One hundred years old Tuesday, Bishop England High School continues to be known as much for its academic rigor as for its deep roots in Charleston’s Catholic community.
“It gets into the fabric of your being,” said Mary Anne Tucker, who graduated from Bishop England in 1984 and now is a member of the faculty. “It gets into who you are. ... It’s a family.”
At 10 a.m., Bishop England will mark its centennial anniversary with an all-school Mass led by the Rev. Robert Guglielmone, bishop of the Charleston Diocese. The school on Friday will host a food truck festival and reunion village before its home football game against James Island Charter High School, and on Saturday evening will have a Coming Home Mass followed by a Coming Home dance. Tickets for the weekend events are available at BishopEngland100.com.
The Revs. Joseph L. O’Brien and James J. May opened the doors of Catholic High School within the Cathedral School on Queen Street on Sept. 22, 1915. Sixty-seven students were enrolled, and the faculty consisted of three nuns and three diocesan priests. The school was renamed the next year after the first bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, John England. It changed locations several times over the years, most recently in 1998 when it moved from 172 Calhoun St. to its current campus on Daniel Island.
In 1989, the year Tucker returned to teach math at her alma mater, Hurricane Hugo dealt a strong blow to the Calhoun Street campus. According to Tucker, then-Principal Nicholas J. Theos vowed to ride out the storm in the school library. Theos kept his word, and students and faculty returned shortly afterward to help repair the damage to the school.
Although students do not have to be Catholic to attend Bishop England, the school continues to require all students attend Mass, earn four credits in theology, and live up to what faculty describe as high moral and academic standards.
Bishop England consistently outpaces the state and nation on SAT and ACT scores, and the school reported in 2014 that 96 percent of its graduates went on to attend a four-year college or university.
According to Academic Dean Nancy Heath, another Bishop England alumna, faith has always been an important part of the school’s makeup.
“The faith-based education we have here is different from other schools, and our faith-based education is the core of who we are,” Heath said. “We do have very high standards here. ... We don’t give out a lot of effort grades, if you will. We really have our students work hard to achieve.”
A few things have changed at Bishop England since Heath’s and Tucker’s years as students. The school has ramped up its Advanced Placement offerings, with 13 courses available this school year. In 2007, BE launched its Options Program, which enrolls students with learning disabilities and integrates them in traditional classrooms for most of the school day.
Some notable alumni have passed through BE’s hallways, including former U.S. Rep. Thomas Tommy Hartnett, TV personality Vanessa (Minnillo) Lachey and author Dorothea Benton Frank. But perhaps the best-known BE graduate in Charleston is Mayor Joe Riley, class of 1960.
Riley said the day marks “an amazing anniversary” and a tribute to the people who founded the school in 1915. He said Bishop England helped shape the person he is today.
“It was challenging academically, which certainly benefited me, and you know it’s grounded in solid ethical principles,” Riley said. “In life, how we lead our lives, how we treat people, the lessons that you learn, you learn those at home of course with your family, but when those lessons are taught and reinforced in your high school years, they stick with you. So I just value so much my time there.”