History of Pope John
In 1955 Bishop James A. McNulty initiated a program to establish
Catholic high schools in each of the three counties of the Diocese of
Paterson - Sussex, Passaic, and Morris. The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Henry
Zolzer, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Franklin,
and the Rev. Christian Haag, pastor of the Church of St. Monica,
Sussex, were delegated by Bishop McNulty to study possible sites for a
high school in Sussex County.
The Township of Sparta
was selected as the most advantageous location for the new high school,
and property belonging to Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Sparta, was
deemed best. Originally purchased by the Rev. George A. Brown during
his pastorate, negotiations with the parish's then current pastor, Rev.
John F. McKenna, began, and eleven acres for the new high school were
purchased along Andover Road in Sparta.
McNulty's realization for the great need of Catholic education, coupled
with the insufficient number of secondary schools, proved to be
visionary - especially in Sussex County. In the mid-'50's, Sussex
County - with a population of approximately 40,000 people - supported
few public secondary schools. Additionally, only one Catholic
elementary school, destined to become a feeder school to Pope John,
existed in the county - The Rev. George Brown School in Sparta, founded
in 1954 and staffed by the Benedictine Sisters. (St. Joseph's School in
Newton, staffed by the Sisters of Christian Charity and Immaculate
Conception in Franklin, staffed by the Sisters of Charity, opened their
doors in 1956 and 1961, respectively).
the new high school was to be called Sussex Catholic Regional High
School, but by opening day, the name had already been changed to Our
Lady of the Lake High School. At the Bishop's request, the task of
staffing the new school was given to the Felician Sisters of St.
Francis of Assisi from their mother house in Lodi, New Jersey. Mother
Antoinette sent two sisters to lay the groundwork for the new
four-year, co-educational diocesan high school.
1956 - the year of groundbreaking ceremonies for the high school -
thirty-six freshmen met in the activity hall of Our Lady of the Lake
Church, where they were taught by Sister Mary Angelina Garbowksi and
Sister Mary Eustace Harczynska, assisted by two priests. The following
year, 90 students were situated in classes based at St. Joseph's
On May 15, 1957, Rev. John F.
McKenna, the school's first director, was delegated by Bishop McNulty
to bless and lay the cornerstone of the new high school. The blessing
and dedication of the completed Our Lady of the Lake Diocesan High
School was held on Sunday, February 2, 1958 at 3:00 p.m. and second
semester classes began in the new facility. By December 1959, upon the
recommendation of the New Jersey Department of Education, the school
was fully accredited. In July 1964, Bishop James J. Navagh renamed the
school Pope John XXIII Regional High School in memory of the beloved
The high school has been blessed with
stability in its administration and faculty, integral to the steady
increase in student population and growing reputation for excellence in
academics. Members of the Felician Order served as principal from the
years 1956-1975 (Sister Mary Angelina, 1956-1965; Sister Mary Viterbia,
1965-1966; Sister Mary Salvine, 1966-1969; and Sister Theresa Mary
1969-1975). Rev. Msgr. James Gacquin, who had served as Director of the
high school with the Sisters from 1964, was named principal in 1975.
Following Father Gacquin's tenure in 1977, Rev. Msgr. John Boland
served until 1979, when Rev. Msgr. Kieran McHugh was named principal
and serves to the present day.
During all of those
years, Sussex County enticed more and more people to its picturesque
lakes, streams, hills, and valleys. As freshman classes doubled, then
tripled in size, additions to the high school were necessary. The
Sisters were gracious enough to allow theology, art and music classes
to be held in the convent basement, as intermittently in the '70's (and
into the '80's) portable classrooms appeared - disappeared - and
reappeared. In 1973, the library building was added, which was later
demolished to make room for The Bella Biondo Research Center as part of
the mid-'90's building campaign; in 1980, Pope John temporarily moved
its first year students to St. Paul's Abbey in Andover. Finally in
1986, the addition of ten classrooms, a computer center, a music room,
and an art room was completed.
While it was hoped
that the 1980's addition would accommodate the student population for
years to come, the mid-1990's found the high school again bursting at
the seams. A campaign for the construction of a library, science
laboratories, chorus, band and auxiliary music rooms, art room, chapel,
Bella Biondo Research Center, gymnasium, locker rooms, nurse's office
and guidance suite was begun in 1995, with groundbreaking ceremonies
for the new building in the fall of 1998.
year, 2008, finds us ready to build once more, and the addition of
academic classrooms, science labs, and office space is scheduled to
open in September 2009.
Pope John's legacy is one
of academic excellence, community value, and spiritual growth made
possible by the many men and women who have made Catholic education
their vocation. The future remains very bright, indeed, as Pope John
continues to attract exceptional people as teachers, administration,
and staff, and of course, the incredible students - all striving to be
"An Honor to the Father."