St. Paul's marks 150-year history Tradition: Alumni, faculty, students and administrators gather this morning to begin the St. Paul's School sesquicentennial celebration.

September 11, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

When St. Paul's was founded as an episcopal school for poor boys 150 years ago, James Polk was president of the United States, the American flag had 30 stars, and horse-drawn carriages ruled the roads.

St. Paul's School, a private preparatory school with an operating budget of $10 million, is no longer for poor boys -- nor, in the lower school at least, just for boys. And in the mornings and afternoons, when school starts and ends, cars snake along the winding roads at the suburban Brooklandville campus.

But administrators and alumni say that in all the most important ways, the school has not changed. It may be bigger and the students may be wealthier, but that doesn't alter the sense of family, the quality education or the strong ties to the Episcopal Church.

"A few people say the school has changed," says George C. O'Connell, 81, a member of the Class of 1935 and a fiercely loyal alumnus. "I say, 'My God, haven't you changed, too?' "

O'Connell, other St. Paul's alumni, faculty, students and administrators will gather at the school this morning to celebrate the school's sesquicentennial with a flag-raising, a parade, speeches and a host of other rituals. The event will kick off a year-long celebration.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," O'Connell said. "None of it. The whole year long. I pray I live long enough."

St. Paul's School was founded by the Rev. William Edward Wyatt on Feb. 9, 1849, in a Sunday school room of Old St. Paul's Church in downtown Baltimore. It has occupied six sites since then, some more permanent than others.

For 40 years, it was on East Franklin Street, where the restaurant Tio Pepe now stands. When a boy got hit by a horse-and-carriage, school officials decided it was time to escape the city, and in 1923, the school moved to Mount Washington, then considered the suburbs. In 1952, seeking more space for playing fields, it moved to its current location on 64 acres in Brooklandville.

O'Connell, who is known informally as the school's historian, arrived at St. Paul's in September 1930, at age 13. He remembers sitting on his bed in his dorm room, choking back tears as his mother drove away.

That, he says proudly, is the last time he cried at St. Paul's -- as a student, anyway.

"It became a home," he said. "For me, it became the fatherland."

He served on the school's board of trustees for 36 years, from 1951 to 1987, sent his two sons to the school, and now works part-time in the development office. His historical knowledge comes from serving as board secretary for 35 years.

"I had all the minutes for 35 years, so naturally, if somebody burped, I knew it," he said.

In honor of the sesquicentennial, the school has commissioned a recent alumnus, Angelo Otterbein, '91, to write a history of the school. Otterbein, a 1996 graduate of Princeton University, has been raiding various archives for information, but his best material comes from old-timers like O'Connell with strong ties to the school.

"Really, the archives are dispersed among several hundred people," he said. "There are a lot of pack rats out there and they really love keeping everything."

Otterbein said St. Paul's had one of its biggest growth spurts during the 1930s, when the Depression caused many other schools to close. In the decade after the Depression, he said, it became a "powerhouse of sports," especially lacrosse, which it remains today.

"They would carry their lacrosse sticks to movie theaters," Otterbein said. "That really started the trend for St. Paul's." In recent years, he said, the school has tried to put more emphasis on its religious heritage and on the arts.

The sesquicentennial celebration begins at 9 a.m. today with a parade led by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and St. Paul's School first-graders. Other events planned for the year include a family fair day and a bull roast next month. In February, a birthday party will be held.

"We want to make it special for the students," said Leonard J. Doran, director of development at St. Paul's. "We really want them to understand the history."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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