The History of Lebanon Catholic School

The Catholic presence in the Lebanon area dates to early Colonial times, possibly to 1716. A small group of German Catholics maintained their faith through the ministry of missionary priests from the colony of Maryland. Once the United States was formed they were ministered to by priests from the diocese of Baltimore under the leadership of Bishop John Carroll. The Eucharist was celebrated with joy in the home of Jacob Arnold until a church was erected in 1812 at the present site of Assumption B.V.M. Church in downtown Lebanon.

Catholic education was initiated in Lebanon when the diocese of Philadelphia became responsible for Lebanon's spiritual welfare under the leadership of St. John Neumann. Neumann was the first Church leader in the United States to successfully design a workable diocesan school system with a central board of education. He strongly urged that each parish establish its own school. He is considered the founder of the U. S. diocesan school system.

Rev. Antonius M. Grunder, O.S.B.V.M. , established St. Mary’s School in 1859. It had 20 pupils in a first and second grade and a lay teacher. It was housed in a two-story two-room building. 

Lay teachers maintained the original school, followed in quick succession by three orders of sisters- the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1861. the Sisters of Mercy in 1869, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill in 1870. The sisters‘ endeavor appears to have been a type of academy which included boarding pupils and coexisted with the parish school. Eventually the academy ceased to exist and only the parish school remained.  By 1876 six Sisters of St. Joseph cared for 200 pupils. The pastor was Rev. Aloysius F. Kuhlman. The congregation now included Irish immigrants.  Sacred Heart Parish, a mission of St. Mary's, became a parish in 1889.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish, first housed at St. Mary's, was formed to minister to the Slovak Catholics in l906. The Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius from Danville began their educational ministry in that parish in 1939.  St. Gertrude’s Parish, first housed in St. Mary’s, formed its own parish to minister to Austro-Hungarian Catholics in I907. In 1916 the Sisters of St. Francis of Glen Riddle began a ministry of education in that parish. Both of these parishes built their own elementary schools.

St. Paul the Apostle Parish, a mission St. Gertrude's, became an independent parish in I928. Their ministry was to the many Italian Catholics in the Annville area. Mary Gate of Heaven Parish, a mission of St. Gertrude’s, became an independent parish in 1968. Our Lady of Fatima Chapel founded in 1953, remains a mission of Assumption B.V.M. parish.

St. Paul’s Sacred Heart, and Our Lady of Fatima sent children to St. Mary’s School. Mary Gate of Heaven sent students to St. Gertrude’s School.  Sts. Cyril and Methodius was considered a national parish so any child of Slovak ancestry could attend that parish and school no matter where they lived in the county.

St. Joan of Arc Parish in Hershey was formed in 1922. The Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy taught at their parish school which began in 1927.

In 1926, it became necessary to formulate plans for a new St. Mary’s School building that would accommodate the greater number of students seeking a Catholic education in that school. Facilities were also needed to provide for a Catholic High School. The new building on Willow Street was dedicated on June 3, 1929, with Monsignor Adam Christ as pastor. Elementary classrooms and a full auditorium occupied the main floor.

The basement level contained a gymnasium, locker rooms, a bowling alley, a band room, and some elementary classrooms. The upper floor contained the high school classrooms, two science laboratories, a commercial room, and a library. Lebanon Catholic High School graduated its first class of 18 students in 1932. The high school drew students from all the Lebanon parishes.

By 1950, it was evident that the parish building could no longer accommodate both Lebanon Catholic High School and St. Mary’s Parish Elementary School. The empty Burrows public elementary school was being rented for elementary classes. The combined student body was well over 1000 pupils. A building fund was officially launched by Monsignor Paul D, Weaver. Assumption B.V.M. pastor, on December 8, 1954. The campaign was placed under the guidance of Our Lady of Fatima. The site chosen for the new Lebanon Catholic High School was to be Assumption Hill, land on Chestnut Street purchased in 1949. On April 9, 1956, the Most Reverend George L. Leech, Bishop of Harrisburg, created a diocesan institution out of what had been a parochial high school. This meant that five other parishes would lend their support to the proposed building, and thus a Board of Pastors was also created.

On October 11, 195 9, the new Lebanon Catholic High School on Assumption Hill was dedicated by the Most Reverend Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States. The first principal of the new school was Reverend Joseph C. Hilbert. The faculty was composed of nine Sisters of St. Joseph and eight lay teachers. Total high school enrollment was 499 students. The first class of 1960 graduated 113 students. St. Mary’s Elementary School reached its peak enrollment of 1,115 students in the following 1960-61 school year.

For the 1963-64 school year Lebanon Catholic reached its highest enrollment of 700 students. In September 1964, three Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius joined the faculty. One Daughter of Mercy joined the faculty in 1976.

The Board of Pastors, the governing body since 1956, was expanded to include lay representatives from the supporting parishes and faculty and student representatives in 1971.

