FORT SMITH — The return of a Catholic high school in Fort Smith after more than 40 years is one step closer.
On Nov. 5, Trinity Catholic High School, the dream of a 15-member board of directors, received Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s blessing to begin plans for a capital campaign.
“I support your efforts to move forward and I admire your vision and zeal,” Bishop Taylor told the group. “I know you are walking by faith. As am I.”
Since then, the board has received construction estimates on two possible facility options —building a new, 75,000-square-foot facility on 40 acres of donated land or renovating and expanding the existing Trinity Junior High School facility.
Trinity, which serves 193 students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades, currently leases about half of a 50,000-square-foot building owned by St. Scholastica Monastery; the other half is a Benedictine retreat center operated by the sisters. The building was formerly St. Scholastica Academy, an all-girls high school that closed in 1968. Another Catholic high school, St. Anne Academy, closed in 1973.
The junior high school has made a number of improvements on St. Scholastica land at its own expense, including building an athletic center and adding tennis courts and an access road between Albert Pike and 46th Street.
Costs of the second option would include renovating the east wing of the building and buying the entire building and the 28 acres on which it sits from St. Scholastica Monastery.
“Our group is focused on grades 10-12,” said board president Dan Smith, a parent of five children in elementary school through college. “We want to choose the most efficient option that meets our needs.”
When the board has all of the financial information it needs to make a decision on whether to buy the existing Trinity building and acreage and renovate or to build on donated land, it will proceed with its capital campaign.
They are encouraged by the community support they have already received.
“Almost 600 people returned our survey. Almost everyone expressed interest and half said that they would actively help us,” board member Mia Partain Smith said. “Bishop Taylor and the (diocesan) administration in Little Rock have been so helpful in providing us with advice and information.”
The survey was distributed over a 45-mile radius to churches in the Little Rock and Tulsa dioceses.
One thousand kindergarten through ninth grade students currently attend the four Catholic schools — three elementary and one junior high — in Fort Smith. One-third of the students are non-Catholic.
The number of students in parish religious education programs more than doubles the number of potential students for the planned high school.
“Only two-thirds of the sixth-graders in Catholic elementary schools currently continue on to Trinity,” board member Allison Montiel said. “Parents now realize that they will have to transition their children into public school before high school, and some choose to do so after sixth grade. Making a high school available will allow a more organic matriculation.”
The increasing number of boys commuting to Subiaco Academy, a secondary school 40 miles east of Fort Smith, is another indicator of demand for a local Catholic high school.
The board plans to open the school beginning with 10th grade, adding a grade each year. Sharing a campus with the existing junior high school will bring economic and academic benefits, board members said.
“We expect to start with about 60 students in each grade, with a grade 7-12 population of about 400,” Smith said.
Like Trinity Junior High School, the high school would be inter-parochial, a regional school operated by the local parishes. The board plans to offer a college preparatory program permeated with Catholic Christian values. Trinity Junior High School’s alumni often graduate at the top of their public schools, according to Montiel.
“People are very excited about our plans in the three elementary schools,” Montiel said.
The board has contacted several religious orders about their building plans and hopes that they will be able to foster religious vocations by including religious brothers and sisters in their staff.
“Teenagers emulate people they see as role models,” Montiel said. “It’s easier for young adults to ignore callings to religious life when there isn’t a presence in their school.”
Although the capital campaign has not been officially launched yet, a bank account has been set up for tax-deductible contributions that can be made to Trinity Catholic High and sent to Trinity Catholic High, P.O. Box 10612, Fort Smith, AR 72917. For updates on the group’s progress, visit trinitycatholichsfs.org.
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