New school will seek to rescue kids at risk Mother Seton Academy to be free

February 06, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Founded in 1792, Baltimore's oldest Roman Catholic parish opened a school in 1815. The teaching continued, uninterrupted, for 172 years. Then, in 1987, lack of money forced St. Patrick's on South Broadway to close its parochial school, dispersing 130 students.

Church officials were not happy about it -- but they are celebrating now. A new partnership "gets us back in the business of education again," said the Rev. Blair P. Raum, St. Patrick's pastor.

"Quite a shot in the arm," Ronald J. Valenti, archdiocesan school superintendent, said. "It's creative, innovative, a way to expand our vision. It reaffirms our commitment to the city."

The Xaverian Brothers and five women's religious orders based in Maryland and Pennsylvania have banded together to open a middle school in September, called Mother Seton Academy, in one of St. Patrick's old East Baltimore buildings.

Though involving a tiny percentage of the 32,000 students in the Catholic elementary and high school system, Dr. Valenti said, "it takes us back to our roots, to the way our schools really started" -- tailored to particular, individual needs.

Planning that went into the new role for St. Patrick's grew out of two years of discussions that produced a similar project of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius Loyola Academy. With a projected total enrollment of 60 students, the Jesuits' middle school, for poor African-American boys, will open in the fall in part of the old Loyola College complex at Calvert and Monument streets. It will charge a nominal tuition.

Mother Seton Academy will be free. It is designed for both boys and girls of diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds.

As explained by Xaverian Brother Arthur Caliman, the purpose is to rescue teen-agers "falling between the cracks" of existing schools -- public and parochial.

Father Raum said the special goals of Mother Seton Academy and the ways its volunteer staff plans to meet them -- including an extended school day and an extended school year -- are just right for his parish. "St. Patrick's has a gift, a special talent for dealing with the problems of people falling through the cracks," he said.

The six religious orders promised the money and teachers. St. Patrick's is providing the building. Beginning with 20 students in the sixth grade and a staff of six, Mother Seton Academy will add teachers and the seventh and eighth grades for an enrollment of 30 boys and 30 girls by 1995 from "white, African-American, Hispanic and Native American families," Brother Arthur said.

"They're all here," said Father Raum.

Standing behind his rectory, in what will become a school yard again, the priest pointed to another old parish building in the South Broadway complex. It is now Assisi House, offering residents of the neighborhood everything from food, clothing and emergency end-of-the-month money to job counseling and Christmas parties.

Across the black-topped yard, Sister Jacqueline Marie Kotz vigorously opened and closed dusty doors, exploring the future Mother Seton Academy. "This is an exciting venture," she said with a satisfied smile.

Sister Jackie, as she is known to the team of eager volunteer teachers and advisers around her, signed on to help revive the parochial school.

Equally enthusiastic was Sister Mary Ann Hartnett, who said, "We know some children are in a school situation where they can't function, where maybe because of the environment their potential is not being realized. Since our classes will be small -- only 10 to 12 in a room -- we do expect success."

Sister Jackie, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia, has been a personnel director for her order for six years. She said she was glad to be getting back to the teaching she was engaged in for 29 years.

Sister Mary Ann, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, will be on the board of the academy and an adviser while continuing her after-school tutorial work and counseling in the neighborhood. With the support of three businessmen and two priests, she has operated Food for Thought at 1625 E. Baltimore St. for two years.

The other religious orders in the partnership are the Daughters of Charity, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Scranton, Pa., and the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore.

Brother Arthur will also be on the board. He is a supervisor of high schools of the Xaverian order in Maryland, New York, Kentucky, Alabama and the District of Columbia, including Mount St. Joseph's in Irvington.

To be within walking distance of St. Patrick's, Brother Arthur, a Catonsville resident, and several other members of his order are looking for an apartment or house in the South Broadway area.

Mother Seton Academy needs $18,000 for immediate renovations to bring the old St. Patrick's school annex up to city building code requirements, Brother Arthur said. Donations will be gratefully accepted at the rectory, 317 S. Broadway. Information: 563-0081.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.