St Augustine, Florida Est 1916
The History of the Catholic Church in Florida
Cathedral Parish School opened its doors in 1916. The Rector of the Cathedral, Reverend John O’Brien, with the cooperation of his parishioners, arranged for the construction of a three-story parochial school on South St. George Street. It was a masonry building with stucco finish, red brick trim, with Spanish tile roofing.
The fourth bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Most Reverend Michael Curley, blessed the new facility on April 3, 1916. Students, grades one through nine, filed into the new building the following day. The Sisters of St. Joseph staffed the school with Sister Mary Agnita Snead as Principal.
Records indicate that there were one hundred and sixty-seven children in attendance in 1920. The Primer, which was the early childhood education, such as kindergarten, was added in 1924. In 1924, the ninth grade was moved to St. Joseph Academy, which needed freshmen students in order to qualify for accreditation from the Southern Association of Schools. The Academy, which was nearby on South St. George Street, was also administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Cathedral Parish Lyceum was constructed in 1926, slightly south of the Cathedral Parish School, to serve Cathedral Parish community as a community center. Cathedral Parish School used and continues to use the building as a gymnasium for P.E. classes as well as for sports. The auditorium portion of the lyceum allowed for school drama productions by Cathedral Parish School and St. Joseph Academy. The parish community used the lyceum for functions such as USO, dances and meetings.
No significant improvements were made to the school until 1959-1960. Under the direction of Monsignor John P. Burns, Rector of the Cathedral, the original school building was demolished. Class sizes at the school were increasing every year. The old St. Joseph Academy elementary school was combining with Cathedral Parish School, thus most classes would have enrollments in excess of 50 students. The Diocese and Parish felt the timing was appropriate to build two new elementary schools in conjunction with the celebration and commemoration of the 1965 Quadricentennial of the founding of the City of St. Augustine and the oldest Parish in the United States.
They decided that both schools were to be built in a Spanish style architecture. St. Agnes would be built in north St. Augustine at 10 Sebastian Avenue and the new Cathedral Parish School would be built as a two story Spanish style school on the same site as the original school of 1916. Therefore, under the direction of Monsignor John P. Burns, Rector of the Cathedral, the original Cathedral Parish School building was demolished. While construction was ongoing for the new school, classes were held in the Lyceum, by utilizing the stage, balcony, gym, and second and third floors. Two houses across from the construction site on St. George Street which were owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph were also used for classrooms. One house was known as the “Corner House” and the other as “The Blue House”. The Lyceum was also used for daily Mass by the school, and also served the parish as a site for Sunday Mass during the 1964 renovation of the Cathedral. The Most Reverend Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley dedicated and blessed the new school on December 8, 1960.
During the 1960’s there were approximately three hundred-fifty students attending Cathedral Parish School. Since that time, several additions have been made to the school to accommodate the increase in enrollment and additional curriculum offering such as Spanish, sign language, and drama. In the mid 1990’s with enrollment peaking at nearly four hundred students, it became evident that expansion was once again necessary for Cathedral Parish School. Since the school is located in St. Johns County, which is listed as one of the top ten fastest growing counties in the nation by the Chamber of Commerce, the influx of new families to the county would probably increase the enrollment for Cathedral Parish School. Also, as the accreditation standards for the Florida Catholic Conference gradually limited class size and families now also wanted smaller class sizes, Cathedral Parish’s School Board urged Father Robert Baker, Pastor of the Cathedral, to expand the school to include two classrooms for each grade. Funding for this project was to come from the annual Cathedral Parish Festival.
The first phase of the project was to build a wing extending from the existing school north to Bridge Street. Two classrooms were built first and the other two classrooms were completed within the following two years. Cathedral Parish School now had two classrooms for grades one through eight on the St. George Street campus and two classes for the Kindergarten at 10 Sebastian Avenue in the old St. Agnes Church Building. The second phase of the expansion was to renovate and add onto the existing office space. A new principal’s office, teachers lounge, conference room, and copy room were added. The remainder of the old office was refurbished with offices for the assistant principal, office manager, supply room and front office with receptionist space as well as an infirmary. At the same time as the office area was renovated, a new computer lab with twenty-eight workstations was added. The existing Junior High Math and English rooms were also remodeled. A covered walkway was added to protect our students, staff and parents from inclement weather while walking from the main campus to the Lyceum building which now houses the cafeteria, music, drama, and sign language on the third floor. The Spanish and Art room are located on the second floor and the gym on the first floor. In 2004 both boys and girls locker rooms were completely remodeled with new bathrooms, paint, electric and air conditioning being added.
Since August 2005, Cathedral Parish School has its first lay principal, Mrs. Janet P. Morton, who previously served as principal of Christ the King in Jacksonville. Mrs. Morton assumed her duties when Sr. Mary Victor Azar retired in June 2005 after serving as principal for twenty-one years. Sr. Mary Victor’s tenure is notable, because all former principals, member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, usually served only four to six years. After serving as the principal for five years, at the close of the 2010 school year, Mr. Todd DeClemente became principal of Cathedral Parish School. He moved on to become the principal of St. Joseph Academy at the close of the 2015 school year and Mrs. Katherine Boice presently serves as principal of the school.
Throughout Cathedral Parish School’s long history, it has educated students from all walks of life. Today, there are two hundred seventy two students in attendance from Cathedral Parish and five sister parishes in the area. In the past, the school has made an impact on the Catholic community as well as the St. Augustine area. Some of our more notable alumni have gone on to become priest and sisters, such as Father Tom Willis and Sister Susan Foster S.S.J.; community leaders such as John Alexander, presently Circuit Judge for the St. Johns County District and Mimi Cox Roberson, registrar of Flagler College; as well as journalists such as Margo Cox Pope, one of the editors for the local St. Augustine Record , Pat Dooley, sports editor of the Gainesville Sun, and Joe Cowart, sports commentator for Sports Radio, Clear Channel in Jacksonville Florida.
Cathedral Parish School has a special place in the heart of the St. Augustine Community. Besides being a source for an excellent education, Cathedral Parish School has endeared itself to the community through generous humanitarian projects, such as donations for hurricane victims, support for St. Francis House and yearly donations to Catholic Charities of food and money to feed and clothe the poor.