BE turns a Benjamin: Happy 100th Birthday Bishop England!
If the infamous Willard Scott happened to mark the Battling Bishops’ milestone birthday on morning television with a spinning Smuckers Jar, his jolly voiceover might sound something like this: “Bee-yoo-tiful Bishop England from Charleston, South Carolina turns 100 today. She currently has nearly 900 kids, and attributes her longevity to a strong education, athletic tenacity, faith in God and, of course, good ol’ Southern comfort food. We wish her and her doting family of thousands all the best – here’s to the next sensational century.”
He might also mention that, when Bishop England High School entered the world, Woodrow Wilson was president, transcontinental telephone service had just been introduced, and the first stop sign appeared in Detroit just as Ford’s one-millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line. But what couldn’t possibly fit on the jelly label or be summed up in an historical snippet is the remarkable biography of this dignified centenarian.
From blessed beginnings, the chronology of a community
On September 22, 1915, the Charleston Catholic community’s longtime call for higher parochial education was answered when Catholic High School welcomed students for the first time. The Reverend Joseph L. O’Brien, with the backing of the Reverend James J. May, coordinated the opening of the school as a department of the Cathedral School on Queen Street. On that inaugural day, there were 67 students enrolled in seventh, ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades, and the faculty was made up of three diocesan priests and three Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM).
The following spring, the school had already grown enough to necessitate a move to a convent building, located at 203 Calhoun Street, which had been donated to the Diocese. By the spring of 1916, a growing student enrollment made larger quarters imperative. It was at this time that the school officially adopted the name Bishop England High School, in honor of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop John England. Two courses of study were offered: college preparatory and commercial.
As a result of a massive fundraiser, Bishop England received a brand new facility in February 1922. Good thing, too: the school’s enrollment had reached 318 students - and the faculty had nearly doubled - by 1940. Still, just a few years later more expansion would prove necessary, and from 1947 to 1957 the school would receive an auditorium, a gymnasium, and many new classrooms, laboratories, and offices.
By 1960 – the year future Charleston Mayor Joe Riley graduated from Bishop England - the faculty had grown to 31 members, and 740 students were enrolled. The school integrated in 1964, and merged with Immaculate Conception High School in 1968. By this time, additional property had been purchased on Coming and Calhoun Streets, as well as on Pitt Street, which would provide classrooms, living quarters for teachers, a maintenance shop, facilities for the school nurse, and a school yard. Nicholas J. Theos became principal in 1973, and established the BEHS Endowment Fund in 1985, which quickly grew to one million dollars. He would remain principal for 25 years, retiring just ahead of the school’s move from the peninsula to Daniel Island.
In the fall of 1995, enrollment at Bishop England was 805 students, the largest of any private high school in the state. That fall, Bishop Thompson announced that the school was moving to Daniel Island, and that its downtown property would be sold to the College of Charleston. The Daniel Island Development Company donated forty acres of land for the new school, and a campus campaign with a goal of $2.5 million would fund construction costs. Bishop Thompson blessed the ground at the site of the new Bishop England High School in June 1997, and just one year later, with the help of students, faculty, and volunteers, the school was moved to the new campus. It was ready for students for the 1998-99 academic year.
Given its consistent growth – and smart, community-supported response to that growth – it is no surprise that Bishop England remains the largest Catholic four-year high school in South Carolina.
The significance of being at the helm of an institution with such a storied past, particularly as it marks one hundred years, is certainly not lost on Principal Patrick Finneran. “It is a humbling experience to be the principal at this time in the school’s history… I am blessed to have an exceptional faculty and staff that ensure the principles on which Bishop England was founded are carried on,” he imparts, adding, “I would hope that the current students are honored to be a part of this momentous milestone. While they may only spend four years at Bishop England High School, they are part of a tradition that was built by the sacrifices of many… we challenge our students to make Bishop England better at their graduation than on their first day.”
The Centennial Campaign: Part party, part promise
And now, one hundred years old, the school boasts Battling Bishops numbering in the thousands, all part of an incredibly close-knit community. It is within the wide-reaching arms of this family that the school is both celebrating the milestone and planning for another successful century.
Bishop England’s Director of Development Carrie Mummert is at the helm of the school’s 100 Year Campaign, which kicked off last fall with a packed pep rally and BBQ bash. A special logo was unveiled, a dedicated website (www.BishopEngland100.com) was launched, and scores of volunteers were brought on board to help coordinate the many festivities and efforts. “From a development standpoint, we are using this Centennial Celebration to reconnect with our alumni and the community as a whole,” states Mummert.
More specifically, the centennial campaign’s mission is focused on three distinct priorities, each backed through its own trust. The first is the Academic Excellence Endowment, which is aimed at recruiting, retaining, and supporting exceptional staff while equipping them with the necessary and forward-thinking technology and tools. The second is the Student Financial Assistance Fund, which provides students unable to meet the tuition requirements with the educational opportunity they would not otherwise experience. And the third is the Facility Improvements Program, which supports necessary renovations to existing buildings, classroom enhancements, technology upgrades, and multiple athletic facility improvements, including new on-campus tennis courts.
But organizers have not forgotten that this pledge to the school’s future is connected to an anniversary worthy of an historic shindig. BE’s actual birthday, September 22, will launch nearly a week of events aimed at reflecting, reuniting, and whooping it up. (See sidebar.) From an celebratory mass to a sort of grown-up prom, memories will be both marked and made.
