Jacqueline Labat, a member of the St. Joseph’s Academy faculty for 47 years, passed away peacefully on February 6, 2018. She died at home surrounded by her family.
Labat earned her bachelor of science in French education in 1967 and a masters of education in 1968 from Louisiana State University. A 1964 graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy, she began her career at SJA in 1970, teaching all levels of French. In 1982, she was named to the position of assistant principal while continuing to teach. She was named associate principal in 2004. She also served as chairperson of the SJA foreign language department for 25 years and was the long-time moderator of French Club.
Throughout her career, Labat was highly active in the American Association of Teachers of French, American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language, Friends of French Studies at Louisiana State University, Louisiana Foreign Language Teachers Association, France-Louisiane, Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and the Association Louisianaise des Clubs Français des Écoles Secondaires
Labat was recently named Officier des Palmes Académiques
for distinguished contributions to French national education and culture. She previously attained the rank of Chevalier des Palmes Académiques
. The honors are bestowed by the Ministry of National Education of the French Republic.
“If I had it all to do again, with every profession in the world laid out before me, I would still choose teaching,” Labat recently said of her ministry as an educator. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful job.”
SJA President Jan Breen said Labat embodied the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which is the foundational grace rooted in the mission of the Church: that all may be one. “Each day, she reached out to help the dear neighbor – our students, parents, faculty/staff, alumnae and the wider community, including Canada and France,” Breen said. “Jackie loved her ministry here, and in each role, her actions always reflected her kindness, compassion and love for those she served. She was truly a blessing to SJA.”
Principal Stacia Andricain met Labat in the summer of 1996, when Andricain interviewed for an administrative assistant’s position at SJA. Over the years, Labat served as a mentor and trusted advisor, helping shape Andricain’s career path as she moved into an administrative role and then was named principal in September. “Jackie was one of the greatest mentors of my life, always pushing me to the front and always giving others credit,” Andricain said. “She was the heart of the administrative team for many years. She was what makes SJA a family. She cared for the person first and walked side by side through whatever journey came along. She was my dear friend and taught me so many wonderful lessons. I will continue to strive to make her proud of me and the place she so dearly loved.”
Former SJA President Sister Adele Lambert, CSJ, a 1954 Academy graduate, called Labat “a woman with the heart of Jesus.” She said Labat brought passion to everything she did. “Jackie loved SJA, and she loved the girls,” Sister Adele said. “She loved the French language and Louisiana French culture, and she immersed her students into leadership roles in a number of French organizations. She also loved the charism and mission of the Sisters and wanted the faculty and students to know what it means to love and serve our dear neighbors. Jackie was a faithful servant to the Sisters.”
Former SJA Principal Linda Fryoux Harvison, a 1966 graduate of SJA, has known Labat for more than 50 years. “From the day I met her in high school, I knew she was someone special,” Harvison said. “Being her peer as a teacher and administrator at SJA, there was no doubt that her heart led her in all decisions along with her belief in excellence.”
Kathy Daigre Meares, a classmate of Labat’s and a former registrar and faculty member at SJA, said Labat touched thousands of students over her teaching career. She said Labat was known for her contagious laugh, spirited nature and love of her students. “Jackie always fought for the underdog or the struggling student,” Meares said. “She was a true example of what an SJA woman should be, caring for the dear neighbor and giving her all in everything she encountered. Jackie embraced and lived the mission of St. Joseph’s Academy. She was a dear friend and a great mentor. I learned so many things from her, but the most important was how to love gently, see the whole situation and how to laugh and have fun in anything you do. SJA was so lucky for 47 years to have such a great leader and a true and passionate teacher. Jackie was an ambassador and never even realized her greatness.”
Stephanie Cronan graduated from SJA in 2010. She said Labat’s love of the French language and culture inspired her to apply for a Teaching Assistant Program in French position, through which she was able to teach English in Lyon, France. Because of Labat’s influence, Cronan has also been involved with ALCFES, from serving as state president of the association as a high school student to now marking 12 years as a coordinator of the annual convention. “To say Madame Labat affected my life would be an understatement,” Cronan said. “In my experience, she didn’t only teach about language and culture; she imparted lessons about leadership, as well. I have so many memories, but every year, whether at ALCFES or in France, we took a silly photo together to commemorate the occasion. Now, as I mourn her loss, I have a whole photo album full of beautiful and fun memories with my mentor and ‘French mom.’ I will miss her more than words can express.”
Glynis Davis, current chair of the SJA foreign language department and a French teacher at SJA for 37 years, said Labat was more than a long-time colleague. “We referred to each other as les soeurs françaises, or French sisters,” Davis said. “We shared our love for all things French and a passion for teaching. We became a team that took students to 37 French conventions and 22 trips and/or exchanges abroad. Besides being my French sister, Jackie was my role model. Her passing creates a void that I am not sure can be filled. I regret that future students will not have the ‘Madame Labat experience’ in the classroom. I will have to continue as half a team, but I will only get through it because of my admiration for her as an educator, a leader of French in the state and an amazing woman. To paraphrase from her favorite book, Le Petit Prince, ‘tu es unique au monde,’ which means ‘you are unique in the world.’ Jackie certainly was that.”
Kayla Telhiard said Labat was one of the kindest people she knows. A 2015 graduate of SJA, Telhiard said Labat had a gentle and loving spirit. “She just seemed to have this light that shone and attracted everyone to her,” she said. “I met Madame Labat as a freshman in 2011-2012, and I knew she would be one of my favorite people in the entire world. I’ve now traveled to more than 10 countries, and she remains on that list. She honestly had a heart of pure gold and was the strongest woman I have ever met. She was selfless and so passionate about what she did and what she taught. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful person to have had as my role model.”
Nicole Brandt Rayner, a 1984 Academy graduate, followed in her mentor’s footsteps, becoming a French teacher. “She brought to the classroom qualities that couldn’t be taught, in my opinion, in a professional development workshop: The humor, empathy, enthusiasm and compassion as a teacher were her own gifts,” Raymer said. “Madame Labat was always the real deal, and it was truly a delight to continue our friendship during the 34 years since my SJA graduation. In my mid-life career change as a teacher at a CSJ-sponsored school in San Diego, I’ve looked to Madame’s ways and have sought to channel her in the classroom and school community as a whole. My ‘girls’ know all about my mentor. I can only hope that they will remember me similarly to the manner in which I – and countless women she inspired – will remember Madame Labat.”
SJA will celebrate Labat and her 47-year career in several ways this spring, including renaming the foreign language classrooms The Jacqueline Billeaudeau Labat Foreign Language Area. The Academy will also host a reception when Labat is honored posthumously by the French Consulate with the rank of Officier des Palmes Académiques.
Labat is survived by her husband of 48 years, Wade Labat; daughters Michèle Labat Wilks ’95 (Matthew) and Christine Labat ’01; grandchildren Ryan and Camille Wilks and Libbie Labat; and sister Lee Billeaudeau Davis ’54; sister-in-law Wendy Labat Payment (Tommy); brothers-in-law Cyrus Labat (Karen) and Errol Labat (Kathy); father-in-law Edmund Labat; and numerous nieces, nephews, Godchildren, friends and her SJA family.
Mindy Brodhead Averitt