Mark­ing 100 years of faith, ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­nity

St. Michael’s School cel­e­brat­ing all year long

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

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-

land, 1634-1990.”

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI

St. Michael’s School sixth-grader Kayla Wil­son, cen­ter, and sev­enth-grader Dy­lan Sper­lin walk Thurs­day to the school build­ing with other stu­dents.

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