School of faith

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 1:13 a.m.

Construction of Gainesville's first Catholic high school is expected to begin in early April, as the contract bidding process for St. Francis High School starts in mid-February.



  • What: Catholic Schools Week open house
  • Where: St. Patrick Interparish School, 550 NE 16th Ave.
  • When: 8:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Call 376-9878 for more information.

  • The first phase of St. Francis High School will be 55,000 square feet, and when completed the school will be similar in size and design to Jacksonville's Bishop John J. Snyder High School which opened in fall 2002, said Howard Davis, the St. Augustine architect for both projects.

    The progress report comes as Catholic schools here and across the country make plans for a week-long celebration of the benefits of faith-based education. Catholic Schools Week events in Gainesville include a public open house Wednesday for people interested in Catholic education for their children, as well as faculty and student activities that include a speaker lineup featuring University of Florida basketball head coach Billy Donovan, UF volleyball head coach Mary Wise, and UF head baseball coach Pat McMahon.

    So far $5.5 million for the new high school has been raised by the Catholic community in North Central Florida, which includes Gainesville, Lake City and surrounding areas. But the school is projected to cost $8.5 million to $9 million when complete, said Mary Hughes, who chairs the Bishop's Cabinet of Gainesville, the volunteer group charged with helping raise the money for the new school. St. Francis will be the first new high school built in Alachua County since Buchholz and Eastside high schools opened in the 1970-1971 school year.

    "We are going to have a real outreach to our Catholic community, but we feel we have an outreach to the entire community," said Hughes. "Parents looking for a faith-based education for their young people will find St. Francis High School an attractive alternative."

    The search for a principal for the new high school began this month, with plans to have a candidate in place by mid-March, said Patricia Tierney, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

    Combined enrollment at St. Patrick and Queen of Peace Academy, which opened three years ago on SW 24th Avenue, was 670 for the 2002-2003 school year. Queen of Peace Academy currently serves pre-K to third grade, with a successive grade added each year up to the eighth grade.

    Another feeder school for St. Francis will be Epiphany Catholic School in Lake City.

    "I believe our big draw is the faith-based, character-building education that students receive from us," says Elaine Baumgartner, principal at St. Patrick Interparish School, which serves pre-K through eighth grade. "They receive a total education, which includes growth in religious awareness and an appreciation of morals and values."

    St. Francis Catholic High School will open in August 2004 with a freshman and sophomore class, adding a grade level each year afterward until all four grades are in place. The school is expected to open with a minimum of 50 sophomores and 100 freshmen in its first year.

    Designed by Howard Davis, a St. Augustine architectural firm, St. Francis will be located on NW 39th Avenue, one and a half miles west of I-75.

    Jacksonville's Bishop John J. Snyder High School opened in fall 2002 and Holy Family Catholic School, the largest Catholic elementary school in Northeast Florida, was dedicated by Bishop Victor Galeone in early fall. The new $4.5 million school is located on Baymeadows Road in Jacksonville, and was funded by the school's parish.

    The new Jacksonville high school was funded through the Diocese's Opportunity of a Lifetime capital campaign, which expects to raise $36 million over the next five years for the construction of new high schools, funding for inner-city schools, Christian formation, vocation and clergy training, and funds for the school for children with learning disabilities in Jacksonville.

    Lillian Guevara-Castro can be reached at 374-5039 or at

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