‘Enter to learn, exit to serve’ – Bishop England turns 100
Alumni, school leaders and community members are busily paging through old photo albums and pulling out their green and white as they prepare to celebrate 100 years of Bishop England High School tradition.
Festivities, including a village reunion, football game, Mass and dance are planned for Sept. 25-26.
There will be much reminiscing and more than one toast made in celebration of the first Catholic high school in the state.
Bishop England was founded in 1915 by Msgr. Joseph O’Brien and Father J.J. May with the approval of Most Rev. Henry N. Northrop, fourth bishop of Charleston. The school offered two courses of study, classical and commercial.
In that first year, classes for the new high school were held at The Cathedral School located at 105 Queen St. The faculty included three diocesan priests and three Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.
After just one year, the student body had outgrown its setting and was relocated to 203 Calhoun St., the former Cenacle Sisters Convent donated to the diocese by Fortune Ryan. It was renamed Bishop England High School in honor of the first bishop of Charleston, John England.
As the student body continued to grow, a decision was made to raze the old convent and build a new, spacious school. During this time of construction, 1919-1921, students attended classes at Gregorian Hall, which was once a Catholic school for boys on George Street.
In 1921, Bishop William Russell laid the cornerstone for the new Bishop England high school building. It opened in 1922 at a cost of $56,000 and served as home to students for the next 75 years. During this time, there were many expansions, renovations and shuffling to accommodate an ever-growing student body.
Think of the many students who walked through the doors in their green and white school uniforms as the decades passed. The roaring ’20s gave way to the Great depression, followed by World War II and the boom of the ’50s and ’60s, and then the counter-cultural revolution and the Civil Rights movement. And Bishop England was there through it all.
Bishop England integrated in 1964 with nine brave souls. In 1968, it merged with Immaculate Conception High School and the former Immaculate Conception building on Coming Street became home to the freshmen of BE.
Nicholas J. Theos became principal in 1973, a position he held for 25 years. He left a legacy that included establishing the BEHS endowment fund in 1985. In 1990, Msgr. Lawrence B. McInerny became the third B.E. graduate named as rector of the school. In 1995, enrollment reached 805, the largest of any private school in the state, and Bishop David B. Thompson, 11th bishop of Charleston, decided the grounds of BEHS — squashed into a busy downtown scene and surrounded by the College of Charleston — would no longer serve for the Catholic school.
In 1997, he blessed the grounds of an expansive, green campus on Daniel Island. The school opened in the fall of 1998, where it remains today. The campus features many tributes to one of it’s longstanding rectors, Msgr. Robert J. Kelly, who was rector from 1964 to 1990 and 1996 to 2004, including a statue sitting on a bench.
The first graduating class consisted of six students, compared to almost 200 in 2015.
On average, about 68 percent of the students participate in athletics, while 89 percent participate in on-campus extra-curricular activities.
As BE grew, so did the number of activities for its students. Currently, they have over 30 clubs and a vast array of outreach opportunities to help the community and those in need.
Over the course of its 100 years, Bishop England evolved into a sports powerhouse.
The Bishops compete at the AA level of the South Carolina High School League. They offer about 20 different athletic opportunities throughout the year and have become a dominant force in many of them.
In all, Bishop England has 118 state championships and 59 runner-up titles. The most dominant program is volleyball, which currently holds the national record for state championships with 25 overall and the South Carolina record for consecutive state titles.
Bishop England is still the largest, Catholic four-year high school in South Carolina.