|May 28, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 15|
Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, Virginia Beach: Students bring faith ‘out into the real world’
There must be something special about Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School (BSCHS) in Virginia Beach.
Ask students, families, faculty, alumni, it does not matter. Everyone says the same thing, “Catholic High is a great place to be.”
So what is it about this school that keeps generations of families so attached?
It probably has as much to do with their legacy for being open to anyone as it does with Catholic High’s genuine commitment to make everyone feel welcome.
Even from its earliest days in Norfolk, “Catholic High” was inclusive. Chartered as “Central Catholic High School” in the late 1940s, the school officially opened in 1949 as “Norfolk Catholic High School” with an enrollment of 305 students.
Open to people of any race, background, and ability, it did not take long for this high school to be recognized as a diverse and integrated community — even at a time when it was not conventional to do so.
In the fall of 1958, six Norfolk public schools were forcibly closed down in Virginia’s “Massive resistance” against desegregation as had been mandated in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling of 1954.
As a result, more than 10,000 students were shut out of classes, including a small group of African American students who came to be known as the Norfolk 17.
“Long before the Norfolk schools were shut down, there were African American students enrolled here,” said Dennis Price, principal of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High and member of the Class of 1967.
“That period is a big part of our history here,” he said.
As documented in the Library of Congress as well as a CBS documentary “The Lost Class of ‘59” by Edward R. Murrow, Norfolk Catholic High School had integrated voluntarily back in 1954. The CBS broadcast included interviews with people from the school and brought national attention to the Norfolk School desegregation crisis, helping open doors for the Norfolk 17.
“The church did a really good job with this by then,” said Mr. Price. “By the time I was a sophomore, Ken McDaniel, an African American, was elected president of the school’s student council because he was the best person.
“And in the ‘60s it wasn’t terribly normal everywhere else.”
By 1965 Norfolk Catholic was thriving under Father Thomas Caroluzza, followed by Father William L. Pitt.
By the 1970s the school’s 800-student community was pushing the limits of their small seven-acre parcel on Granby Street.
By the 1980s facility repairs were mounting and the single athletic field had long been out-grown by the number of sports that used it.
Fearing it would be unable to accommodate the growth necessary to remain a viable option for parents seeking a Catholic education in the area, Father Pitt led a search for a larger parcel of land that would be more centrally located to the new parishes being established in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
The new “Catholic High” opened in 1993 at its present location on 37 acres along Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach’s Kempsville neighborhood. The modern facility ushered in an entirely new era for the school.
In the fall of 2003 it was renamed to honor Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, who had recently announced his retirement.
“Let me put it this way,” said Mr. Price, “we left Norfolk Catholic using typewriters and came to Catholic High with brand new computers.”
Now only 30 minutes from most parishes in South Hampton Roads, the only downside to the move was a “dramatic loss” of students from Norfolk.
That is why six years ago the school began running buses from Christ the King and St. Patrick’s Catholic Schools in Norfolk, as well as from the parish of Prince of Peace and Orchard Square Shopping Center in Chesapeake.
Today about 55-60 students arrive by bus each morning and two return runs are offered in the afternoon/evening.
Mr. Price has been principal since 2005 and on staff since the late ‘80s. Other Catholic High faculty and staff tend to stay around. Approximately 25 percent of the school’s faculty have been at the school 10 years or more.
Assistant principal Susan Skoczynski, who graduated from Norfolk Catholic in 1965, has been with the school as a teacher and administrator since 1969. Dean of Students Van Sutton has been there almost 36 years. Almost 98 percent of the school’s graduates continue in institutions of higher learning.
Over the past almost 20 years, the school has added several major additions that helped round out its solid faith-based education with contemporary technology facilities, first class performing and visual arts programs, and a top notch athletic program.
The Shepherd Library and Media Center opened in 1998 adding a variety of resources and facilities to the college preparatory school, now fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Virginia Catholic Education Association.
“We just have a much better chance to learn here,” said Phillip Villaverde, a senior who was in the first graduating class of St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Norfolk. Already accepted to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, Phillip has plans to major in political science.
“It is the academic life I like best,” said Phillip, “and I feel Catholic High has truly prepared me for college.”
In 2003 The Barry Robinson Theater and Fine Arts Center provided the community a place to celebrate the performing and visual arts.
Nikki Frias, a senior from St. Gregory the Great parish, performed in a recent production of “Lord of the Flies.” “Our director, Trey Clarkson, who was fantastic, took the book and made his own version of it,” she said. “We are just blessed with a ton of talented people.”
Nikki will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall and hopes to become a cardiologist.
An additional 15 acres was purchased for expansion. This left plenty of room for The Crusader Athletic Association to build and install a climate-controlled dome covering 25,000 square feet of artificial turf that accommodates three separate fields.
Used for indoor soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, softball, conditioning and many other activities, Catholic High is the only school in the state with a facility of this kind.
Athletics are a big part of life at Bishop Sullivan. The Crusaders are historically strong in basketball. There is ample opportunity for anyone who wants to participate in athletics.
Josh Taylor, a junior from Prince of Peace parish in Chesapeake, plays both soccer and lacrosse.
“I really like that we have a lacrosse program here,” said Josh. “It’s a great sport, even though it’s still relatively small here in the U.S.”
Josh also competes on Bishop Sullivan’s Blue Crab Bowl A-team. For a record fifth year in a row this past March Catholic High took top honors at the annual daylong event that allows high school students from across the state to display their mastery of oceanic knowledge.
Today BSCHS enrollment stands at 437 students, and in light of rising costs, the school is doing everything possible to keep it affordable. Last year more than $470,000 was given away in scholarships.
Lorenza West, a junior from St. Matthew’s in Virginia Beach, is grateful for that.
“If it wasn’t for scholarships,” she said, “I don’t think I would be here.”
Very active in almost every area of school, Lorenza says the class retreat and learning how to take her “faith out into the real world” are things she will remember about being at Bishop Sullivan.
Catholic High provides many opportunities for students to celebrate their faith and deepen their commitment to the Gospel Message, including daily Morning Prayer and religious education classes, celebrations of Eucharist and Reconciliation and a number of different class and school retreats.
“The community here at Catholic is like family,” said Dare Query, of the class of 1985. She was the second of what now is three generations of her family to attend.
“It is an incredible faith based education, and just a nice place to be.”
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