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Catholic High School


A Rich History----Establishment in 1848

St Mary's Academy and Orphan Asylum

Photo courtesy of Sargeant Memorial Collection,
Norfolk Public Library

Catholic High School has had a long and illustrious history spanning nearly two centuries. In 1848, Father Alexander Hitzelberger, pastor of Norfolk’s first Catholic Church, St. Patrick, and lay person Anne Plume Behan Herron established Saint Mary’s Orphan Asylum and Academy. The school was intended “for the poorest of the poor,” but the educational needs of students from working class families were also addressed. St. Mary’s Academy formally opened its doors to 45 orphans and 116 tuition-paying students. Its mission of offering a quality secondary Catholic education to Norfolk students continued until its closure in the late 1940s.

Granby Street, Norfolk, 1950-1993

Norfolk Catholic High School

During the 1940s, Bishop Peter Ireton realized that Norfolk would be better served by one centrally located high school rather than several small ones. Until that time, St. Mary’s, Holy Trinity High School in Ocean View (1931-1950) and St. Joseph’s, an all-African American high school established by Rev. Vincent Warren of the Josephite Order, had been serving Norfolk's Catholic community. 

Initially chartered as "Central Catholic," Norfolk Catholic High School opened on Granby Street in 1949 and graduated its first class in June of 1950.

As Norfolk Catholic grew in the 1950s, the state of public education was undergoing momentous change following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. the Board of Education that declared "separate but equal" unconstitutional. In the fall of 1958 most of Norfolk’s public high schools closed to avoid a Virginia federal court ruling to desegregate schools.

Since the students of St. Joseph’s had been admitted the same year as the historic 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, the school was featured in an Edward R. Murrow documentary titled "The Lost Class of 59." While integration was opposed by most of Norfolk's white community of that time, Norfolk Catholic High School students - both black and white - attested to the merits of desegregated education in Murrow’s documentary.

The school prospered and enrollment grew to more than 800 students by 1970.

Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach, Fall of 1993-Present

In 1992, Bishop Walter Sullivan, responding to the growing Catholic population shift away from Norfolk to the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, approved a plan to relocate the former Norfolk Catholic to a 37-acre campus on Princess Anne Road. In the fall of 1993, the school opened as Catholic High School and continued the mission of educating Catholic young men and women. In the fall of 2003, the school was renamed to honor the Most Reverend Walter F. Sullivan, D.D., Bishop of Richmond. In the summer of 2019, His Excellency Bishop Barry Knestout passed a policy stating that no building in the Richmond Diocese could be named after an individual. The school reverted to its former name of Catholic High School.

Today, Catholic High School maintains its ties to the past, celebrates the present, and prepares for the future through its fidelity to the Gospel message.