Catholic high school celebrating 50 years

August 22, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


Since graduating more than 30 years ago, St. Maria Goretti High School executive assistant Marie McEwen has discovered you really can go home again.

"The whole thing with the tradition, the faith, the excellence - that's still there. That's what this school is all about," said McEwen, who returned last year to work at the school where she earned her diploma in 1967.

Students and employees of the school, both past and present, will celebrate 50 years of Catholic education at 1535 Oak Hill Ave. with several anniversary events this weekend. According to information prepared by longtime math teacher Jim Martin, 118 students attended classes at Goretti when the school opened in September 1955.


Whether by divine intervention or sheer good luck, Martin - who is not Catholic - said he was assigned to complete his student teaching at Goretti. He has never had any reason to leave, he said.

"I had some very good students that first year. They were very impressive and that's why I stayed," Martin said Thursday during an interview in a classroom.

According to information prepared by Martin and marketing director and religion teacher Tim Buczkowski, Monsignor J. Francis Leary helped break ground in 1954 for a high school to relieve overcrowding at St. Mary School in downtown Hagerstown. The new school was named after St. Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old Italian girl who survived a stabbing long enough to forgive her attacker before dying.

Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950; the school was dedicated Aug. 28, 1955.

In the hallways, students in khaki shorts and golf shirts collected their schedules and ran through some last-minute information Thursday for the start of school. Classes begin today.

Martin, who is beginning his 37th year as a teacher at the school, McEwen and Carol Brashears, who is starting her 28th year as a teacher, said while class offerings have changed at the school, Goretti's environment and spiritual outlook would be recognizable to past generations of students.

Gone, though, are the Sisters of Notre Dame, the religious order that opened the school and once taught virtually all of its offerings.

But, Brashears said, students now take religion five days a week - the course was offered just three days a week when she started - and attend religious retreats.

"I think spirituality and teaching go hand in hand in the development of young people. I think it's important to have that influence in your life," Brashears said.

Eight or nine Sisters of Notre Dame taught classes when Martin began teaching at Goretti, he said.

"They were top-of-the-line intellectuals," who commanded respect, he said.

Most would now be in their late 70s to 90s, Martin said.

Gone, too, are many of the vocational classes the school once offered, Martin and McEwen said. In place of home economics and secretarial classes, there are an array of honors and advanced-placement courses, including physics, calculus and Shakespeare II.

Enrollment now stands at about 210 students, Martin said.

During his student-teaching experience, Martin had one class of 44 students. That year, about 290 students attended the school, he said.

Thanks to an expanded faculty of 22 full-time and two part-time teachers, classes now are much smaller, Buczkowski said.

Students can receive "personalized attention" in a "family atmosphere," that encourages tolerance and nurtures talents, Buczkowski and other staff members said.

The school's population now includes Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students, Martin said, and after-school activities have expanded to sports for girls and boys, and various clubs, including drama.

Despite its size, the school always is competitive. Last year's graduating class earned more than $4 million in scholarship offers, Martin said, and most students go to college.

"That's what's fun about it, though. I like the David and Goliath role," Martin said during a discussion about athletics.

McEwen proudly showed a picture of last year's girls basketball team - she was named coach last fall after a last-minute vacancy - as she talked about her memories.

A former Goretti basketball player, McEwen called coaching "the joy of my life."

Returning home, she said, "feels right." Even though McEwen at one point had just one teacher who was not a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame, she said Goretti's atmosphere still resonates with her.

"So the school has gone through a lot of transition and growth through the years, but I still think it's special, as it was then," McEwen said.

Schedule of events

Several events are planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of St. Maria Goretti High School.

  • A casino bash and live auction will take place from 6 to 11:30 p.m. Friday in the school's gymnasium. Tickets cost $35.

  • A free family and friends picnic is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

  • The premier event of the weekend is a gala dinner and dance Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at Four Points Sheraton. The night features a live performance by Spectrum. The event is black-tie optional; tickets cost $75 each. Reservations are due by today.

  • The Rev. W. Francis Malooly, auxiliary bishop for the Western Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will celebrate a rededication Mass of the school at 11 a.m. Sunday at St. Ann's Catholic Church behind the school. The Rev. Richard Murphy, St. Ann's pastor, and the Rev. Bill Garrott, a Goretti graduate, will assist Malooly.

For more information, call Patti Knotts at 301-739-4266, ext. 1282.

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