CATHOLIC PARENTS living in Howard and Carroll counties would love for the Archdiocese of Baltimore to build a new high school in their midst. For years, the wish has been nothing more than a pipe dream, but it is now gathering momentum -- and church officials find they must take notice.
In the past generation, Howard's Catholic population has increased 150 percent to 41,114 people. There are more applicants than spaces at some of the county's Catholic elementary and middle schools: St. Augustine, St. Louis, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Resurrection/St. Paul and Trinity.
Next door in Carroll, the Catholic population has exploded threefold. In 1975, 6,928 Catholics lived in the county. Today, the number is 21,648. That fact alone may explain why there is a waiting list of more than 100 students at St. John's Catholic Elementary School in Westminster and why parents are massing to have a Catholic high school built.
For the past two years, parents from a number of Howard and Carroll parishes have met and organized an effort to convince the church to build a high school that could serve both counties. It is the first serious effort since the 1960s to open a new high school in the Baltimore archdiocese.
Archdiocesan officials have said they will study the request. But the parents from those neighboring counties are not alone. The same movement that carried Catholics to those counties also brought them to other suburban jurisdictions, prompting groups of parents in those locations to lobby for new high schools as well.
The archdiocese finds itself in a fresh predicament. While student rolls in Catholic schools declined during the 1970s and 1980s, they have begun to pick up during the 1990s, pumped up in part by enrollment from non-Catholics. For the first time in years, Catholic elementary schools in Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties have waiting lists.
As much as the archdiocese might like to build a high school, it also finds a strong demand for more elementary schools. Deciding how to satisfy these conflicting demands will be the local church's biggest challenge in the next few years.