On a typical school day, you might see Ralph Howe seated with his guitar at the front of a group of one-year-olds as they grin and clap their tiny hands or dance on the carpet. You’d see him preaching to elementary students and their parents, asking them questions about the Bible and speaking with wide, encouraging eyes. Howe has spent days leading classes of high school students, too, motivating them to write and think about God and their world amidst all of their adolescent distractions. Through it all, “Father Ralph” as many call him, has brought patience, a relentless sense of humor, a warm smile, and a commitment to spreading God’s love. Howe is retiring at the end of the month from St. James Episcopal Church and Day School in Baton Rouge, ending a long and successful career as a priest and educator within the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
It’s fitting that his last position has been with St. James--the church he grew up attending every Sunday. Now somewhat of a St. James historian, Howe reflected, “I remember how I would stand on the kneeler so I could see over the top of the pew and see Parson Werlein at the altar.” He remembers going to Sunday school in the Day School building (now Werlein Hall), and he remembers when there was a bank in the space where Bishops Hall now stands--he used to have an account there. He even remembers Killgore Hall housing a radio station, then apartments, and then offices, before it became the Early Childhood Development Center.
Ralph has served in Episcopal churches and schools in Louisiana since 1981, which is also the year he and his wife Suzette were married. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Sewanee: The University of the South and General Theological Seminary in New York City. After positions in New Orleans, Alexandria, and Crowley, Howe took the call to come to Trinity Episcopal in Baton Rouge, which was the first work experience he had directly connected to a school. As the rector of Trinity, Howe also served as the Head of School and the Chaplain. All of Ralph and Suzette’s children attended Trinity and then went on to Episcopal High School. Following Trinity, Howe served for 10 years as the Chaplain at Episcopal High School before taking the call from Mark Holland to return to St. James as an Associate Priest and Day School Chaplain.
Although Howe always saw himself as a chaplain more than a K-12 educator, he is grateful for the joy working with children has brought him. In a recent conversation about his retirement, he mentioned how much he will miss seeing “the smiles on the kids’ faces and the hugs and the high fives, and the ‘Hey Father Ralph’s’.” He chuckled and noted that he’s often been mistaken as Father Michael, Father Mark, or others. Whether teaching preschool students a new song or high school seniors about the Bible, Howe maintains the same goal: “People are going to forget what I taught them about the Bible, but what I hope they remember is my goal to love those kids and let them know that there’s something bigger out there that we call God that loves them and that took on human flesh to show us that love.”
During his final year at St. James, Ralph has had the added bonus of working with his longtime close friend Michael Kuhn, the Interim Head of School for 2019-2020. With Michael joining the school leadership, Ralph witnessed “a school that I thought was great get even better.”
Howe said he’s always amazed by the teachers and administrative staff at the Day School, but he certainly has amazed them, too. During the COVID-19 school building closure, Ralph’s love for the community was never more evident. He took prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, adapted them for a younger audience, recorded himself reading them, and published them for parents to say with their children at the end of each day at home. “Evening Prayers with Father Ralph” brought comfort by helping the community pray for frontline workers, parents, students, teachers, and relevant topics like times of leisure and graduation. Parents expressed their gratitude all season through countless likes, shares, and comments on the Day School Facebook page.
Reflecting on his years with students, Howe said, “I always thought of myself as a parish priest. I never thought I would be teaching in a school, but it has been such an incredible joy for me to have the contact with those kids over the years. I love working in a church (the liturgy, preaching, pastoral work, and outreach), but to work with kids brings so much joy. Episcopal schools have been such a blessing to my children and their education, and to be a part of that in the lives of other kids--the joy comes back to me. I always get so much more than I give. It’s been great.”
After taking a much-deserved break in retirement, Father Ralph will visit and volunteer at the Day School as well as the church and homeless ministry. He’ll also enjoy time with Suzette, their four children, and several grandchildren. He will always hold VIP status on our campus and be known for his unparalleled contributions to St. James Church, the Day School, and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
Click the buttons below for our Head of School's June 25th letter about reopening on August 5th and our Adjusted Academic Calendar for 2020-2021.
Dear Saint James Community,
We are deeply saddened by recent events around our nation. We grieve with you for every person who has experienced racial injustice. St. James Episcopal Day School is not only built on academic excellence but also spiritual formation within a warm, loving, Christian community. We are called to be people of hope. This means our community is not a place for racism and hatred. We have an obligation to focus on listening to one another, showing empathy, celebrating differences, and loving unconditionally, just as Christ would do. What a beautiful gift we can give the world: teaching a generation of children to lead positive change that is long overdue!
While no small task, we are up for the challenge. Our faculty, staff, administration, and clergy are committed to supporting you and your children during these challenging times. Please be on the lookout for communication from our school counselor Ally Bayard in this Sunday's Scoop that will include links to resources that can help you to help your children better understand what is happening in our world.
