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 | Mary D. Dillard

Growing in Truth

St. John Paul II Catholic High School Marks 25 Years of Catholic Education

Almost four decades ago, in 1985, the Huntsville Catholic community started pursuing the idea of a Catholic high school for north Alabama. In fact, a decade of discussion would pass before the late Bishop David E. Foley would challenge the community to take concrete action.

In answering the challenge, the late Father Louis Giardino, then pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Huntsville, commissioned the Catholic High School Organizing Committee to develop all aspects of the proposed school. The work paid off and, on March 30, 1996, a press conference announced the plans to open the very first Catholic high school in the Huntsville area. At the press conference, Bishop Foley explained his support: “We believe all truths in any subject comes from God through Jesus Christ. Wherever you find truth, wherever you discover reality, whether in inner space, outer space, or cyberspace, you discover God. To be fully human, to be truly intelligent, to be all one should be, you must grow in truth, in wisdom. As Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (Jn 14) I very much want this Catholic high school in Huntsville, Alabama, for service in this whole region. I fully support and will work for the committee of laity that has energetically and with great expertise begun to work to make this vision a reality.”

The efforts came to fruition in the fall of 1996 when Catholic High School, located at 4180 Bradford Dr., opened its doors to 34 students in grades 9 and 10. The two years that followed saw the addition of 80 students and grades 11 and 12. When enrollment reached 350 students, the school had to start planning for the future.

In 2003, acreage located on Old Madison Pike was purchased. On Jan. 28, 2009, not only was ground broken for the new campus, but Bishop Robert J. Baker officially renamed the school Pope John Paul II Catholic High School. Just under two years later, Bishop Baker would cut the ribbon for the new facility and celebrate the first school Mass. The next 12 years would see yet another slight name change in honor of Pope John Paul II’s canonization and many more graduating seniors, making the 25-year total of 1,597 students.

Looking back to the school’s inception, the founding principal, Alice Hession, wrote, “I cannot help but think of all of the people who gave of their time, talents, and treasure to make a dream a reality. It was a difficult dream to fulfill in those early days, but if it meant serving on committees, giving of financial resources, designing a curriculum, tutoring students, being on a demolition crew, or assembling lockers, the people of the Catholic community of Huntsville were there to help. … A special thanks to Father Louis Giardino, without whom the school truly would not have existed.”

To mark its silver anniversary, the school held a dinner on Feb. 19 with special guests Bishop Steven J. Raica and Father Leo Patalinghug, founder of Plating Grace and The Table Foundation, better known as “the cooking priest.” Father Leo prepared a papal cream cake, one of St. John Paul II’s favorite desserts, while offering spiritual insights and good humor. Congratulating the school on the milestone, Bishop Raica remarked, “St. John Paul II Catholic High School excels in providing a quality education through rigorous academic and spiritual formation. It all tends to accomplish what St. John Paul II said at the very beginning of his pontificate: ‘Be not afraid!’ The faithful parents and supporters of Catholic education were not afraid to set out into the deep for an abundant harvest. It is my great joy to join the St. John Paul II Catholic High School community on the attainment of this milestone as they celebrate their silver jubilee. Kudos to one and all!”

The bishop concluded, “May we not be afraid to embark on the next 25 years with confidence and resolve to exceed everyone’s expectations for such an excellent school.”

Original Bradford Drive campus

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the new campus on Oct. 29, 2010.