By Tracey Primrose
November 19, 2013 — Back in 1993, when Larry Huck was a 24-year-old novice at the Jesuit Novitiate in Grand Coteau, La., he tried not to notice the electrical code violations in the sprawling, century-old building, the longtime spiritual home of the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province. Trained as a master electrician and expected to join the family contracting business, Huck, instead, heard and answered God’s call, entering the Society of Jesus at the well-worn, well-loved novitiate.
A native of New Orleans, Brother Huck was first exposed to the Society of Jesus as a student at the Jesuit high school in that city. Later, when he studied business administration at the University of New Orleans, Br. Huck found that he was increasingly interested in finding ways to give back to his community. His yearly retreats at the Manresa Retreat Center in Convent, La., added clarity, but still, there was an emptiness.
In the fall of 1992, Br. Huck asked God, “Where would I be happiest?” A voice deep inside said, “If you want to be happy, you need to be a Jesuit brother.” Br. Huck said that although it was a bit scary, he felt strongly called to be a Jesuit brother, recalling, “If God wants this for me, why would I do anything else?”
After first studies at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and a regency assignment teaching history and serving as director of campus ministry at Jesuit High School of Tampa, Br. Huck was missioned to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., where he completed a master’s degree in theological studies. From there, he served as a theology teacher, faculty advisor and head tennis coach at his alma mater, Jesuit High of New Orleans, during the difficult days following Hurricane Katrina. “Although it was hard to watch New Orleans die, it was also a grace to be there and watch its resurrection,” he recalled.
After a final formation experience in Dublin, Ireland, Br. Huck returned to the U.S. for an assignment he couldn’t have imagined nearly two decades earlier: a complete overhaul of the old novitiate in Grand Coteau.
Jesuits are skilled at deploying talent, so when it came time for a $15-million, historically sympathetic renovation of the 1909 building, called St. Charles College, there was only one man for the job. Br. Huck willingly signed on as project manager and threw himself into every detail — from purchasing all the plumbing and electrical fixtures to using his contractor knowledge to supply items normally provided by sub-contractors to save mark-up charges.
The stately, old wooden and brick structure had no fire safety systems so Br. Huck made sure the building would be protected after 100 years of very primitive fire preventative systems. Also, the communal bathrooms were done away with and each bedroom was outfitted with a private bathroom. During two years of construction, Br. Huck, members of the Jesuit community and the novices stayed on site, wiping dust from their hair and moving around the building to accommodate the construction schedule.
Rededicated in September of 2013, the building now also serves as the retirement center for the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province. Throughout the extensive project, the novitiate’s history and character were well respected. Original hardwood floors now gleam, rehabbed historic windows finally keep out the elements and period details, including transom doors, were all meticulously restored.
“Grand Coteau is our home,” said Br. Huck. “Every Jesuit from our province started here, it’s the birthplace of our vocation, the place where we learned what it means to be a Jesuit.”
Just a month after putting away his hard hat, Br. Huck started his new assignment in July of 2013 as the first fulltime president of the Good Shepherd School in New Orleans. Opened in 2001, Good Shepherd provides an extended-day, year-round, tuition-free education in the Jesuit tradition for low-income, urban youth. The school currently serves children in kindergarten through 5th grade, but there are plans to expand soon.
Br. Huck loves being back with students and is quick to recognize the contributions of the school’s lay faculty and staff. “I’m the first full-time Jesuit president, and I try to bring an experience of the Spiritual Exercises to everything we do at Good Shepherd. This staff is inspiring because they have infused the school with the Jesuit mission, and they’ve done it during a time when there hasn’t been a lot of good news for the city of New Orleans.” Adding to Br. Huck’s obvious pride: The 12 students who comprised Good Shepherd’s first graduating class in 2008 all started college this fall.
And because he oversees the school’s maintenance, Br. Huck is still called upon occasionally for electrical questions, but for the most part his day revolves around the 98 beautiful, eager children who bring life and dreams to Good Shepherd.
“This has been the happiest moment in my life. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. We always have those moments when we struggle with our vocation, but my vocation as a Jesuit brother has been a tremendous blessing. Part of my mission is to make sure that people understand that there are many vocations in the church, and all are valuable and all are needed.”
Read more about Br. Huck at nola.com.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuits.org/become for more information.