Gloucester Catholic High School held its “First Commencement Exercises” on June 5, 1930. Twenty-seven young men and women received “Classical” or “Commercial” diplomas. The Saint Mary Orchestra performed and five students were recognized for “Scholastic Honors.” Mr. William Tinney addressed the graduates and the Right Reverend Monsignor Maurice Bric presided and conferred the honors and awards. The road to that day had not been easy.
In 1846, nativists attacked the Catholic mission in “Gloucestertown.” Two years after the attack, Bishop Kenrick laid the cornerstone of Saint Mary’s Church. The pre-civil war parish school welcomed the arrival of the Sisters of Saint Dominic in 1873 and twenty years later the bell of the present Saint Mary’s Grammar School began to ring to start the school day. Father Charles Giese, Saint Mary’s pastor, renovated the church and built a fine red brick convent next door to the school in 1906 to accommodate the growing community of Sisters. Sister de Chantal and Father Giese established a commercial course for those interested in continuing their education after eighth grade. Father Giese died in 1912 and Monsignor Bric arrived. After weathering World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic, he purchased the Berryman estate at the corner of Monmouth and Burlington Streets in 1926 for a Catholic high school. Plans were made immediately for an addition and, in the meantime, classes met at the Pusey and Jones office building. The new school opened its doors in 1928. Eleven rooms and a gymnasium must have seemed quite large to the class of 1930.
And so it would remain through the decade. The thirties saw the Depression, the New Deal and the growth of Catholic education at the corner of Burlington and Monmouth. Sisters de Chantal and Charitina oversaw the growth of the school until, on the eve of World War II, enrollment was holding steady at 150-200 students. Junior Guild, football, boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball, cheerleading, drama, Sodality, glee club and the orchestra were all mainstays by that time. The Maryscript kept everyone informed and the annual Maryan documented it all for posterity. By the time the war ended, Sister Rose Carmella was principal and hundreds of Gloucester Catholic graduates had served overseas. In the parish centennial year of 1948, a former curate returned from his stint as an army chaplain to assume the temporary duties of parish administrator. Father Edward Lucitt raised $200,000 to build a parish hall/gymnasium and nine new classrooms. Catholic education now expanded down Cumberland Street. Monsignor Bric died in 1950. Three years later, Father Peter Budniak began to build a new high school facility on Ridgeway Street on the land the good monsignor had been purchasing piecemeal for over thirty years.
The post-war boom was evident in Catholic education. Sister Martha Mary oversaw the expansion of the student population beyond the boundaries of Saint Mary’s Parish and, by the mid-1950s, 250-300 students were being educated yearly. Over the next ten years, the student population continued to grow and state championship banners in football, basketball and baseball were displayed proudly. The debate and forensics team regularly brought home trophies. The Belles of Saint Mary’s established a reputation as a premier drum and bugle corps and were selected to participate in President Kennedy’s inauguration. The return of Monsignor Lucitt to Saint Mary’s in 1961, after the death of Father Budniak, cemented the spirit of progress. He instituted a tuition system at the high school, and its buildings were seemingly never empty as night school classes and summer courses filled the off-hours. In the wake of Vatican II’s reforms, the diocesan system of Catholic education greatly expanded under Archbishop Damiano. In 1966, he appointed Father Mark as the first priest to serve as principal. That year is also well remembered for the stellar performance of ‘The King and I” featuring George Batavick and Anne Marie Combs in the lead roles.
In 1967 Sister Gertrude Mary arrived at Gloucester Catholic. Bob Nark was a first year teacher in 1970 and John Colman picked up the chalk the following year. Fathers Burns, Jordan and Brennan followed Father Mark as principal. The girls’ basketball team, under the leadership of Mrs. Bert Nolan, set a standard for excellence, winning a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts with multiple state championships. The undefeated football teams and boys’ basketball state championship teams were widely celebrated. By the mid-1970s, enrollment boomed to over 700, and the majority of students were coming from Gloucester County. The faculty was largely lay and the student body was increasingly taking a largely college preparatory curriculum. We’d come a long way from that initial class of 27 in 1930.
However, the form was recognizably ours. The Rampage may have replaced the Maryscript, and the Aries succeeded the Maryan, but extracurricular activities still prospered. Spiritual formation remained the core of our commitment and religion became a full academic course. The continued success of the drama program produced a number of memorable performances. Gloucester Catholic’s number one sports fan, Monsignor Lucitt, saw a state title in football in 1979 and his beloved girls’ basketball team chalked up several more state championships before he passed away in 1987. The baseball team established itself as a perennial contender for a state title. Standout tennis teams and a steady growth in college admissions and scholarships proved to be a watchword as the school moved confidently towards the future with Fathers McIntyre and Martelli at the helm.
Under Father Ken Johnston’s leadership during the 1990s, the school continued to flourish. The forensics team returned to glory and successful programs in swimming and girls’ soccer were established. Enrollment continued to grow and by the decade’s end, students from four counties (Camden, Gloucester, Salem and Burlington) were making the journey to Gloucester Catholic. Former principal, Father Harry Jordan, became the pastor of Saint Mary’s and assisted the school in the planning of expanded educational facilities. Continued academic achievement, a successful alumni base and the reputation of outstanding commitment to service distinguish Gloucester Catholc as a quality school with a proud tradition.
In 1999, after serving as vice principal for many years, Mr. John Colman became our first lay principal. Enrollment peaked in the mid-800s in 2000 and the baseball team won a national title. The turn of the century saw the transformation of Saint Mary’s Convent into a guidance/technology complex renamed the Dominican Center in honor of the Sisters who contributed so much to the work of Catholic education for over 130 years. Our success is testimony to the efficacy of their efforts and prayers. The convent chapel now serves as the school chapel.
The same challenges face us after nearly 80 years. How do we provide the best in Catholic education — in terms of personnel, facilities, academic and social formation — in the 21st century? How do we maintain our Catholic identity and provide the next generation with the essentials of Catholic Christian living? The previous generations did not shrink from this task. Nor can we. Hail, Alma Mater! Here is to a future bright with promise — and promises to keep.
This history was written by Ed Beckett ’78