Celebrating 60 Years of Catholic Education -- 1956-2016
ST. LOUIS PARISH & SCHOOL ARE ESTABLISHED
St. Louis Parish started as a small mission church in the 1920s, when the pastor of St. Mary's Parish, Fr. Louis Smet, commissioned the purchase of farmland and an old schoolhouse overlooking U.S. Route 1 in Alexandria, Virginia. It was this schoolhouse that became the first roots of this new Catholic mission, and the place where Mass was celebrated once or twice a month for a dozen Catholics in the area. As the number of Catholics grew, the schoolhouse was enlarged into a proper chapel. In 1941, the refurbished schoolhouse, still in existence on the parish grounds (known as Walsh Hall), was dedicated as St. Louis Church, named in honor of its founder, Fr. Louis Smet.
By 1949, the Catholic population in the Groveton, Alexandria area had grown large enough for St. Louis Church to become a separate parish. By the 1950s, the parish had grown to a population of 1,700. In June 1955, Fr. Eugene Walsh was appointed pastor, and two months later he purchased the property that became the school grounds and convent. Without the constraints of current County zoning laws or special permit requirements, construction on a school building began immediately, and the first wing of St. Louis Catholic School opened in 1956. The multipurpose room of the school also operated as a chapel, where five Masses were celebrated each Sunday.
4 TEACHERS AND 185 STUDENTS
St. Louis Catholic School was dedicated on September 15, 1956 by the Most Reverend Peter L. Ireton, Bishop of Richmond. The new school was run by the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, who came to the parish from Allegany, New York. The school started with 4 teachers and 185 students in first and second grades. By 1958, four grades were in operation, and the second wing of the school was completed, adding 8 new classrooms and a connecting hallway that included a Kindergarten classroom. Although Kindergarten was added to the school in 1959, it was discontinued in 1961 because of increasing enrollment in the other grades. School tuition in the late 1950s was $50 per year for one child, $80 for two children, and $100 for three or more children.
GROWTH & ACCREDITATION
By the mid 1960s, school enrollment grew to just over 1,000 students in grades one through eight. This large number of students required the use of the old chapel (Walsh Hall) as classroom space. The Home and School League (which eventually became the Parent Teacher Organization) began to make a significant financial impact on the school, growing the school library system with book drives and audio-visual material drives. At this time, the new pastor was named, Msgr. Justin McClunn. Under his pastoral leadership, the school was first accredited by the state of Virginia. This 1968 accreditation required a reduction in class size from an average of more than fifty students per classroom to less than thirty-five students per class.
MEETING DIVERSE LEARNING NEEDS
The 1970s brought new changes to St. Louis Catholic School. The enrollment of the school had declined to about 400 students and a new pastor was named, Fr. James McMurtrie. By 1977, the school staff was entirely comprised of laypersons, including a lay principal. With nuns no longer at the school, the convent became the temporary home for the Poor Clare Sisters. In 1978, St. Louis Catholic School began receiving Title 1 services, providing federal aid for remedial student help in Reading and Math. The following year, the Seton Center was established, which began individualized programs for students with learning disabilities at St. Louis.
St. Louis Catholic School reopened its Kindergarten in the 1980s and school enrollment remained at about 400 students. Fr. McMurtrie led the building project that established a gymnasium, which was eventually dedicated as McClunn Hall in 1983 by the Most Reverend John Keating, Bishop of Arlington. New pastors were named in the 1990s, and the parish began to seek Fairfax County approval for a new middle school building to replace the old convent. While zoning requests began in 1992, the final plan was approved in 2004 under the pastoral leadership of Fr. John Reilly and Principal Noreen Gilmour. St. Louis Middle School was dedicated in 2006 by the Most Reverend Paul Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, allowing for modern classrooms in grades six through eight, and providing more resource space in the main elementary building. At this time, the school also began its Before and Aftercare Program (EDC) under the directorship of Kathleen English, providing an important child care option for working parents.
As the importance of Early Childhood programs grew nationally, Principal Daniel Baillargeon saw the need and benefit of a preschool at St. Louis. Parish Administrator, Rev. Richard Mullins, approved the renovation of space in the school office wing to add two preschool classrooms. St. Louis Preschool received its county use permit and state child care license, allowing the program to open in September 2012 with the support of Parish Administrator, Rev. Matthew Zuberbueler, and under the directorship of Kathleen McNutt. St. Louis Preschool opened with 2 half-day three-year-old programs, 1 morning Pre-Kindergarten program, and 1 afternoon four-year-old program. The preschool wing was dedicated on September 28, 2012 by the Most Reverend Paul Loverde, Bishop of Arlington.
Under the leadership of Pastor Rev. Keith O'Hare and Principal Kathleen McNutt, St. Louis Catholic School is currently at full capacity, with enrollment at 510 students and more than 50 staff members. It continues to maintain educational accreditation through the Virginia Catholic Education Association. According to its mission, the school was founded to provide quality Catholic education to parish children.
"St. Louis Catholic School is rooted in faith and growing in Christ, cultivating a quality, Christ-centered education for a diverse community. We are dedicated to meeting the needs of the whole child and inspiring students to use their talents and abilities to serve God and others, leading to ultimate eternal life with our Heavenly Father."
The school enrollment and physical space have changed through the years, but its pledge to "provide clear spiritual direction and opportunities for service to God and others" has remained the same. Its early roots from the small, converted schoolhouse continue to spread and grow, educating and evangelizing the southern end of Fairfax County.
Curtin, J.M. and Faherty, R. L. (1981). History of St. Louis School. St Louis School Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, 1-5.
Frazier, S. (2012). Special Permit Amendment Application SPA 82-V-059-03. Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning Special Permit Application.
McFarland, P.A. (2004). Special Permit Amendment Application SPA 82-V-059-2. Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning Special Permit Application.
St. Louis School Design For Excellence Committee (2015). School Mission Statement, www.stlouisschool.org/about-st-louis/mission
AUTHOR: Kathleen F. McNutt © 2013, updated 2016