Shaw Principal – now Associate Superintendent of Secondary Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans – Dr. Mark Williams ’85 and State Senator Patrick Connick ’79 are the winners of two prestigious Alumni Association Awards for 2020. Dr. Williams was named 2020 Alumnus of the Year. Senator Connick was named 2020 Distinguished Alumnus.
Dr. Williams was recognized, not only for his long service to our school and alumni association, but particularly for his Herculean efforts during 2020 in successfully steering our alma mater through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and its related restrictions. Under Dr. Williams’ guidance, Shaw seamlessly shifted its instructional and other programs from in-person learning to remote electronic and computerized education. The school year was successfully completed, and a formal, socially-distanced, outdoor graduation ceremony for our seniors was conducted in July in the Coach Joe Zimmerman Stadium.
After his Shaw graduation in 1985, Dr. Williams earned his BA degree in education from the University of New Orleans in 1989. He worked for Shell Oil Co. in marketing and managing a business unit for 15 years, before beginning his career as an educator. At Shaw, he worked as a coach, teacher, department chair and assistant principal, before becoming school principal in July 2017. During that time, he received his Master’s degree in education from UNO in 2014 and his doctoral degree in education at Holy Cross University in Algiers in 2019. He wrote and successfully defended his doctoral dissertation entitled “Forming a Social Media Strategy of School Marketing, Enrollment, Impact and Advancement of Private Schools,” which won the University’s Best Dissertation of the Year Award from about 30 dissertations written and defended in 2019.
At Shaw, his goal has been “to educate the whole young man, academically, physically, morally and ethically, all in the Salesian tradition,” he said. Dr. Williams praised the talent of the Shaw faculty and expressed pride that average ACT and AP standardized test scores of Shaw students steadily rose during his tenure, with emphasis on advancing the science, technology, engineering and math curricula. “A principal’s job is to improve student achievement,” he said.
Dr. Williams deflected credit for Shaw’s success in navigating the difficulties of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions and gave much credit to others. “Shaw is so blessed to have some of the finest men in our community as alumni and supporters. Catholic schools are centers of excellence. The recent pandemic demonstrates how Catholic schools, particularly Archbishop Shaw, were well planned and prepared to safely open schools. The reason for this institutional efficacy is due to the extraordinary talent of the individuals who are employed at the school,” Dr. Williams said.
On September, 11, 2020, Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced Dr. Williams’ promotion to the Archdiocesan Schools Associate Superintendent position. His new job includes planning, communicating and liaison with the leaders of all Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese, serving as “first point of contact” between the Archdiocese and the individual schools and in the development of school leaders. He also works as the Archdiocese liaison to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to ensure compliance with “all national standards and benchmarks for excellent Catholic schools.” Dr. Wiliams continues to act as Shaw Principal under Salesian Director Rev. Lou Molinelli, SDB, spending time at Shaw in the mornings before going to Archdiocesan headquarters in the afternoons, until a new Shaw Principal is selected.
Senator Connick was recognized for his long and continuing career of public and community service in elected office, his distinguished professional career as a practicing attorney and for his support and active participation in the Alumni Association.
After graduation from Shaw in 1979, Senator Connick earned his BA degree from Loyola University in 1983. He worked initially as a processing clerk for Pacific Molasses before returning to school at night to earn his JD degree from Loyola University in 1993. He practiced law with two Jefferson Parish law firms before beginning his own law firm, in which he conducts a general civil law practice, including personal injury work representing injured people.
A Republican, he was elected in 2008 to the Louisiana State House of Representatives, representing a Westbank district that included Harvey, Marrero and Lafitte. He served in that position until 2020, when he won election without opposition to the Louisiana State Senate, succeeding Westwego political icon John Alario. He continues to serve as a State Senator, representing a sprawling district with parts of both Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes, including some or all of Gretna, Harvey, Westwego, Waggaman, Jean Lafitte, Port Sulphur and Grand Isle.
In public office, Senator Connick is perhaps best known currently for his careful stewardship of public funds through his close monitoring of the State’s budget. He is also well-known for his leadership in the drive that ultimately resulted in removal of the unpopular tolls from the Westbank side of the Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River and addressing the bridge authority’s “dysfunctional bureaucracy.”
Senator Connick is proud of his volunteer work with Hope Haven Community Garden and having worked since 2007 to save and renovate the Hope Haven and Madonna Manor Campus near Shaw and bring it back into commerce. The Senator said, “The Hope Haven/Madonna Manor Campus is something the Westbank can be proud of. When the whole campus is brought back to life, it will benefit Shaw and boost Shaw’s visibility.” He said that one building has already been stabilized and work on a second building adjacent to the Shaw campus is scheduled to begin in January. Senator Connick envisions future uses on the renovated complex to include facilities for health care and persons with special needs.
