History & Tradition
Any history of St. Agnes Catholic School must begin with a history of the parish. In 1852, for the sum of one dollar, an acre of land was deeded to the diocese of Baltimore for a Catholic church in an area on the outskirts of Catonsville called Woodlawn. It was named for the fourth century virgin and martyr, who was put to death rather than deny her faith. She epitomized, for the Catholics of Catonsville, someone who had stood firm in the face of adversity.
The parish of St. Agnes was made up of poor and middle class working people who were mainly dockworkers at the Baltimore harbor and employees of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. For some, their only means of contributing to the fledging parish was by helping to clear the land of trees in preparation for the building.
Father Edward Caton was the first Pastor and he organized the building of the church and established a parish school. The first order of nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, were in charge of the school sometime after in 1865. In the 1800’s, the Sisters of Notre Dame taught in the school with a beginning class of one hundred fifteen pupils. The school was later closed because of financial problems.
Father Ignatius Fealy was appointed pastor in 1922 and built a new school and convent out of fieldstone. The school cost was nearly $76,000. At his request, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word from Texas arrived for the dedication in 1927 and staffed the school.
In September of 1933, the present order of nuns, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Scranton, Pennsylvania succeeded them. When the Sisters of IHM came to St. Agnes School in Baltimore, they were, in a sense, returning to their roots. The co-founder of their congregation, Theresa Maxis Duchemin, was a native of Baltimore and one of the original members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Mother Theresa was invited by Rev. Louis Florent Gillet, C.SS.R. to come to Michigan to educate the French-speaking people there. It was there that the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was started in 1845.
In August 1993, Father Fealy wrote to Mother Josepha Hurley, asking her to send four Sisters to staff St. Agnes School. Mother Josepha responded quickly by signing the contract and assigning four sisters: Sr. Clarissa Dunleavy, principal and superior, Sr. Oswald Marie Hopkins, Sr. Ambrose Walker, and Sr. Julitta Mahon. The Sisters arrived on September 6, 1933, and school opened on September 11.
The school had an enrollment that year of 190 students registered in eight grades. Each of the four teaching sisters had two grades in one classroom. Every Monday morning, the students attended and participated in a special High Mass. After the Mass, Father Fealy gave religious instruction to the children.
In 1942, Father Maurice Roche came to succeed Father Fealy upon his death. Because of the tremendous growth of the parish, he built a new church in 1951. The parish, including the school children, sold bricks for ten cents each to help with the cost of the construction. Part of the lower church was divided into classrooms for the seventh and eighth grades. The present school of brick was built on the site of the century-old church in 1954. In the peak years, 1958 to 1964, there was 1300 students, three classes of each grade, fifteen sisters and nine lay teachers.
The rural 70’s and 80’s, however, saw shifts in the residential patterns in Baltimore. What had once been a rural setting became a bustling metropolis. Demographic changes, combined with a decrease in family size and rising costs of Catholic education radially affected the enrollment figures, while a decrease in the number of religious vocations changed the composition of the faculty. By 1981, there were 526 students in St. Agnes Catholic School, served by 14 lay teachers and 8 teaching sisters. Currently, there are approximately 500 registered students with 5 sisters and 23 lay teachers plus a support staff. There are two of every grade with a student/teacher ratio 26:1.
Principals who have served after Sr. Clarissa were Sr. Leonard Connell, Sr. Lucian Reddington, Sr. Joseph Gabriel Welsh, Sr. Evangeline Conmey, Sr. Ignatius Brown, Sr. Sarita Gesler, Sr. Marie Elise Regan, Sr. Maria Thomas Harrington, Sr. Nora Clarke, Sr. Rosemaron Rynn, Sr. Nancy Marie Elder, and Sr. Anne Mary Smith.
During the last 25 years, St. Agnes Catholic School has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. A kindergarten, a nursery/pre-school, and extended care program and a computer lab have been added. Also, a middle school approach was established for grades 6,7 & 8 and a parish school board was initiated.
Of the 341 families presently enrolled in the school, many have relatives who previously attended. Even after families move from the boundaries, they are willing to travel long distances to have their children continue at St. Agnes Catholic School. Some surrounding counties from which students are drawn include Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard. The primary mode of transportation is car pooling and the remainder of students walk.
Over the years the school has come to be what is at great sacrifice to the parish, the teaching orders, and the parents. It prospers today from the continued sacrifices of our dedicated parents, teachers, and parishioners. One can only wish that Mother Josepha and Father Fealy could have lived to witness the fruits of their early struggle.
St. Agnes School endeavors to promote the formation of the human person as an active witness of the Catholic Church through Message, Community, Worship, and Service. To achieve this goal, the program incorporates formal instruction, religious experience and teacher example to impart to its students a firm foundation in the Catholic faith and an eagerness to share the message.
Our faith-filled community acknowledges its need to nurture and celebrate its relationship with God and each other. Prayer is a part of everyday life, and a variety of prayer experiences are offered. Through the Gospels we are also called to serve others. Opportunities are provided in school and classroom activities which allow the students to become knowledgeable of, as well as sensitive and responsive to, the needs of the parish and the entire community.
St. Agnes School is fully accredited through Cognia.