Cardinal Gibbons School, named for Baltimore's archbishop… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
Cardinal Gibbons School was closed Wednesday to let teachers attend the funeral of the wife of a longtime guidance counselor. By the time faculty members returned in midafternoon, other somber news was awaiting them: The 48-year-old Catholic high school will be shut down in June.
The announcement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore stunned longtime staff members and faculty, and angered students, parents and alumni, some of whom said they were told as recently as last summer that the school would stay open as long as enrollment held.
"I'm not happy. I'm angry. Where am I going to go for my senior year?" asked Brad White, a junior at the school and a member of the lacrosse team. "I've got all these friends and we're not all going to go to the same school. Senior year is a special year."
Gibbons Principal David Brown said the school was in the process of notifying parents through e-mail, while a statement from school administrators said the staff was working "to minimize the disruption to the lives of our current students, prospective students, faculty, administration and their families."
Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake released a statement calling the school's closing "deeply saddening.
"The Cardinal Gibbons School leaves a proud legacy of academic and athletic excellence, and will be sorely missed as part of Baltimore's diverse history and culture," she said.
Known in its early years as an athletic powerhouse, particularly in basketball under coach Ray Mullis, the Catholic boys school was as much a breeding ground for future doctors and lawyers as it was for big-time college point guards and professional football stars.
Among its more prominent graduates is Jean Fugett, who after an eight-year NFL career got his law degree and joined his brother, Reginald F. Lewis, in running TLC Beatrice International Holdings, the first African-American-owned billion-dollar company. Former Duke standout Steve Wojciechowski is also a graduate, as are former NFL star Vaughn Hebron and NBA player Quintin Dailey.
News of the archdiocese's announcement spread quickly Wednesday through the Gibbons community, mostly on the Internet by way of a dedicated Facebook page, scores of e-mails and tweets, and by traditional news reports. Even without a formal announcement, many of those connected to the school knew of the decision to close Gibbons by midafternoon.
Dr. James Richardson, a 1972 graduate who is now chief of geriatric medicine at St. Agnes Hospital, said he had been "exchanging e-mails all afternoon" with other alumni. "I'm very sad," he said.
Richardson and fellow graduate Dr. Dennis Smith first contemplated their careers in medicine at Gibbons, and Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson III graduated from the school and went to the U.S. Naval Academy before rising to be chief of Navy personnel and deputy chief of naval operations.
"It was a great environment to be in," Richardson said. "I had great teachers; we had some great athletic teams. I really treasure the time I was there. Because the tuition was so low, we had kids from all over, not just college-bound kids."
When Richardson attended Gibbons, it was a much different school. Established on the grounds of the old St. Mary's Industrial School - where baseball legend Babe Ruth honed his talents early in the 20th century - Gibbons opened in 1962 with a mission of providing a Catholic education in order to "build leaders for Church and society."
As the years went on, Gibbons' pre-eminence faded. Enrollment, once around 800 according to alumni who attended the school in its heyday, dropped and is now about half of what it was. Recent years were filled with whispers about its possible closing.
Matt Foster, a 2001 graduate who is now the school's athletic director and baseball coach, called Wednesday "a tough day" but promised that his team "would have a celebration before this year's over."
Marty Kraft, a 1979 graduate and White's uncle, said he would never have recommended his nephew follow him to Gibbons if he had known it was going to close. His sister, Jeanne White, said she is trying to figure out options for her son next year, including the possibility of home-schooling him. "He just ordered his school ring," she said. "It will be the last Gibbons ring."
Those with ties to Gibbons will undoubtedly shed some tears over its closing. Kraft is considering an even more drastic reaction.
"I'm so mad at the archdiocese right now," he said. "I might even turn Baptist."