“I’m very proud of my Shaw roots, and I appreciate receiving this award,” he said. “My goal is to do whatever I can to help Shaw grow and make it flourish.”
The 2020 winners of the Alumnus of the Year and Distinguished Alumnus awards were selected by a committee of Alumni Association Board members and past award winners. The awards are usually presented at the Annual Alumni Banquet held in August on the Shaw campus each year. Unfortunately, the banquet could not be conducted this year because of Covid-19 restrictions. Because the banquet could not be conducted, other awards, including the Family Legacy Award, Honorary Alumnus and certificates of merit were not bestowed this year. The Alumni Association expects to recommence the annual banquet tradition this coming August 2021. All alumni are welcome to attend free of charge.
Kevin Rodrigue, Shaw Class of 1977, has combined his knowledge of Louisiana history gleaned from a teaching career with a love of writing dating back to his Shaw days and published his first novel, “If Only That Tree Could Talk.”
Released in 2020 by Archway Publishing, Rodrigue’s book is set along Louisiana Highway 308 “either in Assumption or Lafourche Parishes, depending on where your imagination takes you,” Rodrigue said. The plot springs from a highway accident in which the novel’s protagonist runs his vehicle off the road, smashes into a stately oak tree and is flung from the car. The driver is dazed and imagines that one of the sprawling oaks comes to his aid to mend his confused mind by telling him stories about the amazing events the tree has witnessed in its lifetime of 350 years.
Rodrigue’s path from his Westbank childhood in the Timberlane neighborhood of Gretna to published author has included professional stints in business, coaching and teaching. As a youngster and Shaw student, Rodrigue loved sports, but eye problems kept him from the playing fields. He became interested in writing. At Shaw, he was editor-in-chief of the Shaw Eagle newspaper, and he continued writing as a reporter for the “The Driftwood,” the school newspaper at the University of New Orleans. At the same time, his love of sports became “an itch” to become a coach.
After his marriage in 1981 and while his two children were young, he coached at playgrounds and in middle schools, “just to scratch the itch,” he said. He became junior varsity basketball coach at Archbishop Blenk High School while his daughter was a student there, which whetted his appetite to pursue a coaching career. While working as a construction sales representative, Rodrigue took college courses “in the morning, odd hours of the day, at night, on weekends, on-line, whatever I could do to complete my degree work” and become a full-fledged high school basketball coach.
In January 2006, he earned his bachelor’s degree from UNO in its first graduating class after Hurricane Katrina. The need for teachers after the storm was acute, and Rodrigue was hired to teach a wide range of subjects at Believers’ Life Christian School, where he also served as Athletic Director and coached volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and track. “The experience, while on a small scale, was priceless,” he said. After Believers’ Life closed, Rodrigue became junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach of the girls’ basketball teams at John Curtis Christian School. His teams won state championships in 2009 and 2012, all while Rodrigue was working on his Master’s Degree in Education from Louisiana College, which he earned in 2013.
“At that point, my focus became teaching history,” Rodrigue said. He moved to Assumption Parish and began teaching first at Assumption High School and now at Plaquemine High School, where he remains. He said that “the spectacular massive oak trees that mark the Assumption Parish and Thibodaux landscapes inspired the book.”
“If Only That Tree Could Talk” is a work of historical fiction. Its talking tree nurses the injured driver back to health by telling the man about the arrival of the Cajuns from Nova Scotia based on the Wadsworth classic poem “Evangeline.” The tree recounts the Civil War, the seizure by Union troops of a Louisiana plantation home, the heroic efforts of a freed slave fighting for the Union at the Battle of Port Hudson, violence against Black people by the KKK and White Camelias during and after Reconstruction, and race relations, “which certainly were not all pretty and pristine,” he said. “I saved the best for last, in the person of Huey Long giving a stump speech underneath the tree during his successful campaign for U.S. Senate” in 1932.
“My idea was to make the book readable enough that people would become interested in their own history and look into the historical facts,” Rodrigue said. This imaginative, insightful and captivating book is available in all possible forms from the Archway Publishing website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other major outlets.
