St. Pius X Catholic High School opened in 1958 as the first high school in the newly established Diocese of Atlanta. It was the first sizable educational effort of the new diocese.
The founder of our school was the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Cornelius L. Maloney, Ph.D. As the first Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the fledgling diocese, he was, with the support of Bishop Francis E. Hyland, the moving force behind the building of this school. A truly remarkable man, Msgr. Maloney was not only the superintendent of diocesan schools but also the founding pastor of the neighboring Immaculate Heart of Mary parish.
When the school opened its doors in September 1958, few classrooms had enough furniture to accommodate its 418 students. Both the building and the school community were new and incomplete. Under the leadership of our first principal, Fr. James Harrison, M.A., and the staff of 15 sisters, six lay teachers, and one priest, the school quickly developed a spirit all its own. Many of these first students came from the recently closed parish high schools at the Cathedral of Christ the King and Sacred Heart Parish. They brought with them the experiences and traditions of their former schools and contributed these to this new community.
From the beginning, St. Pius X was unique among the Catholic high schools in Georgia. St. Pius X was the state’s first Catholic co-educational secondary school. While most other Catholic high schools in the state were staffed by single religious orders, St. Pius X was staffed by four religious orders of women (Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, and the Religious Sisters of Mercy) as well as lay teachers and diocesan priests. Like some dioceses in other parts of the country, the school administration invited these religious orders to staff specific departments in the school. St. Pius X has been blessed by the ministry of so many religious sisters and priests over its history.
During the first decade of its life under the leadership of Fr. Harrison and the school’s second principal, Fr. Jack Cotter, St. Pius X grew rapidly both in numbers and academic reputation. By 1969 the school had almost doubled its enrollment and had graduated 180 students -- quite an increase from the first graduating class in 1959 of 64 girls and 8 boys. The school’s faculty consisted of 49 members with 24 sisters and priests and 25 lay teachers. Having attained accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools early in its history, the school rightly boasted of a fine college-prep program along traditional lines. It is perhaps no accident that in the last years of the 1960s, St. Pius X was State Champion in both football and debate for, by then, excellence in both sports and academics were a well-established part of the school’s program and spirit.
During the 1960s, the school community continued growing. With the closure of Drexel High School in 1967, the first Black students entered St. Pius X. These students brought with them the hopes and aspirations that had been a part of Drexel. Two years later D’Youville Academy, a private Catholic school for girls, closed and students from this school also came to St. Pius X, contributing their own traditions and experiences. This period of our history also saw the arrival of sisters from the Monroe, Michigan, Province of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Community.
As the first decade of our history was closing, the school community began a period of serious self-evaluation. St. Pius X had a solid reputation for academic excellence. It always sought the best ways to help its students learn. It was a creative school, never fully content with any singular approach to instruction or course of studies. It was natural, therefore, to seriously consider the new and innovative instruction techniques and curriculum development trends during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the early 1970s, under the leadership of our third principal, Fr. Richard A. Kieran, M.A., St. Pius X began experimenting with a number of these educational innovations, generally called “open classroom” techniques. It was an exciting and creative period in the school’s history. Modular scheduling systems allowed for varied class times and meeting days, and curriculum was developed at an accelerated pace. Greater individualization was sought through materials such as Learning Activity Packets (LAPs). Students were challenged to assume greater responsibility for their education and personal decision-making.
In 1973 Fr. James Sexstone, M.A., assumed the principalship and continued the process of developing the school’s program along “open classroom” lines. While St. Pius X adopted and adapted programs and techniques from other schools and universities, it also created programs from the fruit of its own labors. With the 1975-76 school year, however, Fr. Sexstone and the school community began a serious evaluation of the six years of experimentation. While the tremendous curriculum development was impressive, there were concerns about students’ ability to assume the degree of personal responsibility demanded by the “open classroom.” The viability of our facilities to house such a program was also questionable.
With the appointment of Fr. Terry W. Young, M. Div., M. Ed., to the principalship in 1976, the school restructured and reorganized the diversified curriculum developed during the “open classroom” period. New programs met the needs of students with learning differences, and students’ spiritual needs were fostered through a pastoral ministry program. In short, a new period of creativity and growth began for St. Pius X, accompanied by a keener awareness of the richness which lay in the intellectual, social, and ethnic diversity of its people.
As the curriculum and instruction developed, so did the school’s facilities and enrollment. After 17 years of planning and hard work, a gymnasium activity center was dedicated in 1975. Four more classrooms were built to meet the needs of the increased annual enrollment of 830 students served by a staff that had grown to 59 teachers. With the closure of St. Joseph’s High School in 1976, the school community was again enriched with the experiences and traditions of another great Catholic high school. The arrival of students and teachers from St. Joseph gave St. Pius X the added blessing of increasing its Black student population from 1% to 10% in one year. Finally, other communities, including the Ursulines, Benedictines, and Humility of Mary, sent sisters to serve at St. Pius X.
