a year until reaching the eighth grade in 1958, graduating its first class in 1959. Fr. Dummet resigned due to illness, giving way to the Rev. Paul Brewerton, a 37-year priest arriving from Morgan City to take over his first parish. Father Brewerton and his successor, Msgr. John A. Tomasovich – Fr. Tommy-are in many ways the twin pillars of St. Andrew. Their back-to-back pastorates from 1955 to 2000 cover 45 of St. Andrew’s 50 years.
With the site secured, Father Brewerton and his committees set about designing and raising funds for the new complex. The first buildings to go up on Eton Street were the three classroom wings farthest from the church, with the cafeteria/office building, built for $438,000. In September, 1958, the 5th through 8th grades left Gen. Meyer Avenue for their new home, followed in March, 1959, by the kindergarten and lower grades. The master plan was to build a fourth wing and a temporary church that would be converted to a gym/auditorium, with a permanent church to be built later. The fourth wing was completed and the plans to build a permanent church were abandoned.
October 15, 1972 Rev. John Tomasovich arrived after serving a decade as pastor of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Chalmette. In time, Fr, Tommy proved to be the other pillar in the history of St. Andrew’s and with the tenure of 28 years. By the time of Fr. Tommy’s arrival, the parish was nearing adulthood after 20 years of steady growth. In 1974, a new rectory rose on the site, replacing one that was purchased in 1961 at 5311 MacArthur. Three years later, Fr. Tommy presided over the 25th anniversary mass where the church’s clear glass windows were replaced by distinctive stained glass panels depicting the Old and New Testament themes, a gift to themselves and to the memory of their departed relatives and neighbors. By that time the parish had grown to about 1,950 families.
A believer, like Fr. Brewerton, in lay involvement in the management of the parish, Fr. Tommy and a succession of assistant – the Revs. Gil Martin, Des Crotty, Gene Jacques, Tom Rodi, and Tran Viet Bac-Hai to name a few – revitalized parish ministries. They re-energized ministries for the young and the old, founding SANYO in 1983 and SAGES in 1985. In 1983 Fr. Gil developed an ingenious design to squeeze a new building for youth ministries in the tight space between the church and the new school office complex. In 1985 Tom Arnold was instrumental in founding the Knights of Columbus Council #9107.
In 1988, Fr. Tommy launched what may well be his enduring legacy The St. Andrew School Foundation, a parish-based effort to raise $1 million. The principal is never to be touched. When the $1 million target is reached the annual interest will supplement teacher salaries and provide scholarships, relieving some of the school’s financial burden on individual families and parishioners alike.
In 1996, the parish dedicated a two-story, $1.4 million learning center for St. Andrew School children. Stocked with computers, a science lab for middle school students, library, art room and other resources, it was conceived and executed near the end of the tenure of a pastor who devoted himself to Catholic education. It was named, appropriately, the Tomasovich Learning Center.
In the summer of 2000, Fr. Tommy resigned as pastor after 28 years. He was succeeded by the Rev. Paul Hart, an assistant who had arrived in 1997. Early in his tenure it fell to Fr. Hart to authorize the size and scope of the parish’s 50th anniversary celebration. This written effort, the celebrations of June 2, 2002, and a broad range of other anniversary efforts which included a new mission. His one sin of pride was that he was a fan of the New York Yankees. In this he seemed, sadly, incorrigible. He started to build the Gym or “The Tower” in 2005, but was delayed because of Hurricane Katrina. Once the school reopened and everything settled down the “Tower” or gym was completed, which includes meeting rooms and offices. The school received SACS under his administration.
In July of 2012, Rev. John F. Talamo, Jr. was assigned to St. Andrew the Apostle. He has since put his vision of the parish into action and has transformed the campus by adding statues, beautiful landscaping, and many Catholic signs that can be felt all over campus. Under his administration, the school was reaccredited with SACS and received The Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School of Excellence. It is still a work in progress and is all done for the greater glory of God…
The Norman’s and the Flattmann’s gifts were only among the first. Tens of thousands of donations of time and talent followed, offered over and over again by thousands of families -and a handful of nuns and priests. Many remain with us; many have passed on to the Lord. They made St. Andrew’s.