By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

“The first place winner of the Patriotic Essay for the diocese (of Baton Rouge) and the winner of $300 in prize money – Landry Mayeaux!” announced David Goldsmith, of the Bishop Stanley J. Ott Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, following the school Mass at St. Jude the Apostle in Baton Rouge on Feb. 20.  


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St. Jude School had five students in the top 10 contest of the Patriotic Essay. Pictured, from left, are David Goldsmith, of the Bishop Ott Assembly of the Knights of Columbus; Cam Stanford, honorable mention; Margaux Mayeux, second place winner; Landry Mayeux, first place winner; Maria Hargrave, third place co-winner; Susanna Shields, honorable mention; and, Frank Zaeringer, Patriotic Chair, Bishop Ott Assembly.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator  


At the sound of her name, Mayeaux leapt up from her seat on the gym floor and bounded onto the stage to accept her plaque. Her energy, excitement and surprise were apparent as she posed for photos.  

“I didn’t expect it at all,” grinned a breathless Mayeaux, as she stood next to her twin sister, Margaux Mayeaux, who won second place and received $200 in prize money.  

Three more St. Jude students placed in the top 10, including third place co-winner Maria Hargrave, who won $100. Cam Stanford and Susanna Shields won honorable mention, bringing the number of winners from St. Jude School to a total of five.  

Isabelle Gruner, an eighth-grader at St. Aloysius School in Baton Rouge, also won third place and $100.  

According to Frank Zaeringer, chair of the Patriotic Essay program for the Bishop Ott Assembly, no school has ever placed in the top three categories or had so many winners in the top 10.  

“And, another anomaly occurred – the first and second place winners are twins,” he added.  

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St. Aloysius School in Baton Rouge had two winners in the top 10 of the essay contest. Pictured, from left, are Lisa Mongrue, social studies teacher at St. Aloysius; Louis Phillips, honorable mention; Isabelle Gruner, third place co-winner; and, Michelle Dozier, social studies teacher at St. Aloysius.  Photo provided by Lisa Mongrue | St. Aloysius School  


The theme was: “What role does patriotism play in your life?” and essays ranged from 500 to 750 words. After the theme is distributed to teachers, students begin working on their essays. The papers are graded by a 20-person committee “from all walks of life,” according to Zaeringer. 

“We have lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers, a former principal, small business owners, corporate managers,” he said. “They’re all top level professionals and they take this (essay contest) very seriously.”  

Zaeringer credits teacher involvement with helping students stay on task with their compositions. All three of the top students are taught by St. Jude English teacher Kelly Mestayer, who has had her students participate in the program for the past decade. In working with the students, Mestayer said she encourages them to make the essays more personal.  

“I’ve never had first, second and third place winners (among my students), so that was awesome,” smiled Mestayer. 

The sisters say it took about two hours to compose their award-winning essays, each taking turns on the computer.  

“I wrote about how one day I want to work for my government, maybe be president,” said an exuberant Margaux. “I have a lot of aspirations in politics, and I’m very proud of our country.”  

“I wrote about how we should respect the flag and all patriotic symbols, and my sister, how she likes politics so I learned a lot about it from her,” said Landry.  

Other honorable mention winners were: Louis Phillips, St. Aloysius School; Nicholas Jacobs, Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Baton Rouge; Ali Guerin, The Runnels School in Baton Rouge; and, Henry Breeden, St. Jean Vianney School in Baton Rouge.