MYRTLE BEACH—Hurricane Irma whirled on an uncertain path in the Atlantic, but no storm could distract those who came together for the blessing of the newest Catholic high school on Sept. 7. More than 200 people from the Grand Strand attended the dedication of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School, located in the Carolina Forest community.
With the school’s opening in the fall of 2016, Catholic education for all ages became available across the state and youth from the rapidly growing Grand Strand area finally had local access to a diocesan high school.
The crowd included the families of St. Elizabeth’s students, members of the parishes that support the high school, and students from each of its feeder schools, including St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach, St. Michael in Murrells Inlet and Holy Trinity in Longs.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass under a large white tent on the school grounds and blessed the outside of the school building. Afterward, he led a procession inside and blessed each classroom, the offices and the school’s chapel.
His homily focused on the importance of Catholic education and how special it is to live in an area where it’s in high demand.
“When I attend national meetings with my fellow bishops, some of them look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them we are opening new schools,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “These bishops are coming from dioceses where they are closing schools and closing and consolidating parishes, and we are doing the opposite. In this area and this diocese, we are blessed with an increasing, committed population that is also dedicated to education, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a testament to that fact.”
He said the school’s mission of combining strong academics with a focus on the Gospel message is especially important in an era when public acknowledgement of Christian teaching is frequently threatened.
“God is often being told to get out of the public square,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “We have to accept God’s invitation to spread His message and that is one of the reasons we have these schools. We hope that students who come out of this school will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and willing to show others what it means to make Jesus Christ a major part of their lives.”
The bishop recalled the long path to getting a high school in the Pee Dee. It started in 2000, when the late Msgr. Joseph Roth held a feasibility study during his time as pastor of St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach. The diocese purchased land in the Carolina Forest area, and Msgr. James LeBlanc took over as leader of the effort to build the school in 2011. Other area priests and community supporters joined the campaign, and over the years a fundraising committee raised more than $4 million toward a challenge goal of $5 million.
Groundbreaking for St. Elizabeth was held in November 2015. Construction was delayed because of massive flooding in 2015 and other severe weather, and students temporarily attended classes at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church across the street when the school year began in August 2016. They were officially able to move into the new building in December.
St. Elizabeth is starting out small. Twelve students were enrolled during the first year, and 18 freshmen and sophomores make up this year’s student body. Bishop Guglielmone said it isn’t unusual for schools in the state to begin with small enrollments and grow as the population continues to expand. As an example, he mentioned John Paul II School in Ridgeland, which started out small and now has 250 students enrolled in grades 7-12. St. Elizabeth will continue to add grades each year and have its first graduating class in 2020.
Principal Ted Hanes said the dedication was an emotional way to acknowledge the new school and its mission.
“This really was a true celebration of decades of work for so many people,” he said. “There are many, many people who have sacrificed and worked hard to make this school a reality.”
St. Elizabeth’s students took part in every facet of the dedication, doing the readings and bringing up the offertory gifts. Photographers from the yearbook staff darted around during the liturgy and the procession, capturing every moment. Others showed visitors the different classrooms and talked about the subjects they study. Several of them took time to talk about the St. Elizabeth experience, including small class sizes, a caring community, and the chance to worship and pray together regularly.
“We have the chance to grow in our friendships together here, to get to know each other and other teachers,” said sophomore Kaiya Willoughby, 15. “This school really is a special place.”
Top photo, Christina Lee Knauss/Miscellany: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone blesses the hallways and classrooms of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School during the dedication ceremony held Sept. 7 in Myrtle Beach.