Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Georgia Bulletin File Photo, 1980
Father Colman Haggerty, CP, pastor of Saint Paul of the Cross Church, and Sister Paula Drass, CSJ, principal of the school, are pictured in one of the classrooms at the parish.

From the Archives: The impact of St. Paul of the Cross School 

By GEOFFREY HETHERINGTON, Archdiocesan Archivist  | Published September 20, 2022

This year marks what would have been the 65th anniversary of St. Paul of the Cross School, founded in 1957 to serve the growing African American population on Atlanta’s west side. The school closed in 1990, but it served the spiritual and educational needs of its community for 33 years. 

The parish of St. Paul of the Cross was established by the Passionist Fathers in November 1954. Without a building of its own at first, the new parish held Mass in the social hall of McLendon Hospital. Despite the lack of a permanent church, the diocese decided to prioritize the construction of a new parish school in the Collier Heights neighborhood. The school opened on Sept. 16, 1957 and was staffed by four Sisters of St. Joseph, with Sister Mary Ildephonse, SSJ, as principal. The school initially opened with just the first four grades, permitting the parish to use the remaining space for Mass until the church opened in 1960. 

Annual highlights of the school’s community events were Black History Month programs each February, Christmas pageants and Thanksgiving food drives. Summer day camps for neighborhood children were held at the school beginning in the 1970s. In 1981, the school was one of the hosts of Camp Promise, organized as a haven for the children of anxious families during the string of missing and murdered children that plagued Atlanta’s Black community from 1979 to 1981. 

Academically, the school had strong programs in religion and the arts. In 1970, eighth grade students designed and furnished a new Religious Experience Room to be used for the teaching of religion, which included murals depicting African American heritage. In 1980, after years of planning and preparation, the school was fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  

The 1980s were a particularly difficult time for Catholic schools in Atlanta. Accreditation, though important, came with some financial burdens. In addition, the decline in Catholic Sisters’ numbers led to the increasing need for lay staff and higher salaries. The Sisters of St. Joseph withdrew from St. Paul of the Cross in 1983. For much of the school’s life, enrollment lingered between 200 and 300 students, but throughout the 1980s enrollment dropped to below 200. The archdiocese had been advised that at least 200 students a year was a required number for a school’s viability. 

The archdiocese decided to close St. Paul of the Cross School in 1990, which was a blow to parents who fought hard to keep the school open. Today, the parish continues its tradition of community outreach as a hub for African American Catholics in Atlanta. Although temporary, the school will always remain an important part of that tradition. 

“From the Archives” is a quarterly feature. The Office of Archives and Records of the Archdiocese of Atlanta has an interactive story map, “Find Your Roots in Faith.” Visit and click on “Interactive Story Map.” 


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