Bel Air's John Carroll School kicks off 50th anniversary celebration

Members of the John Carroll School Class of 1968, the first to graduate from the school, from left, Kathy Morley Grapski, Lois Townsend Dieter, Charlene Muth Wallbillick and Kathy Crocken Barnes attended Monday's John Carroll School 50th anniversary event.
Members of the John Carroll School Class of 1968, the first to graduate from the school, from left, Kathy Morley Grapski, Lois Townsend Dieter, Charlene Muth Wallbillick and Kathy Crocken Barnes attended Monday's John Carroll School 50th anniversary event. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead)

In 1964, The John Carroll School in Bel Air opened its doors to its first students. On Monday, the school held a special Mass and rededication of one of its buildings to kick off several months of 50th anniversary events lasting into next year.

The first classes at the school separated the boys and the girls, who only saw each other at lunchtimes. What is the computer lab today served as the cafeteria, and physical education took place in the chemistry lab. As they attended classes, students had to deal with the smell of horse manure outside, as the football field was not yet finished and would not be finished for another three years.


Members of what would be the school's first graduating class got to design their own uniforms still in use today. Charlene Wallbillick Muth, Lois Dieter Townsend and Kathy Morley Grapski were among members of that first class of 202 freshman students, and all three were at the school Monday.

"It was a small group," Townsend said. "We were able to be very tight with one another. There were a lot of good memories."


"I wouldn't trade one day [at the school] for anything," Muth said. "[There were] a lot of friendships throughout the years."

"It wasn't a full school until we were seniors, so we were always kind of seniors," Grapski said. "All that was there was just the three tier-school building."

Alumni, faculty, staff, volunteers and other members of John Carroll family attended Monday's Mass, followed by a luncheon and the rededication of St. Joseph's Hall, the school's onetime convent for teachers that has been renovated to serve as a dormitory for the school's international students.

Several students and alumni participated in the Mass. The offertory procession featured four John Carroll generations: Helen Carpenter, David Kelly (Class of 1972), Susan Carpenter Kraft (1974), Brian Kelly (1996), Ellen Kelly (1999) and Hope Kelly (2014).

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger could not attend but sent a citation read by former state delegate Dr. Rosemary Hatem Bonsack on his behalf, expressing his best wishes for the school.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller remarked that he had first heard of John Carroll while following the University of Maryland football team, as during the early 1970s, the Terps quarterback was John Carroll alumnus Al Neville.

"I was so proud as a Maryland student...to have the name 'John Carroll High School, Harford County' broadcast over at Byrd Stadium," Miller said. "It just brought to everybody this little Catholic high school."

Miller urged those in attendance to give back to the school. He then read a Maryland General Assembly proclamation on behalf of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Vice President Joe Biden recognizing the school's 50 years.

"It's very unique and very rare," Miller said of the proclamation, because "there's very few things that the Speaker of the House of Delegates [Michael Busch] and I agree on," drawing laughter from those in attendance.

Harford County Executive David Craig, who could not attend because of another event taking place the same time at Aberdeen Proving Ground, sent his personal congratulations through Mary Chance, the county's director of administration. Chance presented a proclamation on behalf of Craig congratulating the school.

Chance said being at John Carroll took her back to when she attended an all-girls Catholic high school in Kentucky.

"I will never forget that feeling of love and camaraderie; that feeling of love for the other students; that we had for our parents and the alumni," Chance said. She said she hopes current John Carroll's students will learn from the example of the school's alumni about service, noting that "you need good servants in this community and in this world."


Councilman Richard Slutzky spoke about his own teaching career, noting that it began 40 years ago this week. He read a similar proclamation on behalf of the county council and expressed Council President Billy Boniface's regrets that he could not attend. Boniface is a John Carroll graduate.

David Carey from the Bel Air Board of Commissioners congratulated John Carroll on its 50th anniversary, commending the school on providing "so many leaders in education, business and politics" and wished the school success for the next 50 years.

During the luncheon, school President Richard O'Hara recognized current and former faculty, staff, volunteers, donors, trustees, students and parents.

"Consider the collective, the aggregate, the total goodness and talent and hours of dedication and love over the span of 50 years directed at young people who grew up under your gentle wings and grew up to comprise an alumni group of over 8,000 living in virtually every state and worldwide," O'Hara said.

"Consider the collective impact, it's immeasurable, that all of you have had on those 8,000 alumni. Please folks, never doubt for a second the importance and the meaningfulness of your role in the story of The John Carroll School and of your place in the school's history," he said.

After lunch, those in attendance headed to St. Joseph's Hall for the blessing and rededication of the building.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, the school's first faculty members, previously lived in the building, which used to be known as The John Carroll Faculty House. In the early 2000s, only two of the sisters were still living in the house, and the decision was made for it to be used as housing for international students, and it was renamed in honor of the sisters.

Earth Science teacher Tim Perry, formerly the school's football coach and dean of students, saw the building with the sisters moved out and was amazed at how small it was. He said the history of the building is "unbelievable."

"[The sisters] loved every inch of this; they loved the building," Perry said. "You wouldn't want to tear it down."

Msgr. G. Michael Schleupner, of St. Margaret Church in Bel Air, read the gathering players, with different parts read by O'Hara, Principal Madalyn Ball, one member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, one international student and one local student.

Schleupner blessed the building with holy water and prayed that the building "will be a holy place, a place that will lead those who live here to fuller and fuller life as persons and fuller and fuller oneness with our God."

Other 50th anniversary events the school will be having include the kickoff of Alumni Weekend on Friday, Oct. 4, with football game at 7 p.m. in Gerry Gray Stadium, followed by fireworks and "A Golden Gala" black tie-gala on Saturday, April 26, 2014.

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