With the declining number of religious, the Daughters of Mercy withdrew from the faculty in 1982. The Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius officially withdrew from Lebanon Catholic in 1987. Enrollment declined due to several factors. Tuition, which was not originally charged, had to be introduced. Due to the declining number of religious faculty tuition continued to escalate. Laws which had offered the promise of aiding in the rising cost of instruction were found to be unconstitutional. Many new public school facilities, offering a wider variety of educational and athletic experiences, were built in the area.

St. Gregory the Great Parish was formed from St. Mary’s Parish in 1965. They sent their children to St. Mary’s School as did Sacred Heart, St. Paul’s, and Our Lady of Fatima. For this reason in the late l970’s it began to be called St. Mary’s Regional School. With the closure of St. Gertrude’s Parish School and Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish School those parishes and Mary Gate of Heaven Parish were invited to join the Board of St. Mary's School and send their children there. The school was renamed St. Mary’s Consolidated School when Sts. Cyril and Methodius and Mary Gate of Heaven joined the Board as full members. A contest was held for the students to rename the school to more accurately reflect the reality of its student body. The name Our Lady of the Valley was chosen by Bishop Keeler to be the new name of the school.

In September 1989, Lebanon Catholic became a Junior-Senior High School with the transfer of the 7th and 8th grades from Our Lady of the Valley to Assumption Hill. The opening enrollment for that facility was 265 students. This was an attempt by the newly appointed Bishop Nicholas Datillo to ensure that access to Catholic education at every level would continue to be available in Lebanon County. Our Lady of the Valley had added a Pre-K component and was then a K4-6 facility.

In 1995 four Lebanon parishes were involved in mergers due to diocesan restructuring. St. Gertrude’s Parish and St. Gregory the Great parishes became St. Cecilia’s Parish. Sts. Cyril and Methodius and the recently founded Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish Parish became St. Benedict the Abbot Parish. Students from these merged parishes attended both schools, and their pastors were members of both school boards.

As the 1995-1996 school year opened Lebanon Catholic began without the presence of a diocesan priest as its principal for the first time in its history. Father Philip DeChico was replaced by Mr. Mark Freund, Lebanon Catholic’s first lay principal.

In August of 2001, Our Lady of the Valley Elementary School (K4-6) and Lebanon Catholic Junior-Senior High School (7-12) consolidated into one K4-12 entity and became known as Lebanon Catholic School.  The boards of both schools merged and became a single board. All students are now located at Assumption Hill site on Chestnut Street. To accommodate this merger, eight modular classrooms were placed on the grounds to extend the upper floor space to house grades 3-6. K4-2 were housed in the existing building. The opening enrollment for the 2001-2002 school year was 485 students. Deacon Richard Wentzel, an alumnus and faculty member who over the years had taught at both schools, was asked by Bishop Datillo to act as principal and facilitate the merger. One Sister of St. Joseph remained as a faculty member.

In August 2004 per diocesan recommendation, sixth grade was moved into the main building and second grade was moved to the modular units. This was so grades 6 through 8 could be configured as a Middle School.

Students from St. Joan of Arc Parish, which still maintains its own K-8 parish school, also attend the Secondary components of Lebanon Catholic School. Because this parish is in Dauphin County but is part of the Lebanon—Hershey Deanery its students can attend either Lebanon Catholic or Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg. Holy Spirit Parish, which was a mission of St. Joan of Arc Parish, also sends students to Lebanon Catholic School at the secondary level. St. Joan of Arc’s pastor and Holy Spirit’s pastor are members of the School Board.

Under the leadership of Bishop Ronald Gainer, Lebanon Catholic School currently provides Catholic education to children from seven diocesan parishes. The student body includes students from six public school districts in Lebanon County and three public school districts outside of the county.

In 2014 a new school seal was introduced.  The academic crest still remains a strong representation of the LC community and its link to the Diocese of Harrisburg.  Following the design of the shield that serves as the centerpiece of the Diocese of Harrisburg, the shield and the icons will continue to serve as the base of the redesigned crest. 

 

The crescent moon is the revered lunar symbol of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Saint John beheld in a vision as “a woman . . . with the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12:1). Two silver roundels are derived from the arms of William Penn, the English Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania. The cedar tree has Biblical ties and represents centuries of religious struggles for Lebanon. This cedar is referenced many times in the Bible: "The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon" (Psalms 92:12).

The most prominent feature of the arms of Lebanon Catholic School is a cross, the central symbol of the Christian faith. The shield is finally inscribed with a scroll bearing the school’s motto, “Wisdom Through Mary.” The basic color of the field is deep blue, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Blue is also the heraldic color for philosophy.

 

Lebanon Catholic School * 1400 Chestnut Street * Lebanon, PA 17042 * 717.273.3731 * Fax: 717.274.5167

Webmaster - Claire Schneider Updated January, 2015