BY CHRISTINA LEE KNAUSS AND AMY WISE TAYLOR
Seniors from the four Catholic high schools spoke about their experiences and how it helped their formation.
Bishop England High School has changed a lot since it moved to Daniel Island 14 years ago, but some things are eternal — the green uniforms are basically the same, and seniors still rule the school.
A group of representatives for the class of 2012 gathered around a conference table recently and talked about the perks of being a senior, especially at BE.
Hanna Humphreys, Kyle Duke, Danny Croghan, Hope Banks and Hana Pan are an eclectic bunch of students. Athletic, intelligent, artistic, they came to Bishop England for a variety of reasons. One was drawn to the school and blossomed under the Options program, another through international studies.
There are many things about them that are different, but the things that are the same are stronger, such as friendship and faith.
Hana Pan said when she arrived at the beginning of the year, she was nervous about being non-Catholic. But after a year of theology, she understands the faith much better and feels accepted despite a difference in beliefs.
Some of the youth are Catholic and some aren’t, but they all said attending a Catholic school has helped them grow in their faith.
“It’s based on Catholic theology, but we’re still learning about the same God and Jesus,” Hanna said.
It helps that they can pray at any time. Whatever the problem is, Hope said she prays to God for guidance, and finds comfort and strength.
Hanna describes their life at BE as sheltered, saying they are aware of real-world issues, but are protected from the daily onslaught that other kids face.
Kyle said they discuss major issues in class, and everyone has different views they share. But he noted it’s based on the same beliefs they all grew up with, so there isn’t the hostility they sometimes encounter in the secular world.
He recalls the first time he attended a pro-life rally and was faced with people protesting against them.
“It was a real wake-up call,” he said.
That life of a small, sheltered community is about to change as the seniors move on to colleges or jobs.
Danny, who’s going to play football at a Baptist college, said they’ll have to face various issues. For example, despite being Catholic he’ll be required to attend the Baptist chapel with all the other students. Not something he’s looking forward to, but he’s prepared to roll with it.
The seniors said all the teen angst that plagues middle-schoolers becomes so much easier as they get older, and they have some solid advice for the younger students: join clubs and sports, talk to everyone, balance your time, and be yourself.
“Everyone likes you better if you just be yourself, even if you’re really weird,” Hanna said with a laugh.
It is clear that individuals who have bonded over faith and community have become a class of friends.
Cardinal Newman School is more like a nurturing family than just a place to attend class, seniors said. It gave them a strong intellectual and spiritual foundation for their new lives after graduation.
During a recent discussion, four members of the class of 2012 said attending a Catholic high school allowed them to grow as people and develop deep friendships and values they might not have encountered in a large public school.
“I feel like I had a lot more free expression when it comes to religion, I was able to practice my religion and talk about it openly,” said Meghan Gasser, 17.
“You’re a name and face to each other at a school like this, not just a number,” said Grace Zimmermann, 17.
“The environment of a school like Cardinal Newman is just more unique, and the small size is a good thing,” said Alex Jones, 18. “Everyone is kind of an individual. You don’t just get classified into one particular group.”
Jones said he felt encouraged by the school to pursue his varied interests, including theater, which led to his lead role in their recent production of “Hamlet.”
At Cardinal Newman, the students said they learned how to care about others through required volunteer work and a mandatory senior research project on Catholic social teaching and how it applies to a real world issue. Their topics were different, but all four said the arduous work helped them learn something important about the world outside the secure bubble of high school life.
Alex focused on outsourcing and job exploitation, Meghan looked into stem-cell research, Grace researched equitable funding for public education, and Mary Katherine Hall, 18, studied enhanced interrogation techniques, whether they are permissible and what constitutes torture.
Mary Katherine and Meghan also helped organize the dance marathon the school hosted in February to benefit Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia. Student volunteers helped collect donations and put together the entire event. They said it was challenging to juggle everything with all their other assignments, but the work was worth it.
“It was in important experience to be able to take part in something like that,” Mary Katherine said. “We learned so much about giving back.”