By 1979 the growing number of students called for new facilities to house the school’s developing arts program, computer education, and ever-expanding library collection. In addition, as the school was aging, 5 there was a need for building renovation. Fr. Young brought these needs to the Archdiocesan Board of Education but was asked to delay plans until the board finished investigating the creation of another archdiocesan high school. Within a year, the board completed its study and determined that a new high school was not feasible. The process of significant expansion had begun.
The next few years saw architectural plans created for an expanded St. Pius X and the launching of an archdiocesan capital funds drive for the expansion of the school. Demand for admission to the school continued to be strong. Finally, on May 24, 1984, Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan broke ground for a new building. Work on the new structure began in late September 1984.
The 1984-85 school year was a difficult one in many ways. Like the 1958-59 school year when students and teachers had to bear with the inconvenience of an incomplete facility, those who attended St. Pius X during this great year of construction had much with which to contend. However, the goodwill and shared vision of a new and greatly expanded school sustained everyone during those hectic days. Finally, on October 26, 1985, Archbishop Donnellan dedicated the new 400-seat performing arts center, facilities for dance, drama, and music, a 36,000 volume library, a beautifully renovated chapel, a computer lab, additional classrooms, and a renovated cafeteria and gym. In the spring of 1986, a new track was installed. Additionally, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and the Sisters of Charity of Mt. St. Vincent sent teachers to St. Pius X as others left to go on to new ministries. Lastly, enrollment increased again and the 1985-86 academic year began with 975 students.
At the end of the 1989-90 school year, Fr. Young announced his resignation as principal. At the beginning of the next school year a committee was appointed to search for a new principal on behalf of Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, Ph.D. The archdiocese indicated that an archdiocesan priest would not be appointed to this position. At Fr. Young’s last Mass as principal he talked about his 15-year administration as one marked by difficulties and accomplishments, trials and fruitfulness. In all, he felt that his ministry during those years could best be summarized by the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo” (“I shall sing forever of the mercies of the Lord”).
Mr. Donald T. Sasso, C.A.I.S., was appointed as the sixth principal on July 1, 1991. Under Mr. Sasso’s leadership, the 1990s were an exciting and vital period in the continued growth of St. Pius X.
The Donnellan Center, replacing the old “Lions’ Den,” was dedicated in October 1992, providing locker rooms, showers, coaches’ offices, and a weight room for our sports teams. Additionally, the building provided space for the Office of Advancement staff. A renewed effort in advancement resulted in an active alumni organization, a significantly increased and broad-based annual fund, and other financial support.
The original school building, Maloney Hall, received a complete exterior renovation in 1993 with all new windows and a brick facade to enhance its energy efficiency and appearance.
During the 1994-95 school year, Mr. Sasso led a group of faculty and staff in long-range planning to define the needs and vision of the school in the twenty-first century. Primary in that review was the need for additional and upgraded classrooms and other spaces. With the approval and financial support of the Archdiocese, construction started in the summer of 1997 and was completed for the 1998-1999 school year. This project yielded a new science wing with seven labs and seven classrooms, an additional gymnasium, additional lockers, major renovations in Maloney Hall, and new paint and carpet for both classroom buildings. The former science and home economics spaces, known to generations of students as the “core” of Maloney Hall, were completely repurposed with computer labs, classrooms, and new counseling and 6 campus ministry offices. Additionally, an extensive computer technology effort was completed, resulting in computers being integrated throughout the curriculum.
In April 2000, Mr. Sasso was appointed Secretary for Education for the Archdiocese of Atlanta by Archbishop John F. Donoghue. Mrs. Ruth McCullough was appointed Interim Principal through June, 2000.
Mr. Stephen W. Spellman, Ed.S., became principal on July 1, 2000. Mr. Spellman brought 30 years’ experience as a teacher and senior administrator in the Gwinnett County School System. Mr. Spellman is married to Maureen O’Shea Spellman, a graduate of the St. Pius X Class of 1970.
During the 2001-02 school year, Mr. Spellman led the community in a strategic planning process, culminating in the 2002 Strategic Plan and a Campus Master Plan. From there a fundraising feasibility study was performed and a final plan put in place for the school’s first major capital campaign, Building on Faith. In March 2004, construction began on the renovation and enlargement of the stadium, cafeteria, and Fine Arts learning spaces, as well as several other notable upgrades to the campus.
The stadium was renamed the George B. Maloof Stadium, and its capacity doubled. Additionally, a new concession stand and press box were erected at the top of the stadium and the plaza was expanded. Finally, SprintTurf was installed on the field, replacing natural grass, which allows teams to use it continually throughout the school year and summer.