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Brett Majoria ‘87 proudly presides over a vibrant family business, the New
Orleans Central Business District breakfast biscuit, poboy and hot plate lunch emporium, Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant. Every Monday through Friday at 300 Camp Street downtown, Commerce regulars, tourists and nearby office and hotel workers crowd the restaurant’s counter and tables for “the Original CBB (Commerce Breakfast Biscuit)”, creamy red beans and rice, sumptuous breaded bone-in pork chops, Southern fried and baked chicken, loaded shrimp poboys and other classic New Orleans blue collar comfort foods.
The commerce was established at its present location by Brett’s father, the late John Majoria of Marrero (1938-2013) with John’s childhood friend, Bruce Griffen, in 1968. Brett grew up in Marrero with the restaurant in his blood He attended Visitation of Our Lady grammar school and graduated from Shaw in 1987. He spent five years studying at Northeast Louisiana University inMonroe and overseas, earning his college degrees in business and behavioral sciences.
Brett joined his father behind the Commerce counter in 1992.His Dad was old school, operating on a cash only payment basis. Brett began to suggest a few upgrades in the business model, gently lobbying his father to install an ATM machine and accept credit card payments.
“The neighborhood was changing,” Brett said, with fewer local patrons from downtown office buildings and more tourists from new hotels used to paying exclusively with credit cards. His father resisted Brett’s credit card suggestion, but after Dad died in 2013, and
Brett took the helm, he made the switch to accepting credit cards. “When I did that,” Brett said, “I felt a little pang of guilt and heard my father telling me, ‘Man, son, you’re really screwing it up.’”
The daily breakfast and lunch traffic at Majoria’s Commerce proves that Brett definitely did not screw it up. The menu of New Orleans classics, including poboys of all kinds and classically prepared homestyle plate meals, is delectable. The homey excellence of the food and the funky climate of the old-style serving counter and tight tables would be worthy of nomination for a feature on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” television program.
Brett presides over it all, dressed usually in golf shirt, blue jeans and baseball cap, with
affability and efficiency, clanging constantly on the Commerce’s ancient, antique cash register, which he plays like a musical instrument. His business is an important downtown institution and tradition, providing not just a living for the Majoria family, but also employment for seven or eight employees at a time and a welcoming place that reminds New Orleans locals and visitors alike of what makes New Orleans food and hospitality famous.
Learn more about Majoria’s Commerce, its history, menu and the Shaw Alumnus who
operates it by dropping into 300 Camp Street in New Orleans Monday through Friday for breakfast or lunch in person or by visiting the restaurant’s website at www.commercerest.com.
Astrophysicist Dr. Louis Barbier, Shaw Class of 1975, has traveled a long way from his boyhood neighborhood on Pailet Street in the shadow of the Harvey Canal, through the halls and science labs of Shaw in Marrero, to his current position as Associate Chief Scientist at the highest level of the NASA research and space program in the Washington D.C. area.
A native of Harvey, Dr. Barbier was the valedictorian of his Shaw graduating class in 1975. At Shaw, he played on the tennis team, edited the Talon yearbook, enjoyed the French Club, served for a year as the football team statistician and in the NJROTC and was an officer of the National Honor Society, all while working a part-time job and enjoying the usual teenage recreational opportunities of the West Bank. He earned his BS in physics from Loyola University and then went on to LSU in Baton Rouge, where he received his Master’s degree in 1983 and his Ph.D. in astrophysics/particle physics in 1987.
He began his distinguished professional career shortly afterwards, when on the recommendation of his LSU thesis adviser, Professor Vernon Jones, he accepted a two-year National Academy of Sciences post-doctorate research position at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where he has resided ever since.
He worked at the Goddard Spaceflight Center for 20 years as a staff scientist in the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory, where his research focused on x-ray, gamma ray and particle astrophysics, measurement of solar energetic particles, antimatter, radioactive nuclei and evidence for dark matter in cosmic radiation. He worked on two NASA space flight missions. He was the Instrument Scientist for an experiment on NASA’s WIND spacecraft, launched in 1994. The WIND mission studied solar energetic particles, which are blown out by the sun, fill the entire solar system and interact with Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere to cause solar weather phenomena. He was also a member of NASA’s SWIFT EXPLORER mission, which won the prestigious Rossi Prize in Astrophysics in 2007 and is still operating on its mission to locate and study gamma ray bursts throughout the universe.
Dr. Barbier also served as Deputy Program Scientist for the NASA Suborbital Balloon Program. He explained that NASA frequently launches suborbital balloon flights for experimental purposes to test new technologies and conduct research for building spacecraft, using enormous flight balloons that “when fully inflated are big enough to fit the Houston Astrodome inside them.” The use of balloons for research and testing, he said, is effective and less expensive than using rockets to launch satellites. He also worked on the NIGHTGLOW project, designed to study “airglow” in the upper atmosphere caused by extremely rare energy extra-galactic particles.