“The Coming Home Dance is not only for alumni but for all who love and care about Bishop England High School,” relates Mummert. “It is truly going to be the party of the Century.” As of last week, over 350 guests had purchased tickets to the September 26 event, with a total of 500 expected to attend.
The big soiree will open at 7 p.m. with a video produced just for the centennial, followed by special recognition of Coach Tommy Lavelle in thanks for his 21 years with BE’s basketball program. Guests will find the Father O’Brien Gymnasium completely transformed for the occasion, courtesy of Ooh! Events owner and BE parent Lisa Thomas. And what’s a dance without music? The Coming Home Dance welcomes home the Bishop England alumni of Permanent Vacation, the live band intending to get every foot on the floor with hits from Stevie Wonder to James Taylor to Coldplay.
A full open bar and Lowcountry Eats hors d’oeuvres stations – from beef tenderloin croustades and sushi to mini gourmet grilled cheese sammies and southern pickled vegetables – will keep friends old and new fueled and hydrated for more dancing. The party will go until 11:00 p.m.
Get in on the celebration
Purchase your tickets online at www.BishopEngland100.com. You can also check this link to see who has already committed to attend: http://www.bishopengland100.com/events.html. If you are unable to make any of the 100 Year events, but would like to make a contribution to any of the 100 Year Campaign Priorities, contact Carrie Mummert at email@example.com. Going forward, funds will also be raised from the sale of commemorative bricks, which are being sold to honor, memorialize, or congratulate a loved one in a way “that will last forever and be a permanent part of the BEHS campus.” Money raised from the sale of each $250 personalized brick will go directly to the school’s Tuition Assistance Fund. Bricks are printed twice a year and placed in the courtyard during Christmas and summer breaks. The key sponsors of the Bishop England 100 Year campaign and celebration are: Overhead Door Company of Charleston, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Lowcountry Eats, Mary Helen Condon Moore-Merrill Lynch, Moore Landscaping, and Ooh! Events.
BEHS 100 Year Celebration Events
Tuesday, September 22:
• 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – 100th Birthday All-School Mass and Centennial Celebration – Mass led by The Most Reverend Bishop Guglielmone and clergy alumni in BEHS’ Father O’Brien Gymnasium. Reception immediately following.
Friday, September 25:
• All Day – John England Day – Celebrating students and the Bishop England community, students enjoy a hot dog lunch, faculty cook and serve desserts, BEHS Class Boards sponsor outdoor activities, and students and faculty take part in various tournaments.
• 5 to 7 p.m. – Food Truck Festival and Reunion Village – Held in around the track, families are invited to bring picnics or purchase from food trucks (Dashi, Kay’s Southern Gourmet, Lowcountry Street Eats, and Kona Ice), and class gatherings by decade will take place under the big tent.
• 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. – Home Football Game – BEHS vs. James Island Charter High School at Jack Cantey Stadium, with special half-time presentations.
Saturday, September 26:
• 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. – Centennial Coming Home Mass – Mass led by Reverend H. Gregory West in Bishop Thompson Performing Arts Center
• 7 to 11 p.m. – Coming Home Dance – Dressy-casual, adults-only event at Father O’Brien Gymnasium with music performed by Permanent Vacation (featuring two BEHS alumni), heavy hors d’oeuvres, and open bar.
How to participate:
• Visit www.BishopEngland100.com.
• Get a 100th Year Weekend Pass - $100 per person/$150 per couple includes: Home Football Game Ticket, Admission to the Food Truck Festival & Reunion Village, “Coming Home” Dance Ticket, Inclusion in the Bishop England High School Century Society (Tickets will not be mailed, you will receive a badge upon arrival at BEHS, and this badge will gain you entry to all events)
• Or purchase separate tickets - Entry into Food Truck Festival and Reunion Village ($25 per person, includes football game ticket) and/or Coming Home Dance ($80 per person)
From the downtown digs to Daniel Island...alumni share memories made in the halls of BEHS
“I loved every minute of my four years at BE… meeting kids from all over the Charleston area, the wonderful uniforms, being part of a family tradition... football games, the smell of the science lab, Mass in the gym, walking to the Francis Marion for breakfast during free period, getting candy from Sears, selling spirit ribbons, racing to lockers between classes... can’t wait to see my friends from the Class of 1981! Go Bishops!”
“Attending class in rooms without air/conditioning and finding non-conventional ways to keep cool and yet avoid detention.” (from class of 1971)
“Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Star Spangled Banner’ surprisingly being played over the school’s broadcast system. Our freshman year was EXCELLENT!” (from class of 1978)
“I was a member of the 50th graduating class (we wore gold caps and gowns). I have many fond memories of Father Kelley, Sister Bernadette (my chemistry and chorus teacher), and Sister Adele. She gave me a rosary blessed by Pope Paul VI. Great memories for a non-Catholic!” (from class of 1965)
“Sneaking down to Norm’s during lunch, running sprints to the car to put more change in the meter, heckling the tourists as they rode in the carriages down Coming Street.”
“Senior year and hanging out at The Goody House (now a Starbucks); Father Kelly (‘You’ve got something on your shirt.’), Mr. Theos appearing out of nowhere and just standing in the doorway, observing; Coach Cantey (‘An excuse is another name for a lie.’ Seriously, Coach?); walking on the right side of the hallway; the smells, creak of the wooden floors, and everything else associated with an old building. Oh, and defying the rules by sitting on the front wall with your legs hanging over the sidewalk side (technically, I’m still on campus!)”