The cafeteria and foodservice preparation areas were enlarged and renovated, reducing lunch periods to three during each school day. A new bookstore and copy room were located in former classroom space in Maloney Hall.
The Fine Arts addition included an upgraded classroom for band and guitar, complete with ample practice, storage, and office space. The expansion also included a new art room, a new dance room, and a new drama and chorus room. Finally, the construction resulted in new dressing rooms and storage space for use by Fine Arts students.
The journalism room, breezeway, and student restrooms were also renovated. Finally, a significant portion of funds was added to the school’s endowment. Completed in January 2005, the Building on Faith campaign meaningfully transformed campus to further nurture the rich gifts and skills of its students.
The 2007-2008 school year saw the celebration of St. Pius X’s 50th year. The year kicked off with Mass in the stadium and a carnival on the feast day of St. Pius X. A grand homecoming and reunion weekend extravaganza were held in the fall, and the “Golden Gala” auction and dinner took place in February. May graduation included the return of members of the first graduating class.
Mr. Spellman led two more strategic planning processes between 2008 and 2016, culminating in two comprehensive Strategic Plans and a Campus Master Plan. During this same time, the Expanding Our Legacy Capital Campaign expanded the footprint of Pius by 12 adjacent acres of property. This land became the Seaver Family Sports Complex, complete with practice fields, a fully-turfed baseball field, and additional parking. Another five acres were purchased in 2015. This acquisition allowed St. Pius X to increase its student parking capacity by over 200 spaces and provides for future expansion of facilities.
Under Mr. Spellman’s tenure, St. Pius X became accredited through AdvancED District-Wide Accreditation, now known as Cognia.
During 2015-16, the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools implemented the first President-Principal model at St. Pius X. The President serves as the head of the school and focuses on the mission and vision. Specifically, the President leads institutional advancement, management of financial resources, enrollment, operations, and technology. The Principal provides the academic leadership and oversees the daily operation of the school.
Mr. Chad Barwick started in July 2016 as Pius’ first president. He immediately immersed himself in the long-range vision of the school. One of his first orders of business was finding a suitable field for the softball team, which endured numerous delays and cancellations due to the poor drainage of their field. Mr. Barwick secured the funds necessary to move the softball team from their existing field, directly behind Maloof Stadium, to the Seaver Family Sports Complex. By moving to the relatively new turf field in 2018- 2019, the softball team no longer had to cancel games due to drainage issues, and they were afforded the same upgraded facilities as the baseball team.
During the 2017-2018 school year, Mr. Barwick led the review of the 2020 Strategic Plan and the existing Campus Master Plan. It became clear that a new Campus Master Plan was in order. The results of this plan indicated the need for safety and security upgrades, a modernized library, and new athletic facilities. A feasibility study conducted in 2019 determined that the school was well-positioned to begin a fundraising effort, and the Ring the Bells Capital Campaign was born. The $12M campaign, the school’s largest and first in nearly a decade, addresses campus safety and security, the library, and athletic facilities. The silent phase of the campaign began in January 2020 but was abruptly halted in March of that same year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The pandemic profoundly affected the delivery of education, and like most schools, St. Pius X quickly pivoted to on-line learning. For the first time in the 64-year history of the school, St. Pius X closed its doors to in-person instruction. March 13, 2020 was the last day students experienced in-person instruction for the 2019-20 school year. All campus activities ceased, including athletics, performances, mission trips, and dances. The governor issued a state-wide shelter-in-place order in April. Baccalaureate Mass and commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020 were live-streamed in mid-May, with the intention of holding an in-person, outdoor graduation in mid-July. On July 1, due to continued concerns for safety, the Office of Catholic Schools canceled all in-person Archdiocesan high school commencement ceremonies.
With the announcement that Mr. Barwick would end his tenure at the end of the 2019-20 school year, Mr. Spellman delayed his retirement until December 2020. Mr. Spellman assumed the role of President, and Dr. Edye Simpson served as Interim Principal to allow for a more successful leadership transition. Together they navigated the re-opening of school in August 2020, with staggered online and in-person learning to meet the six-foot social distancing mandate. In addition to social distancing, the school began contact tracing and following quarantine guidelines set by the Archdiocese. Arts and athletic events also returned, although mission trips remained on hold. By October 2020, school resumed in full, while some faculty and students remained virtual due to health concerns.
After 20.5 years of service to the school, Mr. Spellman retired in December 2020. Mr. John Favier, previously the Director of Operations and a long-time Theology teacher for St. Pius X, was appointed Interim President on January 1, 2021, and officially became the third President of Pius on July 1, 2021. At that same time, Dr. Edye Simpson was named Principal. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Simpson had served St. Pius X for 18 years as a Dean of Students. Mr. Spellman, Dr. Simpson, and Mr. Favier successfully led the school through the most challenging period of educational instruction in history. During this time period, Catholic schools were lauded for their commitment to and success in quickly reinstituting in-person instruction.
