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Helen Ryan was in her final year as principal of Hilton Head Island High School in 2007 when she attended a Mass for graduates at Holy Family Catholic Church on the island.
The priest spoke of the need for improving educational resources for Lowcountry Catholics -- in particular, a long-planned...Helen Ryan was in her final year as principal of Hilton Head Island High School in 2007 when she attended a Mass for graduates at Holy Family Catholic Church on the island.
The priest spoke of the need for improving educational resources for Lowcountry Catholics -- in particular, a long-planned Catholic high school.
"I just happened to think in the back of my mind that it would be a worthwhile volunteer job for me in my retirement," Ryan said.
Three years later, Ryan is acting principal of what might become Pope John Paul II High School to serve high school students in Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties. The school would be the first for the three counties, which are home to seven Catholic churches, according to the Diocese of Charleston, which oversees all parishes in South Carolina.
In February, an executive committee formed to oversee the school's construction selected Charleston-based LS3P Associates Ltd. as the lead architect. The firm designed St. Gregory Elementary.
The firm has created a conceptual design for the first phase of the high school, which Ryan said would cost about $10 million and include an academic building, gym and all-purpose athletic field.
Eric Aichele, principal at LS3P, said the challenge for his design team will be incorporating elements of a 2,000-year-old religion into a 21st century learning environment. There probably would be a chapel, as well as religious imagery, including stained glass and statues.
The number of Catholics in the Lowcountry has "exploded" in recent years, according to committee chairwoman Mary Fran Quindlen. More than 7,000 Catholic households are in the Lowcountry deanery, which includes Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper and Hampton counties.
Quindlen emphasized, however, that the increasing number of Catholics in the area wasn't the only impetus for the high school -- overall population growth is a big factor, too. Thirty percent of the new high school's student body would be non-Catholic, she said.
Proposed for 61 acres off S.C. 170 near Camp St. Mary's Road, the high school would be within 25 miles of the four Beaufort County parishes, Quindlen said. The diocese purchased the land from First Carolina Corp. in 2004 for $950,000, according to Jasper County records.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone still must approve the project, said Pat Kelley, an attorney on the executive committee. Guglielmone will evaluate how much demand exists for the school, its estimated operating costs and the degree of financial support to expect, Kelley said.
Ryan said she hopes to be able to present a detailed plan addressing those issues by August. A feasibility study presented May 5 at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton indicated that area parishioners were ready to lend financial support, Ryan said.
She said the high school could have a freshman class of 40 students by fall 2011. The school could ultimately have 600 students.
A Catholic high school for the Lowcountry has been discussed at least since St. Francis Catholic School on Hilton Head Island opened a decade ago, Kelley said. Discussion to build a high school became more intense when St. Gregory Elementary was built in 2007, according to Lynn Conley, an administrator at St. Gregory.
Meanwhile, Ryan is putting the finishing touches on the curriculum.
After working full-time on the project for the past year, she said, she's eager to see it through.
"It's a big project, but I have a lot of energy," she said.