The Birth of Charlottesville Catholic School
In 1994, two parents initiated a parent group at Church of the Incarnation with the purpose of encouraging one another to live as families of faith. Mothers of grown children were invited monthly to discuss what had been helpful to them in raising their children. Many spoke of their experience with Catholic schools. By August 1995, these parents began to desire a Catholic school where a community of faith could be modeled with their children, consistent with what they were attempting to live at home. One particular discussion over an article that affirmed this vision of Catholic education catalyzed three mothers to pursue this dream for their children.
Aware that several prior attempts to start a Catholic school in the area had failed, history provided lessons upon which to learn. It was clear that in order to enlist families to support this effort, academic excellence was a necessary priority. Thus, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) and the Office of Catholic Schools (OCS) of the Diocese of Richmond were contacted. Then-Bishop Walter Sullivan stated that if parents truly desired a Catholic education for their children and were willing to work for it, he and the Office of Catholic Schools would assist them.
In September 1995, two interest meetings for parents were held. As interest grew, three mothers met several times with the Superintendents of the Office of Catholic Schools to discuss the possibility of a Catholic school in Charlottesville. In November, a Steering Committee was organized and a survey of the three Charlottesville parishes (Church of the Incarnation, Holy Comforter, and St. Thomas Aquinas) was conducted. Survey results overwhelmingly indicated a desire for Catholic education in the area. In December, the Steering Committee met with the superintendents to develop a mission statement for a Charlottesville Catholic school. By February 1996, potential sites were visited and evaluated, a School Board was formed, an operating budget was developed, and a development plan was initiated.
Anticipating that a school was to open in the fall of 1996, an informational meeting about the school was held at the end of March. A critical factor in determining whether a school would be opened was the number of families willing to register their children. Initial registration was held at Hospice of the Piedmont. Finally, in May, Bishop Sullivan and the Office of Catholic Schools announced that the school would open on August 26, 1996, with kindergarten, first and second grades, and plans to add a grade each year.
Sister Susan Mudd, O.S.U., then principal of St. Anne’s Catholic School in Bristol, heard the Charlottesville parents present their request for approval of a Catholic school to the Diocesan School Board earlier in the year. She shared with the OCS her interest in leading a school where parents so strongly desired a Catholic education. Known as a strong leader to the OCS, she was appointed as the founding principal. She began traveling to Charlottesville in early June, and hired her assistant and the school’s first three teachers.
After inquiries were made of numerous Catholic and Christian churches that had classroom space in the area, Msgr. Raymond Barton (then-pastor of Holy Comforter Catholic Church) assisted in finally leasing the newly completed addition at Congregation Beth Israel, across the street from Holy Comforter. The downtown Charlottesville community welcomed the new school and its 32 students that fall. This ideal location allowed for Masses to be held at Holy Comforter and hot lunch to be prepared in their kitchen; the main branch of the public library welcomed students for weekly visits; and McGuffey Park served as a wonderful playground.
The lease at Congregation Beth Israel was limited to two years because the space would soon be outgrown. In 1997 as it became clear that a permanent home was yet to be realized, a simultaneous search for a second temporary facility began. Much energy was put into this by the Site Committee and supported by families who were doing everything possible to ensure survival of this fledgling school. Much prayer each day by a dedicated group of parents united in this effort finally guided the community to its permanent home at the property on Rio Road, adjacent to Pen Park. The ensuing campaign became known as “The Miracle on Rio Road.” The property–a 20.4-acre pastoral farm–was ultimately purchased, and the building permit for the site was approved in July 1998.
The ACAC location at Four Seasons Drive became the new temporary home. Much renovation was needed to transform a former athletic facility into a school. The work was completed over the summer with a great deal of parent volunteer effort to build several classrooms, an art room, and a library. By the fall of 1998, the facility was readied for the arrival of 65 students and the addition of a fourth grade.
During this time, preparations began to formulate for growth into the new permanent facility. The efforts to secure a permanent home culminated in the Groundbreaking Ceremony held on October 23, 1999. Most memorable were the clouds parting, and the sun bursting through just as the ceremony began, as if God was peeking down to extend his blessing. After much site preparation under the watchful eye of Mr. Bob Niehaus, construction began on the new facility by March of 2000. Phase I of the building project was complete by June, and Charlottesville Catholic School finally moved into its current home June 11-15, 2001.