Barbara Lechleiter McGrath is rushing around town, photographing students from St. Joseph’s Catholic School. The kids are completing service hours in various locations in honor of St. Joseph the Worker Day. And, McGrath, who is the school’s director of admissions and communications, wants to make sure she sees it all. All of this, after all, is what she long dreamed of.
In 1991, MaGrath and three other moms in Greenville, S.C., came together with one dream—to start the first lay-run Catholic high school in upstate South Carolina. McGrath wanted to make sure the Catholic education of her daughters, Caroline and Julie, didn’t end at elementary school. Their small, in-home meetings quickly grew into larger grassroots gatherings with fundraising events and mass mailings to surveying experts and parishioners. As plans became more concrete, they presented their idea to the Diocesan School Board only to have the Diocese deny support for their requests. Although disappointed, they forged ahead.
“Failure wasn’t an option,” says McGrath, a 1976 history graduate. “We all had a vision and a drive to succeed.”
They incorporated and kept working. In 1993, thanks to donations of school equipment and the kindness of a Lutheran pastor, who leased the group a vacant four-room home on his church’s property for $1, 13 students started their first year at St. Joseph’s High School.
In order to offer a full curriculum, the school got creative, completing science experiments in the kitchen sink, busing the kids to local parish for weekly mass and holding gym class at the YMCA.
It only took a year for St. Joseph’s to outgrow the small home and move downtown to accommodate more students. Three years later they moved again, raising enough money to purchase a facility sitting atop a hill on 36 acres, which has become the home of St. Joseph’s today.
By 2000, the school finally earned recognition and approval by the Diocese of Charleston. In 2003, they added a middle school and changed the name to St. Joseph’s Catholic School. And in 2005 they were recognized by the Catholic High School Honor Roll as one of the “50 Best Catholic High Schools” in the country.