By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published January 13, 2005
In 1998, Archbishop John F. Donoghue made his way through overgrown weeds to an open field to break ground for the first of three new schools that were to open the following year.
Six years and five newly built schools later, the archbishop’s dream to offer Catholic education to more children in the Archdiocese of Atlanta has been more than realized. And many say that his vision for Catholic schools is a legacy that will be forever attached to Archbishop Donoghue.
At a time when Catholic dioceses around the country were closing and consolidating schools, the idea to build and open five schools—three elementary and two high schools—was an ambitious one.
The archdiocese kicked off its capital campaign, “Building the Church of Tomorrow” in 1997. From that campaign, $12 million in funds was directed toward new schools. Substantial additional funding has come through the sale of bonds. Five new schools opened: Queen of Angels School and Blessed Trinity High School, both in Roswell, Holy Redeemer School, Alpharetta, Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone, and Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fairburn.
The three elementary schools opened in 1999 and the two high schools in 2000. All five schools were built with state-of-the-art facilities, and opened their doors fully ready to accept students, a unique experience for most new schools, according to Frank Moore, founding and current principal of Blessed Trinity.
“It’s extraordinarily unusual for a Catholic school to be built fully formed like ours were,” he said. “When I first saw this place, I was astounded. Here was this school—completely ready to go. It made my job as principal a lot easier, knowing that I wasn’t going to have to worry about building right out of the gate.”
Mary Reiling, founding and current principal of Holy Redeemer, remembers the day of the ground-breaking for her school in July of 1998. The archbishop, she said, walked with pastors and other Catholic education officials “through the weeds” to break ground. But that wasn’t the end of his support, she said.
“He has really loved the schools and has had a great love for the parents and the families in Catholic schools,” she said. “He’s stayed close in touch and really stuck with it all the way. He didn’t just open the schools and leave us to fend for ourselves. He was there when we first broke ground and was there for the foundation up. He has really stayed hands on all the way.”
Moore agrees that having Archbishop Donoghue’s support has been invaluable and made his job as principal an easier one.
“He has really offered us continuous support. He wants to come out here, he wants to celebrate Mass for our students, he wants to come to graduation and Baccalaureate,” he said. “He really has been the pastor of the schools without micromanaging.”
Judith Mucheck, superintendent for Catholic schools, said that the archbishop’s commitment to education has benefited the entire archdiocese.
“It is quite clear that Archbishop Donoghue’s vision for Catholic education has come to fruition as we enjoy new buildings, beautiful campuses, and vibrant faith communities,” she said. “In one sense the actual construction of these facilities was the easy part albeit negotiating the financing of such an ambitious plan was challenging. What I will be most grateful to Archbishop Donoghue for was his unwavering support of every aspect of Catholic education in Atlanta. I am certain that people, generally, don’t realize what a complex enterprise education is in our day and age. Keeping faithful to the mission of the Church has, and will continue to be, the driving force of everything that we do in our Catholic schools. Knowing that Archbishop Donoghue took an active role in many aspects of the day-to-day life of our school communities is something I, and all of our school principals, will always be grateful for.”
Every year, Archbishop Donoghue made the schools a priority—celebrating Mass for the students, visiting classrooms and attending events.
“There is a familiarity with the archbishop and the students,” Reiling said. “He has come to our school every single year, and the students really look forward to his visits.”
At Holy Redeemer, students are encouraged to use the archbishop as a role model, and the student who best exemplifies the spirit of Holy Redeemer during the year is awarded the Archbishop Donoghue Award.
Karen Vogtner, principal of St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville, which was founded in 1954, said that it hasn’t just been the new schools that have benefited from Archbishop Donoghue’s support.
“He has been a wonderful archbishop and a truly great friend to Catholic schools,” she said.
In addition, private independent Catholic education has grown in the archdiocese in the past 11 years. Pinecrest Academy, guided by the Legionaries of Christ, opened in 1993 with under 30 students and now has 780 students on a 55-acre campus in Cumming with students in pre-kindergarten through high school. Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta serves students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade on a lower school and upper school campus. The private Catholic Solidarity School was also founded to serve Hispanic children.
Msgr. Walter J. Donovan High School in Athens has been established by interested families and supporters in that community.
St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw has established a growing Catholic school using facilities already in place at the parish. Through the efforts of Archbishop Donoghue, three women Religious from the Nashville, Tenn., order of the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation began serving as the principal and as teachers at St. Catherine of Siena School in the fall of 2004.
Moore said that as a principal, he realizes the importance of having an archbishop dedicated to education.
“Those of us who work in Catholic education and all the parents involved in Catholic schools, know that the gift he gave us is so extraordinary and his ongoing support is so wonderful,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone else in the whole country can say as much about their bishop.”