Cheverus High School in Portland celebrates 100 years of 'compassionate' graduates

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PORTLAND — School leaders say it’s just as important to look forward as it is back as Cheverus High School celebrates its 100th anniversary.

“Jesuit education is about being challenged to do more and be more, thinking of people and problems beyond yourself, and trying to be part of the solution toward a more just world,” said Beth Hanley, the school’s director of admissions.

“As the world changes, the challenges that we confront and the opportunities that are available to our students and graduates do as well, so we will always have to be looking ahead and striving for more.”

There have been many changes at Cheverus since it was founded in 1917, including name changes, changes in location and, in 2000, becoming a coeducational institution that admits girls.

But through it all, Hanley said, the school’s core mission has remained the same, essentially to produce “conscientious and compassionate” graduates who “embrace the value of serving others.”

Cheverus first opened its doors on Sept. 10, 1917, and at that time the private Catholic school was located in downtown Portland. The school, originally called the Catholic Institute, was established by then-Bishop Louis S. Walsh.

In 1925, the school changed its name to Cheverus Classical High School to honor the first Bishop of Boston, Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, and in 1942 the educational direction of the school was taken over by the Jesuits.

A decade later a new school campus was built at 267 Ocean Ave. with the help of a sizable donation.

These days the school focuses on preparing students for college, as well as “fostering intellectual, spiritual, physical and personal excellence,” according to its mission statement.

Hanley said while Cheverus still strives to prepare students to think critically, the educational model is now more focused on the student as an individual. And, she said, “Certainly advances in technology have expanded our classrooms and enriched (both) teaching and learning.”

Hanley called the centennial “a joyous occasion to reflect back upon our rich history, and the many contributions of our alumni, who have served the city of Portland, the state of Maine and beyond as leaders of competence, conscience and compassion in almost every field and discipline.”

But, she added, it’s also an “opportunity to be forward-thinking (and) to consider all the ways that a Cheverus education can continue to be interactive and experiential.”

Hanley said providing real-world experiences “through either service projects or the practical application of classroom knowledge, are a key part of the education at Cheverus.”

In addition to a history wall that is full of photos and facts from the school’s past, Cheverus also plans to celebrate its 100th birthday with a variety of special events, starting with a special Mass on Sept. 14 and ending with a gala on May 5.

“This special moment will (also) be woven into all of our regular programming,” Hanley said.

Students at Cheverus “regularly participate in our all of campus special events” and this centennial year will be no different. Hanley expects students to take active roles in all the events carrying “special importance.”

That includes Homecoming weekend on Oct. 14, when the halftime show at the annual football game will “feature brief remarks about our 100th-anniversary celebration,” Hanley said.

Cheverus enrolls about 400 students in grades nine through 12 and employs about 75 faculty and staff, including coaches and student activity advisers.

Likely the biggest change in its long history was the school’s inclusion of female students beginning in 2000. That’s when girls were first welcomed to Cheverus “as important members of our student community,” Hanley said.

Since then, Suzanne Mahar, a member of the English Department, observed that inclusion of other voices has expanded the dialogue in the classroom “making the educational experience more humanistic” for everyone.

“Coeducation has enriched Cheverus in much the same way that women and men collaborating with each other in the larger world have served to enlighten, nurture and shape our culture,” Hanley said.

Looking forward, the Rev. Bob Pecoraro, S.J., the new president at Cheverus, said his goal is to “develop leaders … who will continue to be agents of change, who possess a love of learning and a commitment to service.”

“At this important milestone our job is to continue to chart Cheverus’ course for the next 100 years,” he added. “I sit in a blessed and privileged position to look forward … to imagine what we will become.”

In their four years at Cheverus, Hanley said, the hope is for “our students to grow in their capacity to be loving, committed to social justice, intellectually competent, open to growth and that they deepen in their spirituality. We want the same growth (for) Cheverus as an institution.”

In all, she said, “We want to be more committed to justice in Portland and beyond through our service, to be more loving and open to growth as an institution and to continue to develop as a spiritually rich community.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The history wall at Cheverus celebrates the 100th anniversary of the private Catholic school, which opened its doors Sept. 10. 1917.