St. Ignatius Church plans middle school for low-income boys

December 28, 1992|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

The pastor of Baltimore's St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church has announced that a middle school for poor city boys will open in the Mount Vernon area on Aug. 25.

The Rev. William J. Watters, S.J., said he and his Jesuit colleagues, parishioners and other backers have collected the necessary approvals and seed money to establish the small, high-quality, subsidized private school that they proposed nearly year ago.

Starting with the sixth grade, the school will include the seventh and eighth grades by 1995.

It will use part of the old Loyola College building next to the church in the 700 block of North Calvert St. Center Stage occupies the southern end of the mid-19th century complex just east of Mount Vernon Place.

"St. Ignatius Loyola Academy aims to provide a quality learning environment, which will challenge the minds, hearts and lives of 60 middle-school youths to grow academically, socially, culturally and spiritually," Father Watters said.

He said the school "plans to recruit students from the lowest income levels of urban Baltimore, who would otherwise not have the opportunity to obtain this kind of education." It will be open to non-Catholics, whose religious traditions will be respected. The boys' families will pay only a very small part of the cost of the education.

The academy will enable these students, most of them black, "to gain the discipline and skills necessary for them to pursue a college preparatory high school education," said Father Watters. said he expects graduates to be in great demand in the admissions offices of private Baltimore-area high schools.

Father Watters sees plenty of precedents for what he and the core of volunteers are doing -- going all the way back to the 16th century.

The precedents, the school's organizers say, began 446 years ago with some educational projects of its namesake. In 1546, St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, whose clergy members are called Jesuits, persuaded the religious order to accept laymen as well as prospective priests at its new college in Gandia, Spain.

Two years later, in Messina, Sicily, St. Ignatius opened the first Jesuit school solely for the laity. Its success led him to found 39 similar schools, the source of the Jesuits' reputation as "the school masters of Europe." The Catholic order operates more than 2,000 schools of various kinds worldwide, Father Watters said.

But there are more recent, more precise precedents.

The Baltimore experiment "will be modeled after the New York Jesuits' highly successful Nativity Mission School" established in on New York's Lower East Side, the priest said. "Working with middle school youth from economically impoverished families," he said, "Nativity Mission has been able to provide an education which places their students in the finest secondary schools of New York City."

And that is only the beginning. "Once Nativity Mission's students have completed their high school education, 95 percent of them enter college and many go on to university studies before becoming part of the professional world," Father Watters said.

Nativity Mission's example was followed by the nation's Jesuits in recent years with the establishment of Nativity Prep in Boston, St. Aloysius in New York's Harlem and St. Patrick's in Milwaukee. These schools will all be part of the blueprint for Baltimore's St. Ignatius Loyola Academy.

Father Watters, who was involved in educational as well as pastoral work in Nigeria before coming to St. Ignatius Church last year, saw a particular need in Baltimore to improve opportunities for poor city boys of middle-school age. His enthusiasm spread.

After he first publicly discussed his dream of founding such a school in February, he recalls, five retired teachers and a retired child psychiatrist called him to say, "Count me in." He soon received $6,000 in unsolicited donations.

The initial per-student cost of the two sixth-grade classes of 10 pupils each -- with which the school will open next year -- has been put at $4,925. When the enrollment doubles as the seventh grade is added in 1994, the cost would drop to $3,300. In 1995, when there will be three grades and 60 students, the per-pupil cost would drop again, Father Watters said, to $2,692.

A number of professional educators work on the project as volunteers. Among them are Thaddeus MacKrell, a local resident who before his retirement was an administrator and teacher for 36 years in the public schools of Long Island, N.Y., and Anthony Capizzi, who is on the faculty of the Jesuits' Loyola High School near Towson.

Father Watters said the new academy's first-year budget is $183,500. The Maryland Province of the Jesuits, headed by the Rev. Edward Glynn, S.J., has pledged $50,000 for each of the school's first three years. Individuals, organizations, businesses and foundations are being solicited for the rest of the money needed for scholarships and other costs.

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