In 2007, Dr. Barbier moved to upper level management positions at NASA headquarters. He served as senior analyst in NASA’s program, analysis and evaluation office; and Deputy Chief Scientist for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, before taking his present position as Associate Chief Scientist within the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2013. He describes his current job as “quite interesting and exciting” in that he frequently serves as NASA’s top representative in dealing with a variety of other federal government agencies and organizations. He works closely with the NASA Chief Scientist, who reports directly to the NASA Administrator.
Dr. Barbier remains active in his continuing duties in NASA’s Office of the Chief Scientist, a Shaw graduate from Harvey, La., working in our nation’s best scientific interests in a way that makes all Shaw men proud.
Troy DePriest, Class of 1986, and Troy Duhon, Class of 1982, were presented with the Alumni Association’s two most prestigious awards at our group’s annual 2021 banquet. DePriest received the 2021 Alumnus of the Year Award. Duhon was honored as the 2021 Distinguished Alumnus.
A graduate of the University of New Orleans and an Allstate Insurance regional executive, Alumnus of the Year DePriest has long been active in promoting events and activities that benefit Shaw, its students and alumni. He was one of four founding members of Excelsior ’86, a Section 501(c)(3) organization that conducts fund-raising to benefit both Shaw and its feeder grade school, Immaculate Conception in Marrero. Through a weekly bingo event at Azalea Bingo Hall and other fund-raising activities, Excelsior ’86 is building an endowed scholarship fund to assist Shaw students in paying for the cost of their Salesian high school education.
Along with alumni Doug Hernandez and Toby Salesman, DePriest created and funds the Father John Navarro Scholarship, which pays the tuition of one Shaw student annually up to $7,500. The new Continuous Giving Program, which provides monthly donations that benefit Shaw, the Alumni Association and Excelsior ’86, was his brainchild. In addition, he organized and oversees Caleb’s Corner, an informal group that sees to the needs of a Shaw student who recently lost his father in the Covid-19 pandemic.
DePriest was instrumental in creating the Green Pages reference source for Shaw alumni and friends to engage in business and social networking; the opening on the Shaw campus of ACT NOLA, the premier course for preparing high school students to excel in the annual ACT college admissions testing; and with the assistance of State Sen. Patrick Connick and Kurt Bellow in making Shaw Louisiana auto license plates available for alumni and friends. Troy actively contributes to making the annual Shrimp & Jambalaya Festival on the Shaw campus a major social and fund-raising success. He mans the weekend cooking teams who serve students from AOL and Shaw who participate in the annual on-campus religious retreat He serves every year as an alumnus ambassador and recruiter at Shaw’s annual open house for prospective students.
DePriest is a soccer enthusiast. He played on the Eagle soccer team as a student and later founded (along with Brandon Surrency ’09) the former Fire club soccer program at Shaw, which participated in city-wide competitions. Troy has been a major booster and assistant for Shaw’s soccer team, a reflection of his life-long love of the sport and volunteer work for more than 25 years as a coach and referee for the soccer programs at two Westbank playgrounds, PAC in Algiers and PARD in Marrero.
As a Shaw student, DePriest was active in numerous service programs, including the Key Club and the annual leadership retreat at Salesian headquarters in New York. “To me, Shaw has meant a lifetime of camaraderie and brotherhood,” Troy said. He called his 1986 Shaw classmates “a great group of amazing guys” who maintain “lasting relationships and always have each other’s backs.” Troy noted the support and affection of his wife Rosie and two sons and was grateful and gracious in receiving the alumni association’s highest award for 2021. “It was truly humbling. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to contribute and hopefully make some kind of impact on the lives of young men at Shaw.”
Distinguished Alumnus Duhon is a well-known New Orleans area businessman and philanthropist. A marketing graduate of Louisiana State University, he is chief executive officer and president of the Premier Automotive Group which operates several successful car and truck dealerships. Perhaps more importantly, along with his wife Tracy, he is a board member and driving force behind several impactful charitable and religious organizations, including the New Orleans Mission, the God’s Not Dead Media Group and Giving Hope NOLA, a foundation sponsoring food pantries in New Orleans and on the Westbank in Marrero, along with myriad other charitable efforts.
Duhon’s work to feed the hungry through the food pantries he sponsors has been substantial and life-altering. During the Covid-19 shut-downs particularly, projected food insecurity in the New Orleans area was estimated at one-in-three children and one-in-five adults. Duhon’s Giving Hope organization responded by distributing more than six million pounds of food and serving over 212,000 hot meals to more than 145,00 people in our community. The monetary value of the food distributed by Duhon’s Giving Hope efforts was close to 10 million dollars.
