The Catholic Diocese of Charleston announced two gifts totaling $750,000 Thursday that will help pay for the new John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie, the first Catholic high school in the area.
The school, to be built on 72 acres off S.C. 170, across from Camp Saint Mary's Road, is expected to open in August.
The two gifts -- $500,000 from the Theresa and Edward O'Toole Foundation and $250,000 from CareCore National of Bluffton -- bring the diocese's fundraising campaign to more than $9 million in pledges and one-time donations. That's enough to build the two-story, 28,000-square-foot school building but about $3 million shy of the amount needed for a planned gymnasium, diocesan leaders said.
"The $9 million means we can move forward with building the school, while we develop architectural plans for the gymnasium," said Helen Ryan, who oversaw the school's fundraising campaign along with her late husband, Don Ryan, former CareCore National CEO and chairman.
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The school's Research and Technology Center will be named in his honor, Helen Ryan said.
Initial construction will include an athletics field next to the school building, she said.
John Paul II will offer Catholic education, college-preparatory curriculum, athletics and activities for as many as 500 students in grades 7 through 12, beginning with about 120 students in grades 7 through 9, principal Christine Paul said. A 10th grade might be added if at least 15 sophomores are accepted. Later grades will be added one each year as students matriculate, Paul said.
"The idea is we will grow over time and students develop strong Christian values with an emphasis on critical thinking, leadership and service to others," she said. "We certainly will be technology-rich, providing each students with an computer for home and school use."
The school will serve families throughout the quickly growing Lowcountry Deanery, which has about 8,100 Catholics and stretches from Hilton Head Island to Walterboro. Students of all faiths will be accepted at the school, Paul said.
Officials broke ground for the school Dec. 12 and workers have begun preparing the site for construction, which is expected to begin later this month, Ryan said.
"An outstanding Catholic education for our young people is at the forefront of our priorities in the Diocese of Charleston," the Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, said in a news release. "Our new John Paul II Catholic School responds to an urgent need within the Lowcountry, and our community is calling for the realization of this visionary plan."
The Catholic Diocese of Charleston comprises the entire state of South Carolina with Charleston as its See city. Founded in 1820 by Pope Pius VII, it is one of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States.