St. Francis Xavier
The seniors at St. Francis Xavier High School in Sumter acted more like siblings than classmates as they sat around a conference table laughing, joking and talking about their quirks and foibles: Who does and doesn’t like mornings? Who is the most into Star Wars?
They knew the answers by heart.
Not surprising, considering there are only five of them.
The Class of 2012 at St. Francis Xavier is undeniably the smallest at a Catholic school in South Carolina, and likely among all state schools in general. But the students say that isn’t a bad thing.
“Being the only girl in a class of four guys, I am lost 75 percent of the time as to what they’re talking about, and our conversations are off the wall, but we’re like sister and brothers,” said Maleeya Hampton-Morton, 17, who moved to Sumter from Atlanta during freshman year.
“Each one of us brings something different to the table. You have the bubbly morning person, and the sarcastic person, and the others. Every personality blends together into one class,” she added.
“Think of it as a benevolent version of the Borg!” exclaimed Powell Babb, 19. He was referring to the omniscient race in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” whose slogan is “you will be assimilated.”
All of the guys in the class love sci-fi and pop music, while Maleeya likes rhythm and blues artists and the gospel performer Mary Mary, and has different literary tastes.
“It’s like a weird, nutty, dysfunctional family, but it works,” said Nicholas Lavergne, 18.
Class sizes have always been small at the independent Catholic high school since it started in an upgraded elementary building in 1997. The total student body this year is 37. While administrators would like to see the numbers grow, Principal Susan Lavergne and the five seniors agree that fewer numbers present special opportunities.
Small classes allow teachers to pay more attention to each student, especially important in intense college prep classes such as physics and calculus.
“There were only two of us in one of my classes, and that gave me a chance to ask the instructor questions and really talk to him,” said Gregory Pierson, 17.
Students also have a chance to bond as they work together on volunteer projects, participate in sports, and pray in the school chapel.
After four years together, the class of 2012 is going its separate ways, as all seniors do. But the “Fantastic Five,” as they’ve come to call themselves, said they won’t forget each other. They already talk about keeping in touch through social networking and email.
“We have a special bond that we’ve formed over the years,” Maleeya said. “I have a feeling that these friendships might last for the rest of our lives.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic
Bidding farewell to St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville will be difficult for its seniors because it has become their spiritual, social and academic home.
Like other graduates at Catholic high schools in the diocese, they agree that their school provides a nurturing, multifaceted community that often seems like its own little world against the onslaught of secular culture.
“St. Joseph crept into so many places in my life,” said Sara Ruble, 18. “It’ll be hard to leave because I spent so much time here, and so many people I know and friendships I have are based out of here. I’ll be leaving behind a huge section of my life at St. Joseph.”
“You become so involved with activities at this school, it’s a way of life,” said Elizabeth Moore, 18. “You don’t just come here to go to school.”
Both Elizabeth and Sara followed the example of their peers by getting involved in many different activities offered at St. Joseph, ranging from sports and student council to Elizabeth’s extensive involvement in the National Honor Society.
St. Joseph holds a special place in these seniors’ hearts because it helped them develop many different sides of their personalities, not just academics. Several seniors talked about being able to take part in everything from volunteer work and theater groups to mission trips and special outside activities during the school’s “mini-mester,” an annual week-long opportunity to explore activities outside the school walls.
“If you feel you’re bored at St. Joseph, it’s your own fault because there was just so much to do,” said David Estes III, 18.
A strong Catholic identity helps students learn about everyday subjects from a different angle, said William Lewis, 18, who complemented his love of mathematics and physics with a senior course on bioethics. Required reading included breaking down the philosophy of Aquinas during one semester, he said, and then exploring Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
Faith was at the root of everything at St. Joseph, and it helped them face the constant challenges in the day-to-day life of teens. Sara said the school chapel became especially precious to her as she spent many morning and afternoon hours trying to sort out what she wanted in her life. Her prayer time even helped her come to a decision about which college to attend.
“That chapel was probably one of my favorite places here,” she said. “I’d been going there consistently since freshman year, and I know through my prayer there I could feel how God has done so much in my life during my time here, and how he continues to work in my life”.