Arlington diocese officials have named their new high school in Fairfax City after Pope Paul VI, the first Catholic pope to visit the United States and the man who created the diocese in 1974.
Although the opening of the school, to be located in the old Fairfax High School, is not scheduled until next fall, diocesan officials say they already are receiving requests for student application forms and offers of help.
Diocese officials hope the new coeducational school, which ultimately will enroll 1,200 students, will alleviate enrollment pressures on the three other Catholic high schools in Northern Virginia by absorbing students from the rapidly growing western regions of Fairfax County, such as Reston and Chantilly, and Prince William County, including Dale City.
The three schools now in operation -- coeducational Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High in Arlington, and Bishop Ireton High for boys and St. Mary's Academy for girls in Alexandria -- are all full, with a total enrollment of about 2,400 students, officials said.
"We offer a value-oriented program built alongside a quality educational program," said the Rev. William F. Davis, superintendent of schools for the diocese, who noted that many non-Catholic students attend the diocese's schools. "Non-Catholic families are looking for those values just as Catholic families are," he said.
The board of the George Mason Foundation, owner of the old Fairfax High site, accepted the diocese's offer to purchase the 16-acre tract, valued at about $3 million, two weeks ago. The foundation has leased the high school to George Mason University for the past eight years, but the university no longer needs the facility. Fairfax City, which had the right of first refusal under the terms of the deed, declined to make an offer for the school building.
All involved declined to discuss the amount of the diocese's offer.
Davis said the diocese has been planning a new high school for the past three years and had considered sites in Fairfax and Prince William counties. The diocese chose the 48-year-old building in Fairfax City, he said, because its location on Rte. 50 near Rte. 123 and Interstate 66 would make it accessible to families in both counties.
Despite its age, Davis said, the school is in good shape, and has more than 40 classrooms, a library, auditorium and gymnasium, rooms for teaching science, art and music and administrative office space.
Some renovations, including conversion of one area into a chapel, are needed before the building can be re-opened as a high school, Davis said, adding that no estimates for the cost of such renovations are available.
Despite declining enrollments at public schools in Alexandria and Arlington, Catholic high schools in the same area have fared well over the past five years, maintaining long waiting lists of Catholic and non-Catholic students alike whose parents are willing to pay approximately $1,500 for private schooling, according to Davis.
Bishop O'Connell, the largest Catholic school in Northern Virginia, launched a campaign last week to raise $2.5 million in private donations to upgrade its program. Although plans include adding new classrooms, a second gymnasium, library and chapel, the school's capacity will not be increased.
During the new school's first year, only ninth and 10th grade classes will be offered, for a total enrollment of about 300 students. Paul VI's planned full spectrum of religious and college preparatory courses will be phased in over several years, Davis said. He said one grade will be added to the school in both its second and third years of operation.
"Selecting a principal is the next key event" in the planning of Paul VI High School, Davis said. "That person will make all the decisions about programs, renovations and hiring." Diocese officials said they hope to name a principal within a few weeks.
Davis said that in addition to requests for student applications, the diocese has been contacted by many people interested in working at the new school. The school will hire some non-Catholic teachers and other professionals in addition to priests, brothers and nuns.