St. Augustine Diocese Plans Futures, Schools Catholic Education Demand Rising in Area

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Humphrey, Times-Union staff writer

The continued popularity of Catholic education has fueled nearly a decade of growth in the Diocese of St. Augustine's school system.

The 28-school system, which stretches from Fernandina Beach and Palm Coast to Lake City and Gainesville, has added schools at the rate of one per year since 1993, Superintendent Patricia Tierney said.

And the expansion has yet to subside.

The diocese is building two new schools: Bishop John J. Snyder High on the Westside and a new K-8 at Holy Family Catholic Church on Baymeadows Road.

The schools, scheduled to open in fall 2002, are a sign of good times for Catholic education, both in the region and throughout the country.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, U.S. enrollment -- now more than 2.6 million -- has increased by 86,000 in the past seven years. About half of Catholic schools nationally have a waiting list for admission.

"The need is tremendous right now," said David Yazdiya, principal of Bishop Snyder. "We have a lot of people in our parishes that like the values as well as the academics that are coming out of Catholic schools.

"That's not to say anything about the public schools," added Yazdiya, a graduate of Jacksonville's Catholic schools, "because frankly I haven't spent a day in a public school."

Joe Helow, a parishioner at Holy Family and father of nine, can't wait for the school to open at his church. A closer school means he and his wife might not have to brave the morning crawl to San Jose School, where six of his children attend.

"There's no Catholic school within 20 or 30 minutes of the area. With traffic in the morning, it's very difficult and a hassle to drive down Baymeadows Road," Helow said. "The new school will be very convenient."

The $4.5 million school is being funded by parishioners, the customary practice for new K-8 schools in the diocese. New high schools, however, require a regional effort when it comes to funding.

A diocese that last opened a high school in 1952 is counting on millions of dollars to get two built in the coming years. An ongoing capital campaign is seeking $27 million toward construction of Bishop Snyder and a new high school in Gainesville.

Gainesville, where Catholics have long been seeking a high school, is slated to have one by 2004.

In Jacksonville, Bishop Kenny High School, just south of downtown, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2002 with a little more breathing room than in recent years. …

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