Support grows for launching a Catholic high school in Carroll or Howard

January 18, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The phone calls assure Gaile Waldhauser of Sykesville that enough families in Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties share her dream of sending their children to a Catholic high school close to home.

"We had such a response, you wouldn't believe," said Mrs. Waldhauser, after news reports about her effort to gain a school.

But before the Archdiocese of Baltimore will approve starting the first Catholic high school in 30 years, Mrs. Waldhauser and other organizers from St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg must find the numbers that prove demand for the school exists in southern Carroll or northern Howard County.

Response has been so positive for a Jan. 28 organizational meeting at St. Joseph that Mrs. Waldhauser and the others had to limit the event to invitation-only.

Each of the 11 parishes in the South Central region of the archdiocese -- Carroll and Howard counties -- are sending parish leaders and pastors. Principals from at least six Catholic elementary and middle schools in Carroll, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties also are invited.

Most of the schools are in the South Central region of the archdiocese. Although Holy Family School is in Randallstown and not in that region, the school will be represented, because at least 18 children from St. Joseph parish attend elementary and middle grades there. Mrs. Waldhauser's daughter is one of them.

So far, the main interest has been among the parents of those 18 children.

Although parents still have to document the demand, raise money to launch the school and get approval from the archdiocese, they represent the first serious attempt at opening a new high school since 1966, when schools were opened in Cumberland and Severn.

"It's extremely exciting," said Ronald Valenti, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. "It's clear a great deal of interest has surfaced from the people in the area."

In Carroll County, which has no Catholic high school, parents who want such an education send their children as far as Baltimore, Frederick and McSherrystown, Pa.

Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, near Hanover, is only about 30 minutes from Westminster. The school is drawing most of its increased enrollment from Carroll County and Maryland, said Peter L. Gibaud, director of development.

Mrs. Waldhauser said that at the Jan. 28 meeting, parents and parish and school leaders will form a committee to formally pursue data on the interest in a new high school.

She said some suggestions have been for parents to visit parishes in the region and get signatures on a petition after Sunday Masses. Also, Mrs. Waldhauser said parents with children enrolled in Catholic elementary and middle schools will probably ask the schools to send surveys home with children.

The grass-roots movement among the parents reflects the growth in Catholic school enrollment. Since Dr. Valenti became superintendent three years ago, enrollment throughout the archdiocese has grown by about 1,000 students a year, to 33,000 in kindergarten through 12th grade. Of the total, about 8,000 are enrolled in the 22 Catholic high schools.

Dr. Valenti said parents will need to do a thorough study of the demographics. The archdiocese can help conduct those studies, he said, but has no money for construction. Parents must raise the dollars, he said.

After a small boom in Catholic high school enrollment and construction in the 1960s, enrollment declined in the next two decades, Dr. Valenti said.

Tuition rose as the teaching staff shifted from low-paid clergy and religious order sisters and brothers to lay people, and the birth rate went down.

In 1966, Archbishop Spalding High School opened in Severn and Bishop Walsh High School opened in Cumberland.

No new Catholic high schools have opened since then.

Dr. Valenti attributed the enrollment increase to the growing birth rate that is also affecting public schools, as well as a more aggressive attempt by Catholic schools to market themselves.

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