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Loyola School to open in renovated Mount Vernon rowhouses, completing ‘ecosytem’ of Watters-founded Baltimore Jesuit schools

An independent Jesuit preschool program in Baltimore is growing into a private elementary school that will offer free education to 200 low-income city children in a set of Mount Vernon rowhouses, officials say.

The Loyola Early Learning Center will become the Loyola School when it welcomes its first class of about a dozen kindergartners Sept. 7. The first group will come from the preschool, but the school, which eventually will offer kindergarten through fourth grade, is open to applications.

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It is the second Catholic school to open in Baltimore this year, amid rebounding Catholic school enrollment attributed to a faster reopening amid the pandemic COVID-19 than public schools. The school is independent from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and welcomes children from families of various religious traditions.

“Our aim is to foster not only our students’ academic achievement but also their cognitive, affective, spiritual and social growth,” said the founder, the Rev. William J. Watters, an 86-year-old Jesuit priest who also founded Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Fells Point and St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Federal Hill.

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Watters said the third Jesuit school he’s opened in Baltimore completes an “ecosystem” of Jesuit education he’s been building for underprivileged city youth for nearly three decades.

“We will continue to recruit children from hard-working, low-income Baltimore families who are fully engaged in and committed to their children’s education,” said Watters, president and chair of the school’s board of trustees, “and we will support those families with $15,000 sponsored full-tuition scholarships provided by our generous benefactors.”

The school is sponsored by the St. Ignatius Catholic Community, a historic Catholic parish in Mount Vernon, and the Jesuit USA East Province.

It will start with kindergarten in the current preschool at 801 St. Paul St. and first grade in a temporary space on the ground level of St. Ignatius Church.

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Beginning next spring, the school will convert the rowhouses across from the church at 104-112 E. Madison St. into a school facility that should be ready by the 2023-24 academic year. The work will retain the houses fronts and facades, renovate the rear and create a main entrance on Calvert Street.

“We are committed to the Mount Vernon neighborhood and to maintaining its historic character,” said Peggy Bessent, head of the board’s steering and planning committee and former associate head of school of The Bryn Mawr School.

Benefactors already have committed more than half of the $8 million construction cost, the school said.

The school will grow gradually. The Loyola School plans to add one new elementary grade level each fall until 2025, when it aims to reach its target enrollment of 20 children at each preschool level and 28 in each elementary school grade level.

An open house to brief Mount Vernon residents on The Loyola School and the renovation project will be held at St. Ignatius Church, 740 N. Calvert St., from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Sept. 4.

Watters founded St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in 1993 for boys in fifth through eighth grades. He opened the co-ed Cristo Rey High School, which is considered a model for private schools serving lower income children, in 2007. He launched the Loyola pre-school in 2017.

More than 1,200 students have graduated from the schools since the academy’s first commencement ceremony in 1996. Once the Loyola School has reached its full size, the three schools will enroll a combined 670 Baltimore City students a year, almost all children of color on full scholarships.

“The Loyola School reflects the importance of education and social justice not only to Father Watters, board members and school supporters but also to the entire St. Ignatius parish,” said the Rev. James Casciotti, the church’s Jesuit pastor. “This church has been part of Baltimore City and the Archdiocese of Baltimore since the 1850s. Our parishioners and our Jesuit priests have been and remain entirely committed to the city and its people.”

The Rev. Joseph O’Keefe, provincial of the Jesuit USA East Province, said he is confident Watters’ model “will be replicated elsewhere.” The Jesuits run more than 100 educational institutions in the U.S., including Loyola University Maryland and Loyola Blakefield in Towson, and more than 3,000 across 115 countries.

“The implementation of this vision is a fitting contribution not only to the people of Baltimore but also, in this Ignatian year, to the worldwide Jesuit educational network,” he said.

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