By JOEY REISTROFFER
GREENVILLE — In the company of a Bishop England and a Cardinal Newman, the Diocese of Charleston welcomed a St. Joseph into its high school ranks Aug. 15. On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bishop Robert J. Baker visited the St. Joseph High School campus to personally welcome the students and faculty into the diocese. He sealed the deal with Margaret Ann Moon, chairwoman of St. Joseph’s Board of Trustees, by signing a document approving the high school as a private, independent Catholic school recognized by the Diocese of Charleston. Bishop Baker brought the greetings and good wishes of his predecessor, Bishop David B. Thompson; Gay Rowzie, Ph.D., secretary of Education and Evangelization; and Gary Gelo, director of Schools for the diocese.
” History is in the making,” Bishop Baker said. “This is a new experience for the Catholic Church in America.”
It’s a new experience because St. Joseph’s is an independent high school created seven years ago and run by a Catholic lay community. The school has met the requirements for recognition and approval as a private Catholic school within the diocese. During an ensuing two-year probationary period with the diocese, St. Joseph’s will keep its independence yet solidify a working relationship with the diocese and Bishop Baker.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Bishop Baker said.
Moon called this new experience with the diocese “a marriage” that the school has been striving for since the beginning.
It was a rough start, Moon said, but the community took a leap of faith, worked hard, prayed harder and trusted in the Lord.
The school started in 1993 in a little house on Augusta Road with only 13 ninth-graders and $600 in the coffers, Moon said.
“We never had any money,” she said. “We just prayed and prayed and asked God to guide us.” When we needed something, God would open up little doors for us.
The school next moved into a 16,000-square-foot building on Washington Street, and the community started pitching in to fill St. Joseph’s needs.
“We had a lot of materials donated right when we needed them. Donors always came through for us,” Moon said.
Finally, the school acquired 36 acres from Amoco at its present site, on the frontage road of I-85 in Greenville, with easy access from Spartanburg, Anderson and the surrounding communities. Moon called it the perfect location and another sign from God. “It was another little door he opened up for us,” she said.
The Upstate community’s prayers have been answered. They now have a beautiful Catholic school with three floors of classrooms, a modern science laboratory and top-of-the-line computer workroom as well as 164 students, and a freshman class of 64.
All this in seven years.
“My hand was shaking when I signed the document (with Bishop Baker),” Moon said.
In working with St. Joseph’s, Bishop Baker said the diocese examines four qualities in the school: whether it’s authentically Catholic; its academic excellence; its community support; and its financial feasibility.
Headmaster Keith Kiser said St. Joseph’s is about building up the whole person.
“I ask the teachers to ask themselves two things about a student: ‘What does he need? What does she need?’ They all need something, whether it’s social, academic or spiritual,” Kiser said.
“They come here for a personalistic approach to education, and our teachers care about the students,” he added.
On this historic feast day of the Assumption of Mary, Bishop Baker urged the students to keep their faith and trust in the church and the Blessed Mother when life gets tough.
“Mary is your mother and mine,” he said. “She’s our reason for hope when we all struggle. And we do.” During those times of strife, he urged the youths to “rest quiet and secure in her hands.”
To find such inner calm and peace, he asked the students to pray three Hail Mary’s each day, to lead a chaste life and to be a holy person and a beam of light that others can follow.
“There is so much you can do here,” Bishop Baker said.