Priest True 'Father' to Boys at Center

By Susan Langenhennig
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
June 18, 2000

No one dared to call him dad, but the boys growing up at Hope Haven Center in the 1940s and '50s definitely knew him as "father."

The Rev. Ernest Faggioni, a Salesian priest, was the man they would turn to for help with school work, teen-age problems or just to learn how to throw a football or score a goal at soccer.

And nearly half a century after he stepped down as prefect of studies at Hope Haven, Faggioni, who will turn 83 in July, is still a part of many of his former students' lives.

"I go over there and say the rosary with him sometimes," said Harvey resident Bernard Lannes Jr., 61, who left Hope Haven in 1956. "Father Ernest knows my daughters, and he baptized my godchild."

Hope Haven opened in 1925 as a Catholic vocational training school for boys who were orphaned or came from difficult family situations. The school changed its focus in the 1960s to serve as a residential psychiatric treatment centerfor young people, which it still operates today.

But in its early years, students lived year-round at the Marrero campus, learning academics along with trade skills such as carpentry, book binding and automotive mechanics, among others. Students often came to the school because their families were not intact, torn apart by war, poverty or death, and many students' fathers were not an active part of their lives.

Father Ernest, as Faggioni was known, filled that void, said Lannes, whose real father was a Merchant Marine.

Faggioni was born July 2, 1917, in Brazil, but grew up in Italy. At 19, he moved to the United States as a brother in the Salesians of St. John Bosco order.

At 23, with slick dark hair and a slim, athletic build, Faggioni looked not much older than many of his students when he was first sent to Hope Haven as a math and science teacher.

"I was hard. But I told them, 'I want you to learn so that when you get out of here, you will be a productive man. I want people to look at you and say, "Hope Haven is a good school," '" said Faggioni, his voice still thick with an Italian accent.

Faggioni left Hope Haven for a few years to study for the priesthood, only to return in 1950 to become the school's prefect of studies, basically the principal, disciplinarian and teacher rolled into one.

"He was a good disciplinarian. Everyone was afraid of him," said John Sandrock, 62, president of the Hope Haven Alumni Association. "The teen years are traumatic for all parents. Anybody who has children knows that. And the priests and brothers did a good job with us. They gave us the support and care we needed to grow up."

Sandrock recalled Father Ernest's infamous way to teach boys not to smoke. If a student was caught with cigarettes, the priest would give him half a cigar to smoke in front of the other students during study hall. When the boy was done smoking, Faggioni would give him the other half of the cigar to chew.

"Boy, everyone's stomach would turn green. No one would smoke after that," Sandrock said.

"They called me 'Father Mean,'" said Faggioni, who still serves as a priest at St. John Bosco Church in Harvey. "But they would come to me when they needed something. They knew I cared about them.

"I would hear this little knock on my door in the middle of the night, saying 'Father?'" he said. "I would get up and get dressed and take them down to the study hall so we could talk. They had family problems. One would get upset because his mother didn't come to see him, or she was remarried. We would talk about it and work it out."

Faggioni always was accessible to the students, Sandrock said. The priest would roll up his cassock and play soccer and handball with them and take them on hunting and fishing trips to Hope Haven's farm in Crown Point.

Al Scarmuzza, past president of the alumni association, credits Faggioni's tough love approach with his later success in life, both financially and spiritually.

"I came from a very poverty-stricken family, but Hope Haven and Father Ernest taught me that it's not where you come from that matters; it's where you come to," he said.

The Rev. Ernest Faggioni, a Salesian priest, taught at Hope Haven Center in the 1940s and 1950s. He helped raise hundreds of boys who lived at Hope Haven, which at the time was a boarding school for boys who were orphaned or whose families could not afford to raise them.


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