It's a watermark year for Catholic education in Lawrence: The city's original Catholic school is celebrating its 50th year and reclaiming its roots.
And the second school - which was part of the first the past five years - is finally getting its own identity.
"I feel like I'm back home," said Pat Newton as she sat in her office at St. John School, 1227 Vt.
For the past five years, Newton was principal of the Lawrence Catholic School.
She shuttled between her office at the school's campus at St. John's and a new school at Corpus Christi Catholic Church across town at 6001 Bob Billings Parkway.
But last spring, Newton and officials with Corpus Christi Church and St. John the Evangelist Church decided it was time for a split. The Lawrence Catholic School became two parish schools: St. John's and Corpus Christi Catholic School.
Since then, the schools' staffs and students have been enjoying establishing their separate identities, according to Newton and Becky Wright, Corpus Christi's new principal.
"We came up with a new mascot name, The Saints," Wright said. School parents and students also picked some new colors: blue and gold.
"Kids are loving that. It's been a lot of fun," said the Rev. Mick Mulvany, Corpus Christi's pastor.
But the biggest change is coming in a couple of months: a $7 million expansion project that will allow the school to accommodate seventh and eighth grades, she said.
"We're in the midst of a capital campaign right now to continue the growth of the school," Mulvany said.
The plans include a new technology center, a media center and a library. The project also calls for a commons area, which would serve as a dining hall and a staging area. And it would add a new music room, a science lab, more classroom space and administrative offices, Mulvany said.
At St. John's, there are 235 students in K-6, with two sections in each grade level, Newton said. The school has 17 teachers and a counselor.
St. John School has a history, and its students and patrons reflect the growth of Lawrence over the years, she said.
Newton said last summer she went through boxes of documents, photos, slides and other memorabilia to organize the material for patrons wanting to take a look.
She said she put the material in chronological order with 49 piles, each representing material from a particular year.
There wasn't much from 1956, though she did have the original building report.
The school's opening day was Sept. 6, 1956, starting with 161 students in grades one through eight, taught by four members of the Sisters of Charity, an order based in Leavenworth.
Sister Owen Marie was principal and was one of two staff members who had a college degree, Newton said. The other three teachers were Sister Ellen Louise, Sister Lorraine and Sister Mary Luce.
The building report also noted very minimal equipment: a radio, a record player, a globe and seven maps.
"I went through pictures, newspaper clippings, photographs and slides," Newton said. "It was interesting to see our current families - current parents - as children."
Grades seven and eight were discontinued in the 1970s to make it easier for students to make a transition to the grades seven through nine format adopted by Lawrence public schools. The school added a kindergarten in 1981.
"I've been at the school for over 30 years, so I just saw my life go before me in generations of kids," Newton said. "I think St. John's is Lawrence. It really does represent Lawrence."
Corpus Christi emerges
St. John School originally served only St. John the Evangelist parish.
But in 1981, Corpus Christi parish was formed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., to serve western Lawrence.
Corpus Christi's original church was built at Kasold Drive and Harvard Road. But there wasn't enough room to build a school, and St. John School continued to serve both parishes.
In 2000, Corpus Christi opened its new church on a hill in western Lawrence designed with the concept that it be like an Italian village on a hill.
A school with classrooms for K-6 was included on the church campus.
And St. John School was renamed the Lawrence Catholic School. At that time, the first class opened on the new Corpus Christi campus, with 23 kindergartners.
Since then, each year Corpus Christi added another grade level.
Beginning with this school year, both parishes now support their own schools.
Moving to the future
Corpus Christi now has 225 students in kindergarten through sixth grade that are served by 15 teachers and four administrators.
"It was fun building that new school and having the two campuses," Newton said. "But last spring it was decided that it was time for us to go our separate ways and go back to being parish schools so we could each grow in our own traditions and our own cultures."
Even though Corpus Christi's campus had been serving students, it had to go through the state to get proper accreditation during the summer as a separate school, Wright said.
Also, members of the parish were asked this summer to pledge money to build the new facilities, Mulvany said. So far, the pledges are about $4 million for the $7 million project, he said.
At this point, there is no plan to build a Corpus Christi high school, he said. Catholic high schools are built to serve a region and that kind of a decision would be made at the archdiocese level, she said.
The archdiocese recently built St. James Academy in western Lenexa on Kansas Highway 10 to serve that purpose, he said.
Returning to roots
"We are back to being St. John's Catholic School, and we are part of St. John's parish," Newton said.
St. John's is served by the Capuchin Franciscans, a religious order established by St. Francis of Assisi, and by the Sisters of Charity.
"I think the St. John's community, the people who I am around, are very happy," she said. "They love having their own school. ... It's good to be one big unit."
Mulvany said Corpus Christi will have lay teachers and though the city's west side is new, it is coming together as a community.
"It's a really very spirit-filled community," he said. "People love living in this area of Kansas, and you know there's so much growth happening on this side of town that you might think it would be more disparate than it is, but they really do forge themselves together as a community, which is really great."
The two schools are funded separately through their own parishes. Families are told the cost per student is $4,500 and they work out their tuition agreement toward meeting that cost with the pastor, she said.
Students are also accepted to the school from nonparish families, she said.
Newton said St. John's will continue to have its annual fundraising auction. As part of the 50th anniversary, the auction will be held this year on Nov. 11 in the school, rather than at the Lawrence Holidome.
Wright said there will be a separate fundraising event for Corpus Christi School, but it will be in the spring, so as to not conflict with St. John's auction.
St. John's future
Newton said St. John's is considering adding a preschool and wants to continue to keep up with technology.
But more immediate plans include replacing a fence in front of the building near Kentucky Street and putting up a memorial plaque and bench to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who established the school.
"Fifty years ago it was very popular for Catholic churches and other churches to have their own schools, with the idea of educating the children in the faith," Newton said.
Mulvany said there was a time in Lawrence when there was a waiting list to get into the Catholic school.
"Now that's not an issue for kids in Lawrence right now - and that's terrific," he said.
- 6News reporter/anchor Deanna Richards contributed to this report.