COLUMBIA – Cardinal Newman High School is proof that maintaining high standards will turn out students who are ready to meet the requirements of higher education with the confidence and ability they need to be a success.
The school’s official history began Dec. 10, 1834 with a group of Ursuline Sisters newly arrived to Charleston from Ireland. They opened Ursuline High School for young ladies on Blending Street and taught there until Sherman’s army burned Columbia on Feb. 17, 1865. They moved to Vale Cruces where they remained until returning to Columbia in 1872 and opening St. Peter’s School on Park Street. When a convent was completed on the corner of Assembly and Hampton streets classes were conducted there until 1919 when St. Peter’s School building was erected on church property by the Knights of Columbus.
In 1957 the Ursulines gave the property of their Ursuline High School to the Most Reverend J.J. Russell, Bishop of Charleston, and the name was changed to Catholic High School. Finally, in 1961, the school moved to Forest Drive and was named Cardinal Newman High School.
Harold J. Bayerl, principal of Cardinal Newman, arrived in the mid- 1970s. The number of students had reached the building’s full capacity and classes were crowded. Stringent enrollment requirements were necessary because space was at a premium. He even recalls using the stage for typing classes.
The school’s financial base needed to be broadened to maintain a high quality curriculum and provide faculty support. Over the years, thanks to active parent/teacher organizations and clubs, the school received that fortification. They were soon able to add a new roof to the middle school, a gymnasium, five classrooms and lights for the football field.
“Our PTO is absolutely wonderful,” Bayerl said. “They ask what the school’s needs might be and put on events. They’ve really made a difference and because of them the middle school has Macintosh computers and the high school has IBM compatibles. The Annual Fund also helps and the booster club does the athletic fund raising.”
Hope and faith have been a consistent characteristic for the school, particularly when the road was bumpy. Bayerl left in 1984 to work for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. During the next four years the school had four principals. He returned to the formidable task of opening a middle school with an enrollment of 120 students.
But Bayerl said that the academic standards of the school have never fluctuated: something he attributes to the dedication of the faculty.
“This has always been a demanding school in terms of curriculum,” he said. “You have to be willing to work hard in order to make it here as a student. We have very stable group of faculty who give a great deal of their time after school to give students enrichment help.”
The results of that devotion show by the fact that Cardinal Newman has a regular quota of students who are exceptional enough to be National Merit finalists and the numerous academic scholarships received by graduating seniors.
Sister Vera Gardener, O.S.U., has been with the high school since 1965. She directs the Community Service Program which is credited for helping to mold the spiritual character and inspire stewardship in young people. The program requires students to donate a certain amount of hours, 20 to 40, depending on grade level, to do school-approved volunteer work of their choice whether in a nursing home, hospital or mentally-handicapped children’s program.
“Our philosophy is that we work on developing the whole person,” Sister Gardner said. “It is an extremely important part of developing a mature, open person who is not just interested in their own needs.”
Students come back amazed at what they can do. She told of a “tall, husky young man” who went to a nursing home and visited with an elderly woman. An awkward visitation developed into a friendship and, because of students like that, other outreach programs now call looking for volunteers.
“You see the students moving from little children to adults who have a lot more spirituality,” Sister said.
“Our students have a very strong Catholic identity when they leave here,” Bayerl added. “We have a very Christian atmosphere. We have faculty who care and we have a close-working relationship with parents who give the kind of time and involvement their children need.”
Plans for the future include an additional class period to enrich the curriculum and expanding the art and music program. Bayerl said they will be challenged to keep up with the ever-changing technology and the financial needs to stay abreast of the educational demands for students. And at Cardinal Newman those demands for a “whole person” are top priority.