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Sacred Space

It's back to a brand new school for the students at Sts. Peter and Paul High School

Text and photos by Tracey F. Johns

A new symbol of hope in the connection of mind, body, and spirit illuminates each day as the sun rises and sets over Sts. Peter & Paul’s new high school in Easton. The high school, which officially opened to students in August, is part of a long-term vision and a result of a $21.6 million Sacred Vision Campaign, that has transformed the site of Sts. Peter & Paul Church into a 100-acre campus dedicated to learning and faith formation.

The church remains the centerpiece of this new campus. Its expanded ministries include the new parish Family Life Center that’s adjacent to the church, and the high school and its athletic fields running parallel to Ocean Gateway. Future plans call for moving the church’s elementary school from its original Easton location to the new campus, fulfilling a multigenerational vision to provide a centralized location for the church, its schools, and a place for families and the community to gather.

New lighting installed throughout the campus adds a presence to a space that for a long time was used as agricultural fields. The sounds of farm tractors have been replaced with student laughter, meaningful conversations, play rehearsals, and sports teams practicing while a new clock tower and the church’s bells signal shifts of time throughout the day. On a recent weekday, parishioners greet each other as they head into church for daily mass, while the new Family Life Center bustles with activity as preparations are underway for a weekend wedding reception.

Principal James Nemeth in a hallway of the new Sts. Peter and Paul High School

High school Principal James Nemeth says the new facilities support the three main goals of the school’s mission, which are providing young people with the skills and knowledge to be successful as they prepare for college; preparing diverse opportunities for student involvement; and giving students more opportunities to help them grow in their faith. Sts. Peter & Paul High School is the only Catholic high school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“Moving from our current small facility to this extraordinary campus allows the school the space to grow, in enrollment and program,” Nemeth says. The high school began in 1958 in the original elementary school building built in 1955 and transitioned to its high school space in 1990. The new school offers hi-tech classrooms, a theater, athletic fields, and a sports stadium.

He says the fundraising campaign for the high school and life center was one of the largest capital campaigns in Talbot County to promote education, community, and faith-based activities. A newly formed Board of Specified Jurisdiction and its development committee led the multiyear fundraising — working with the church’s pastor, Father James Nash.

“We would not be where we are now if not for the brilliance and dedication of the people on our school board,” Nash says. “We are extremely grateful and blessed to have so many people that value Catholic education and what we do to prepare our students to be outstanding students, gifted athletes, and caring people in our community.”

“It’s quite an extraordinary moment for the community — more broad than the parish,” says Development and Fundraising Committee Co-Chair Wayne Hockmeyer, who worked along with his co-chair Jim Farrell, Board Chair Peggy Wilson and other committee members to help secure the funding for the project. “When you look at the demographics of our school, [pre-kindergarten through grade12], where they come from and their faith denominations, it really is about building a faith-based school that serves the entire community.”

Hockmeyer says the project has been long overdue, noting that the former high school had been housed in a temporary building for more than 30 years. “The new high school symbolizes an important moment. When you think about the Sacred Vision Campaign, it’s an amazing effort on the part of our donors.”

Wilson credits Willow Construction, Lane Engineering, and Provident State Bank as key players in the building project, with the hiring of local contractors an important part of the parish and school’s commitment to the community.

“I’m especially proud for our firm to have been selected as the contractor for this project,” says Michael Hiner, president of Willow Construction and an alumnus of Sts. Peter & Paul High School. “There’s a sacred element involved when the underlying purpose for the facility is to serve God in some capacity or another. The project is not just a gift to the Catholic community, but to the entire community as well.”

Sts. Peter & Paul Campus Minister Vicki Cappa says that, as an alumna, faculty member and parishioner, she is excited to have students attending high school on the same campus where the church and Family Life Center are located.

“The students of Sts. Peter & Paul High School are already so involved in the life of our parish and our community, but I believe being in such close proximity will allow our young people the opportunity to do even more,” Cappa says. “Liturgy and prayer are so integral in our life as Catholics and being able to walk to the church will strengthen us to continue the mission of Christ. I am so grateful for all those who have worked so hard to bring this vision to life and feel blessed to be sharing in this important moment in the life of Sts. Peter & Paul Church and School.”

Vicki Cappa poses in the new Wilson Auditorium

Performing Arts Director Mark Ripka, who also teaches Latin, is looking forward to using the new auditorium for productions and having space to build sets. He says the Performing Arts Club had been limited to using classroom space in the past.

“Having a theater makes things so much easier,” he says. “Our new space encourages a sense of pride and allows students to rehearse on stage. And for our audiences, the theater is a great way to bring together the community and diverse citizens of Talbot County.” Ripka says the school’s Performing Arts Club will be using the auditorium for an original production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland this school year.

Director of Athletics Patrick Tracy, who is beginning his fourth year at the school, says the new school is a huge positive for the community, with its athletic facilities serving as one of the top sports complexes on the Mid-Shore.

The new athletic complex provides ample space inside and out, with two lighted game fields wired for sound and live streaming capability, stadium seating, a press box, practice fields and tennis courts. A fitness center and training room are available in the Farrell Gymnasium. Future campus plans include building both a baseball and softball field.

Bermuda grass was planted on the playing fields earlier this year in preparation for fall’s field hockey and soccer games. Other school sports include cross-country, basketball, ice hockey, swimming, lacrosse, tennis, golf, sailing, and baseball.

Nemeth says the new campus allows the school to move forward with its strategic planning objectives of curriculum revision, increasing program and course offerings, improving Advanced Placement scores, and building a learning center to better support the needs of all students.

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