In addition to his efforts to feed the hungry, Duhon’s philanthropic work has extended to addressing the needs of orphaned children locally and world-wide. His Giving Hope organization positively impacts the lives of children through subsidiary programs like Hope for a Home Adoption and the Desire neighborhood Giving Hope Community Center and by working directly with the state Foster Care System and New Orleans Children’s Hospital. Duhon’s organization has built and maintains six Hope House facilities for orphaned children and adoption assistance around the world, including in India, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Gambia and Russia.
Duhon’s Giving Hope foundation also supports and sponsors the Lynhaven Retreat in Hammond and a community center in Lacombe, both of which assist homeless men and women with life training, education and substance addiction treatment; a program that combats human trafficking; and an educational re-entry program for inmates at the Angola state prison. Duhon’s Shaw classmate and friend, Ray Davis, said that Troy Duhon truly “is walking in the footsteps of Don Bosco by serving children and others in need.” Davis noted the significance of Duhon’s constant use of the word “hope” in all of his charitable endeavors, both locally and worldwide.
In his remarks accepting the 2021 distinguished alumnus award, Duhon humorously recounted a few stories of his sometimes less-than-stellar adolescent behavior that occasionally landed him in trouble at Shaw. He attributed his adulthood turn-around to his faith-based vision, strong Christian faith and the influence of his wife Tracy and his father. He recalled his father’s life-guiding advice to stay true to the teachings of Jesus and God’s word and to “find the injustice that inspires and do something about it.”
SHELDON MICKLES ’73 has been awarded the 2021 Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. A native of Gretna and a 1977 graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism, Mickles is also one of three men who will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in June 2021. Mickles has been a sports writer for 43 years for the Baton Rouge State-Times, Morning Advocate and now for The Times-Picayune-Advocate. He covered the New Orleans Saints for 30 seasons.
DR. NICHOLAS JONES ’96 has opened his own plastic surgery practice in Atlanta, Georgia, specializing in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. A native of Marrero, Dr. Jones was lovingly called “Peanut” during his days at Shaw, where he played on the basketball team and excelled in academics.
KEVIN A. RODRIGUE ’77 has published his first book, a work of historical fiction titled “If Only That Tree Could Talk.” A native of Gretna, Rodrigue currently resides in Assumption Parish and works as a teacher at Plaquemine High School. For a full report on Kevin and his new book, read the Alumnus Spotlight article that appears on this page.
JAY WILKINSON ’73 has retired from the federal judiciary after 25 years of service as a United States Magistrate Judge at the federal trial court in New Orleans. Wilkinson grew up in Terrytown and lives now with his wife of 43 years, Susan Fitzgerald Wilkinson in Gretna.
Governor John Bel Edwards has appointed JOE TOOMY ‘66 to a five-year term as a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans.
TOM CORTAZZO ‘80 has joined the Lewis Brisbois law firm in New Orleans as a partner.
TERRY TALAMO ‘73 has been appointed District 1 Chief of Staff by newly elected Jefferson Parish Councilman Marion Edwards. Current Shaw Principal
MARK WILLIAMS ‘85 has earned his doctorate degree in education from the University of Holy Cross.
DOUGLAS CURRAULT ‘82 has been promoted to General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Freeport McMoran, a Fortune 500 Company and worldwide leader in the mining industry, headquartered in Phoenix.
PAT PEREIRA ‘73 announces the birth of his grand-daughter, Ava Rose Pereira, daughter of Todd and Olivia Pereira of Belle Chasse, LA.
RICHARD ROMAIN ‘72 is the star of a recently
re-released independent movie set in Louisiana
titled “Cane River,” originally filmed in 1981.
PATRICK CONNICK ‘79 has been elected to the Louisiana State Senate representing a large district that includes Harvey, Marrero and Westwego.
Alumni Association Executive Board
Jeremy Callegan ‘02, President; John Dalton ‘92; Mike Fahrenholt ‘91; CraigHebert ‘03;
Steven Marque ‘96; WayneTheriot ‘69; Joe Miller ‘71; Willie Marque ‘72;
Brandon Surrency ‘09; Jason Brown‘92; Daniel Hill ‘92; Brad Perque ‘00;
Travis Eden ‘90; Kyle Gaudet ‘05; Steve Daigle Jr. (’09)
© Archbishop Shaw Alumni Association 2022