We want to listen to the voices of those calling out to us, and to take positive steps together with you this year and in years to come. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”
Bridget Henderson & The Rev. Dr. Michael Kuhn
Message from Fr. Chris Duncan sent to St. James Church
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Each of us is invited by Christ into the work of redemption and transformation. As the hands and feet of the body of Christ, as the Church, and as Episcopalians we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves as we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
There are no words to fully express the pain, sorrow, and anxiety we feel as individuals and as a society, yet our words are important and listening to the words of others as we attempt to give voice to pain matters. Since the events of the killing of George Floyd our society has joined voices crying out “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” As the Church we are not called to ignore the pain, sorrow, and anxiety that so many in our society and around the world live with generation after generation and day after day. It is my hope that the Church will see this time as an opportunity to share the love of Christ through gracious listening, acts of mercy, and reconciliation.
When we consider the vastness of God and God’s creation and God’s gracious self-revelation to creation, we are welcomed into God’s infinite mercy and love. It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we seek to contemplate what is awe-inspiringly incomprehensible, unfathomable, and mysterious. At times like this, it can become hard to fix our eyes on the image of the all-powerful loving God. Yet, two theological truths remain: Imago Dei and Incarnation.
Imago Dei is the message expressed in Genesis 1 during creation in which humans are created in the image of the triune God. Thus, all people bear God’s holy impression in and on our very being. Therefore, all people must be treated as creatures in the image and likeness of God. Incarnation is the term used to express God becoming flesh in Jesus and in doing so blessing creation through that presence. It is through the Incarnation that we are transformed by the Passion and Resurrection. It is through the Incarnation that we are invited to participate in Christ’s ministry as the hands and feet of God within the world.
I share this theological teaching because these two transformative truths of Imago Dei and Incarnation supersede the divisions we create due to race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, age, size, class, education, etc. This leads to two questions upon which we can reflect:
These are simple questions that are not easy to answer. Christ himself taught us that following the way of God’s love is not easy. It is uncomfortable. It is hard. It leads to change. Christ invites us to die to self in order to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. That is our calling. In fact, it was the very God that created us in his image and came into the creation in the flesh who gave up everything for us on the cross and opened the way of life and love through the Resurrection. This is why the last part of our Baptismal Covenant asks two questions:
And we answer committing ourselves to this work, saying, “I will, with God’s help.”
The road to healing and reconciliation is not easy. The love we are to have is meant to be active love in order to build up the kingdom of God so that lives are transformed more fully into the image in which we were created. As we walk this hard path, we are reminded that the God of love is with us and in us, even in our tears, our fears, and our brokenness.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
“Send us now into the world in peace; and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” - The Book of Common Prayer
On Thursday, May 21st, 2020 at 10am, St. James held a special graduation ceremony for its fifth graders. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the school administration chose to host a virtual graduation with a “drive by” presentation of candidates outside of the school on Convention and Fourth Street downtown. Twenty-six graduates and their families joined the faculty and staff in watching a pre-recorded video ceremony for all to enjoy together. The ceremony followed a traditional prayer service format from the Book of Common Prayer, with readings, songs, and prayers led by teachers and fifth grade students. Interim Head of School Michael Kuhn gave a homily focusing on the bittersweet emotions at graduation and the idea of ascension.
At the end of the ceremony, each student was driven by family members through the school's carpool route one last time, to a stopping point near Bishops Hall. Rector Chris Duncan led each student out of the car down the sidewalk to receive a graduation certificate and a gift from the school, and to take a picture. Then, students returned to their cars and rode with their families to park in the church parking lot to wait until all graduates were called.
St. James Episcopal Day School ends in 5th grade, making this graduation ceremony and the fifth grade year particularly important milestones in the life of the school. Typically the fifth graders take a class trip to Houston in the spring before graduation, but this year’s trip had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The fifth grade class raised money for their trip throughout the year through fundraisers including monthly donut and pizza days and a family bingo night in the fall. Although they were sad to miss their class’s trip, this year’s students opted to donate of the money they'd raised to the school by funding three special gifts: a sun sail over one of the outdoor play areas at school, two refillable water bottle stations, and painted inspirational messages on a stairwell in Werlein Hall. Thus, the Class of 2020 will be remembered not only for their intellect, their friendships, and their unusual graduation ceremony; they will also be remembered for the incredible generosity and patience they showed their school. The students will be missed by their younger classmates along with the faculty and staff at St. James, but we all look forward to witnessing the great things they do in middle school and beyond.
Congratulations to St. James alumni graduates in the class of 2013! We are proud of all of these college-bound seniors for their accomplishments and future plans. Check out their Senior Spotlights below: