Spirits are high in Talbot County, Md., where a new Ss. Peter and Paul High School is in the works, solidifying the future of the only Catholic high school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
In November, Father James Nash, the pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul in Easton since 2014, announced plans to construct a new high school building on a piece of property next to the parish church along Route 50. The parish purchased the land from the Catholic Foundation, he told The Dialog this week. It will house the school and a sports complex.
The announcement has lifted spirits along the Eastern Shore, Father Nash said.
“Everybody’s really thrilled about it,” he said. “I think they were questioning whether it was going to happen or not. It takes a while to raise that kind of money.”
He said $15.5 million had been raised since plans were revealed in 2016. The cost of the high school and a parish family life center is estimated at $18 million. The parish’s Sacred Vision Project stipulated that the construction of a new high school and family life center not cause the parish any debt.
Many parishioners are excited about the family life center, the pastor said. It will be connected to the church and will include offices and conference rooms; a chapel; and a hall that will seat approximately 175 people. It will open with a catering kitchen, but a full kitchen will be considered if the need arises. The new high school will have a full kitchen and can be used for parish events.
“It will be open all day. People can come in to pray. We’re hoping maybe we can get some evening hours,” he said.
The new high school building will replace what was supposed to be a temporary structure behind the elementary school that has served as its home since the mid-1990s. It was remodeled after a fire in 2013. When the high school opened in 1958, it was housed in the elementary school.
Currently, 170 students attend the high school, although the new building will accommodate 325. Ss. Peter and Paul is the only Catholic pre-K through 12th-grade school on the Eastern Shore. Father Nash said a demographic study by a Baltimore firm concluded that an enrollment of 375 was a possibility with a new school. The student body is about 55 percent Catholic and draws from a wide geographic area, including Talbot, Dorchester and Queen Anne’s counties.
“It certainly wasn’t, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ We did our homework. It really will be state-of-the-art. It’ll be quite different from what they have now,” Father Nash said.
In addition to the new educational space, the site will include a sports complex with two lacrosse/soccer fields, tennis courts, a baseball diamond and a softball field.
Father Nash said the students, faculty and staff have made the best of the situation in the connector buildings. Graduates have done really well coming out of Ss. Peter and Paul, but that situation could not continue indefinitely.
“We either build a new school, or we probably won’t have a high school,” he said. “We really thought this was important, and the kids deserve it. Not that the place where they go to high school is bad. But I just think it’s time.”
The future of Ss. Peter and Paul High School has been tenuous in recent years, but the community has always rallied to save it. Father Nash said a lot of people have been very generous in supporting the project because they believe in what Ss. Peter and Paul High School does.
Plans for a new physical structure have been preceded by a new supervisory model, Father Nash told parishioners. The school advisory board has become a board of specified supervision, similar to those that have been instituted at several other diocesan schools. The new board includes members who specialize in various fields, and the pastor is just one vote of many instead of the final vote.
Father Nash told the parishioners that the parish is no longer financially responsible for the school, although it will always support it. He called it a healthier, better business model.
“A lot of people feel a lot more secure in investing in the school and investing in the new school knowing that we have a board of specified jurisdiction responsible for the well-being of the new school,” he told The Dialog.
A date for groundbreaking is not yet available. The plans are complete for both the school and the family life center, but the parish is waiting for some local approvals, after which everything will be submitted to the diocese.
“We’re hopefully going to break ground soon,” Father Nash said.