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Saint Dominic Catholic School marks 70th anniversary

Rick Wagner • Mar 6, 2016 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Saint Dominic Catholic School is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2016, a year that includes an uptick in enrollment for the private school that offers programs for children from pre-K through fifth grade.

Principal Tucker Davis said enrollment is up from 57 one year ago to 80 now in K-5. Kingsport Mayor John Clark came to the school the morning of Feb. 2 to proclaim Saint Dominic Catholic School Week, which Davis said was in part because of the 70th anniversary.

The school came close to being closed in 2010 after consultation with the Knoxville Diocese of the Catholic Church, with declining enrollment and a church subsidy cited as the reasons, but a last-minute reprieve came when a clause in church and school rules prohibiting a sudden closure saved it.

In early 2010, then-Saint Dominic Pastor Michael Nolan made the decision to close the school after conferring with diocese officials. The Saint Dominic Church Council voted to recommend that the school be closed after reviewing information about the school’s finances. The school at that time had 53 K-5 students and 47 pre-K students, and discussions focused on transferring them to Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Johnson City until local church and school officials discovered the closing could not occur that quickly under church rules. 

Today, Davis said the school and church are on firm financial footings and that the parish and diocese support the school wholeheartedly. Current students and church member students already have had the chance to enroll or re-enroll, and enrollment is now open to the general public. Students and parents do not have to be Catholic or members of Saint Dominic Catholic Church.

Davis said the school limits class sizes to 16 and that that limit has almost been reached in some grades.

Michael Cummins is the current Saint Dominic pastor, while the Rev. Thomas Woodley was pastor when the school was started in 1945 and a building was completed in 1951. In those days, it was a grades 1-8 school, but it eventually became an elementary school. It also has two pre-K groups, one for students who will attend kindergarten in one year and another for those who will attend kindergarten in two years.

School lore has it that the spirit of the Rev. Woodley walks the halls of the school, according to Davis and second-grader Richelly Lorenzo-Guzmãn.

According to the school history, in the fall of 1945, three Sisters of Mercy opened Saint Dominic School in the basement of the church on Crescent Drive. During that year, the property and white frame house on the corner of Crescent and Center Street were purchased to house the school and convent. The house no longer stands, having been torn down when the brick school was built on the property in 1950. The school opened in 1951.

Initial classes were held in the downstairs rooms of the house using card tables and chairs as desks, the history says.The kindergarten was also part of the early school and was the first kindergarten to be opened in Kingsport, according to the history. Enrollment that first year began with 25 pupils and ended with 43 pupils. In 1951, the newly built, modern brick school opened for classes. In 1968, additional classrooms, a library and a gym-cafeteria were added to accommodate a growing population. In 1986, the preschool program and the before/after school program began.

During construction of the building in 1950, there was a shortage of bricks in the aftermath of World War II.The sisters and students recited the rosary together daily, commending the work on the new school to the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Mother Catherine McAuley (1787-1841). To make the plea complete, a medal of her was dropped in a trowel full of cement for the cinder block on the construction site, as shown in a Kingsport Times-News photo of the time. Shortly after, Woodley received word that the Johnson City Brick Yard would be sending a car load of bricks every other week. It was an answer to prayers, which Davis said included those of the late Tom Coughenour, who was a track coach at Dobyns-Bennett. His widow, Barbara, still attends church at Saint Dominic.

A photograph of the school’s dedication shows, along with the Rev. Woodley and others, a procession that includes Marvin Hagey, who was then an eighth-grader, holding a cross.

“He to this day comes to Mass at the school,” Davis said.

The school hosted a notable guest in 1954. Maria von Trapp, made famous by the movie “The Sound of Music,” visited Saint Dominic. She spoke with the whole student body about her life.

As for the future, Davis said discussions of a possible middle school or even high school continue. Of the parents of 27 fifth-grade students, he said 26 expressed an interest in a Saint Dominic Middle School. He toured Sullivan County’s former Brookside Elementary, not far from the Saint Dominic Catholic Church on John B. Dennis Highway, as a potential elementary/middle school with a parent. However, Saint Dominic didn’t make an offer, and the site is being sold to Hawkins County-based Atay LLC for possible development into senior housing.

“Where the future takes us, I just don’t know,” Davis said. 

More information on the school and its history are available on its website at saintdominiccatholicschool.com/.

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