St. Pius X has long desired more acreage to serve its 1,100 student body. In January 2021, the building at 2699 Johnson Road NE, located across the street from the school, became available. President Favier oversaw the purchase of this half-acre of land and the clearing of the office building. Current long-term plans for this space include additional parking for faculty, staff, and students.
Dr. Simpson has infused fresh energy into St. Pius X as the first African American female principal in the school’s history. She is dedicated to improving the student experience, and oversaw the transition from the school’s outdated learning management system to one used by major universities and colleges throughout the United States. Her work also includes the expansion of both the Study Support and the Business and Computer Science Departments, and overseeing a meaningful overhaul to the school’s Honor Code and its implementation.
The Ring the Bells Capital Campaign remained dormant from March 2020 until February 2021, when Mr. Favier resumed the silent phase. During his tenure, he led both the final months of the silent phase of the Ring the Bells Capital Campaign as well as the public phase. The public phase kicked off on October 15, 2021 with an anonymous $1M matching gift challenge. The $1M match was met in February 2022, and the 2021-22 school year ended with the campaign just shy of the initial $12M goal.
A new lobby, coupled with a new gated rear entrance, is set to be completed in October 2022, and will enclose the heart of the campus and safely secure the school throughout the day. The Flannery O’Connor Library was completely renovated in the summer of 2022. Its palette reflects Ms. O’Connor’s favorite bird, the peacock. The modernized space includes a dedicated classroom, computer lab, small meeting rooms, collaboration stairs, flexible seating options, a printing station, and electrical outlets throughout to meet student technology needs.
In the fall of 2022, construction will begin on a new field house located on the old softball field. This two-story facility will house locker rooms for the Varsity, JV, and ninth grade football teams as well as cheer, lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling. A new weight training room will nearly triple our ability to serve our student population. Two new health and wellness classrooms and an additional training room complete this space. After a decade of portable toilet rentals and long treks from Donnellan, students and fans alike will enjoy games at the Seaver Family Sports Complex thanks to new locker rooms, public restrooms, a press box, and concession stand.
In June 2022, Mr. Favier departed St. Pius X. Mr. Aaron Parr was named the Interim President. Mr. Parr has been a faithful Golden Lion for decades. He and his wife are both graduates of St. Pius X, and he has served as the school’s Director of Enrollment and Head Men’s Basketball Coach for years. He is committed to furthering the mission of St. Pius X and will preserve and promote it as the school undertakes a nationwide search for its next President during the 2022-2023 school year.
As one looks at St. Pius X now and compares it to that new, little Catholic high school opened in 1958, one cannot help but be struck by both the changes that have taken place and the values that have endured. St. Pius X has more than doubled its enrollment in the past three decades and increased its faculty by 150%. Lay people fully staff the school now compared to the beginning years of St. Pius X. The school offers a comprehensive college-preparatory program with 27 Advanced Placement courses. It has dramatically expanded its computer education programs and increased its campus ministry, counseling, and health services. Although most students still come from the northern regions of metropolitan Atlanta, many students enroll from other sections of metropolitan Atlanta and its environs. Students come to St. Pius X from every public school district in the Atlanta region.
St. Pius X continues to be mission-driven, focusing on educating the whole child in mind, body, and spirit. This is evidenced by the school’s commitment to the arts and athletics. St. Pius X boasts a first-class fine arts slate of courses taught by experienced instructors who are well-connected to professionals in the fields of band, chorus, dance, drama, guitar, music and theater technology, and visual arts. Fine Arts instructors invite and host many of these artists and take classes on trips to universities, concert halls, and different states to witness and perform the arts in new venues. The athletics program has grown to include 25 varsity sports, with the addition of flag football for the 2022-2023 school year. The school also fields numerous junior varsity and middle school programs. Nearly two-thirds of St. Pius X students participate in a sport or the arts. Both the athletics and arts departments at St. Pius X have earned numerous awards for excellence, championships, and other marks of distinction. Students find a place of camaraderie in which they can excel outside the classroom among these offerings, meeting the needs of students as the school strives to fulfill its mission.
The St. Pius X community is grounded in the goals and aspirations of those who have gone before us. The visions, achievements, and successes of our predecessors inspire the present community to work for excellence in all they do, whether these activities are in academics, service, the arts, or athletics. St. Pius X is special because of the spiritual presence that animates the life of the school: St. Pius X is and always has been a faith community. Its roots and its identity are captured in the motto: Domini Sumus, “We are the Lord’s!”