Marking 100 years of faith, education, community
St. Michael’s School celebrating all year long
All year long, students, staff and families are celebrating a century of faith and education at St. Michael’s School in Ridge.
Lila Hofmeister, the Catholic school’s principal, said she’s “proud that we’ve made this milestone” and several events are planned to celebrate the centennial year. The school community is taking “any excuse to celebrate,” she said.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, the school will host a centennial dinner. Tickets are in limited supply. The semiformal event includes dinner and dancing. The school community will also host a breakfast on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the school.
Hofmeister said the first day back on Aug. 29 to the Catholic school, which serves prekindergarten through eighth-grade students, was “wonderfully excellent.
“Children were happy to come back,” she said, adding that some of the youngest children are adjusting to going without naps now.
Students returned to normal scheduling this week and could
take “specials” classes like music, art, information technology and spending time in the library.
Art teacher Carol Morris said she’s been teaching at St. Michael’s for more than 20 years and “loves the kids and loves to teach.” She said she enjoys how welcoming the school community is for new or transfer students.
Morris said the “students help each other” at the school, with about 160 students enrolled this school year. She said the teachers “encourage them to be mindful of others.”
Morris said she’s designed her art curriculum to “challenge them without them realizing it.” She brings faith into their education at the Catholic school by having students create religious icons.
She said the educational and faith foundations students earn at St. Michael’s is not just the “ABCs and 123s,” it also helps them be better prepared for life outside of school.
Morris said students “learn from our faith” how to to treat each other better.
The trinity of faith, education and community for students at St. Michael’s is “so important,” Morris said.
The Rev. Peter Giovanoni, pastor of adjacent St. Michael’s Church, said on the first day of school that the parish and school shouldn’t be considered separate entities. St. Michael’s students and staff participate in Mass on a weekly basis, he said.
Morris hopes that another 100 years from now the school community will be celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Hofmeister said many of the relationships she and her students build at the school with friends continue past graduation. Being able to share the faith and engage in the school is “just another day in paradise,” she said.
Rich history in Ridge recounted
The Rev. Abraham J. Emerick, along with parishioners, in 1911 began talking about the need and planning for a school in the southern end of St. Mary’s County, according to Regina Combs Hammett’s book “History of St. Mary’s County Mary-
St. Michael’s School opened on Sept. 20, 1918, under the guidance of a Jesuit priest, the Rev. John LaFarge. The original two-story wooden building served the parish as a combination social hall and elementary school, Hammett wrote.
High school classes were added beginning in 1923, and in 1931 a separate high school building was erected near the convent. The last high school class to graduate from there was in 1967, six years before the high school building was burned after being labeled as unsafe, according to Hammett’s book.
In 1950, under the direction of the Rev. Merle V. Baldwin, the old wooden building was replaced by a modern cinderblock and brick school. Classroom and library additions were built in 1960, and a new wing was constructed in 1999 to provide larger classrooms for seventh- and eighth-graders, a conference room now used as an advanced math classroom and more.
Hofmeister said she was in the second grade at the school when desegregation occurred in the early 1960s.
She said when African-Amer-
ican students joined white students at St. Michael’s, she said she “had more friends to play with … and fill the seats.”
“The desks from the [1950s] have been replaced with modern designed ones and chalkboards are gradually being replaced with white boards,” she said, adding that other improvements include making restrooms compliant with the American Disabilities Act and an upgraded kitchen to “prepare hot lunches, parish and school family dinners and community breakfast once a month.”
Classes during the first year the school opened were conducted by nuns who made up the group Missionary Servants of the Blessed Trinity. The main goal was social work, and not teaching, Hofmeister said.
“Since teaching was not a priority for them, they staffed the school for only the one year,” she said.
After LaFarge built the convent, known at the time as the Brent House, another group of sisters called the Tertiary Carmelites agreed to staff the school for one year, she said.
From September 1920 to 1922, the Brent House was occupied
by five local lay women, three of whom taught at St. Michael’s. Caroline Martin filled the office of directress, Hofmeister said.
LaFarge continued his search for nuns, applying to 16 religious teaching communities before five Sisters of St. Joseph from Hartford, Connecticut arrived in August 1922 to lead the school, she said.
“At least one sister from this community continued to guide the faculty and serve the community until the sad departure of Sister Mary Rita Cullison in 1999,” Hofmeister said, adding that since then lay teachers have been the leaders in the classroom.
She said when the sisters left, the need to pay certified teachers and staff the money they are due caused an uptick in tuition. She said when she was in school, the largest financial concern was buying uniforms.
Hofmeister said her parents and four of her five children are graduates of the school. She said it’s like “the circle of life” and can see students going through some of the same life experiences she learned at the school.
St. Michael’s School sixth-grader Kayla Wilson, center, and seventh-grader Dylan Sperlin walk Thursday to the school building with other students.