By PAUL A. BARRA
CHARLESTON – Graduating classes always have special meaning for a principal, but the one that graduated May 30 from The Charleston Catholic School held much more than the usual meaning. The Class of ’99 was the first graduating class to begin at the consolidated school. A lot was riding on the 22 youngsters who left middle school formally at a ceremony in Sacred Heart Church.
“These children had to be successful, or the school would not have been successful. Today, there’s no question that both are successful,” said St. Mary of Namur Sister Carol Ann Kleindinst, founding principal of Charleston Catholic and keynote speaker for the commencement ceremonies.
In 1991, when the Class of ’99 entered first grade in Charleston Catholic School, the future of the school was in doubt – even though it was brand new. The other schools on the Charleston peninsula had been closed and this consolidated school took over a Sacred Heart School that was being renovated and became the parish school for five parishes. It was the first consolidated school in the Diocese of Charleston and not everyone thought it was a viable concept.
“There was so much opposition to it in the beginning because it was going to be an integrated school. A lot of people thought it was going to fail, especially in this neighborhood,” said the former principal.
Charleston Catholic School is located on upper King Street, a predominately black community. The student population of the school itself reflected the neighborhood at first: It was 88 percent black. In the seven years, the racial make-up shifted so that in 1998 the ratio was 70:30, white to black. All the parishes on the peninsula are actively supporting the school, and it has continued to grow. This year, under new principal Sister Bridget Sullivan, the school has expanded into the unused rectory of Sacred Heart.
Although only eight of the graduating eighth-graders actually started their schooling at Charleston Catholic, the theme of the school’s evolution was clearly evident in the graduation ceremony. Honors graduate Laura Ceva introduced Sister Carol Ann this way:
“Sister Carol Ann changed it from an old building into a fine school of the arts … a loving environment.”
For her part, the first principal the school had ever known reminded the graduates that they were known through the school as “the dream class.” She cited the first faculty, Bishop David B. Thompson and especially the parents of those early classes for their trust in God.
“I called your parents the leapers of faith,” Sister Carol Ann told the graduates. “I put all my hope in you. I came into your class every day, checking to see that the dream was coming true. You are proof tonight that the dream did come true.”
Sister Carol Ann is now principal of the 570-student DeSales School in Lockport, N.Y.
Msgr. Chet Moczydlowski, pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, opened and closed the Charleston Catholic ceremony with prayer and handed out diplomas.
Michael Cooper was the class salutatorian, Anna Kate Shores the valedictorian. Special scholarships were awarded to Shores, LaTosha Boyd, John Waters and Tiffany Deleston.