THE EARLY DAYS
On the conference table in the principal’s office sits a well-worn prayer book inscribed, “St. John the Evangelist from Rev. H. J. Deimel, March 1942.” “If Catholicism is to survive in South Georgia, we need a Catholic School in Valdosta,” wrote Fr. Herman Deimel to his bishop over 65 years ago, With the bishop’s permission, Fr. Diemel acquired a two-story frame building on Adair Street, which was originally a hospital and later a public school, from the City of Valdosta. This building became the original St. John Catholic School location. He invited the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to come to teach there, and Fr. Diemel moved his residence to the upstairs of the newly acquired school building so that the rectory next door to the church could become a convent.
St. John Catholic School was founded on the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1941, to develop in each student “a spirit of profound love of God along with the unity and reconciliation of neighbor with neighbor, and neighbor with God, always in a spirit of gentleness, peace, and joy.” Fifteen years later, it became evident that St. John School had outgrown the Adair Street location, and Father Thomas Payne purchased thirteen acres on the outskirts of town which he named “Mary’s Acres.”
“Mary’s Acres” was the site of a brand new St. John Catholic School. The school, consisting of five classrooms and an office, was built on Gornto Road, –and the doors opened in 1959. Five years down the road, four more classrooms and an auditorium were built in order to split the classes into their own rooms. Previously, first and second grades shared a classroom, as did third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth. When that task was completed, a new church sanctuary was erected at the front of Mary’s Acres and was consecrated in March 1968. The T. J. LaHood Library was added to the school complex in 1980, built over the courtyard next to the school office. The next addition to St. John Catholic School was a portable classroom to house the preschool, which began in 1991. The modular building was placed behind the convent on Mary’s Acres.
Under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Marvin LeFrois, plans to build a new parish Center that would house a kitchen, two preschool classrooms, and a cafeteria/gym was underway. However, when the parish Center was completed, the preschool program had grown to four classes, and the modular unit was still needed! Not only had the preschool program grown, but the elementary school as well.
SJCS Board made the decision to double each grade, which necessitated the addition of two more portable classrooms, named “Eagle’s Wing East” and “Eagle’s Wing West,” one on each side of the campus. Since the diocese advocated permanent structures, a new building program was initiated under the leadership of Rev. John O’Brien. Along with enlarging the sanctuary of the church to increase its seating capacity from 500 to 750, three new buildings were added to the school: the Patty Goss Building to house the preschool and kindergarten classes, the Kloberdanz Building for grades 1-4, and a new administration building with a library upstairs. The former office and library were converted into state-of-the-art computer and science labs. The buildings were completed in 2003. The school’s most recent additions are the D. Larry Carter Family Soccer Field and the South Georgia Pecan Company Basketball Court. The athletic complex renovation project completed its first phase in January 2007.
St. John Catholic School serves not only the Catholic community of South Georgia but also welcomes students from all backgrounds,. From its original enrollment of thirty-four students to its current enrollment of over 180, it is a leading private educator in the South Georgia region.