Cardinal Mooney High School added an education option as Sarasota grew

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The first idea that a new Catholic priest was in town to establish a mission church appeared in a nondescript advertisement announcing that Reverend Joseph Daley would begin offering Mass in a newly constructed modern Sarasota building at 4035 S. Tamiami Trail, two blocks east of Bee. Route of the crests.

The modest announcement belied the important role Father Daley would soon play in Sarasota in general and the Catholic community in particular.

The Reverend Charles Elslander (who would rise to the rank of Monsignor) and his aides had served the needs of Catholics here since the St. Martha Parish was established in 1927. He was loved throughout the county by Catholics and non-Catholics, who viewed him as an important civic leader. Another clergyman said of him: “He was the man to whom all turned in times of trouble and sorrow and no one was turned away.

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Many of these St. Martha students would go on to attend and graduate from Cardinal Mooney.

In 1950, he spearheaded the establishment of St. Martha’s Parish School on Orange Avenue for children in kindergarten through 8th grade. Students in uniform learned the curriculum of the public school system, as well as daily religious lessons, as well as the discipline imposed by the nuns of the Order of St. Benedict.

The Catholic educational landscape changed in 1959 when Cardinal Mooney High School began accepting students. They were first taught at Bell Plaza, a strip of stores in downtown Sarasota. The newly established Church of the Incarnation has also been fielded for some classes.

While the announcement of the proposed new high school was made by Elslander, saying he expected a September 1960 completion date, Daley led the effort.

Daley was also tasked with establishing a new parish, which would become the Church of the Incarnation on Bee Ridge Avenue, as well as purchasing the Siesta Key property and launching the St. Michael the Archangel Church.

The Sarasota County-wide school building program was funded by a $4.4 million school bond issued in 1957. A year later, local Catholics began their own campaign to raise funds privately for their school, which would accommodate young people entering ninth through twelfth grades.

It was a gargantuan undertaking. The estimated $450,000 needed to build, equip and supply the school, which could accommodate 350 students, plus a modern gymnasium, would now total more than $4.5 million.

Leading the Finance Committee were Chairman Fred Walden, Margaret Flynn and AB Adams, who held their first fundraising meeting with 35-40 members at Martine’s Restaurant. They were given the names of prospects to contact for larger donations and memorial gifts. Raymond Burns pledged $20,000 for a library honoring his parents. Lesser sums were collected each week at Sunday Mass in the three parishes. Jerry Collins, owner of the Sarasota Kennel Club, dedicated an evening at Cardinal Mooney High School to the track as a fundraiser.

The Sarasota area was part of the Diocese of St. Augustine (now the Diocese is Venice), led by Archbishop Joseph Patrick Hurley, whose focus was on adding Catholic schools throughout Florida.

Hurley chose the name Cardinal Mooney to honor the recently deceased Cardinal Edward Mooney, the beloved prelate who had served as archbishop of Detroit for 21 years. Mooney died in Rome minutes before the start of the conclave to choose a new pope to replace Pope Pius XII, who died on October 9, 1958.

Daley’s new congregation quickly warmed to him. He was a busy man, dealing with the myriad of issues related to the school, the new Church of the Incarnation, and negotiating for Siesta Key property for the Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

Miami architect Thomas J. Madden, who designed Incarnation Church and St. Michael the Archangel Church, has been chosen to design the school which will be built on land off Fruitville Road – a narrow street and quiet two-way.

Construction of the school began in June 1960, and its growth as well as the progress of the fundraising effort were regularly featured in the newspapers.

Cardinal Mooney would have 14 classrooms including a chemistry lab, a drawing room, plus a library, staff offices and a gymnasium with a snack bar, which also served as a dining room.

Mooney’s stated mission was to inculcate “a deeper and richer development of those knowledge and skills, habits and appreciation which will enable the student to be an intelligent and practical Catholic; an intelligent and good American citizen and an intelligent and useful member of society.

Nuns of the Order of St. Joseph as well as lay instructors taught the students. Sister Bernard was chosen principal.

In early reports of the school’s curriculum, the emphasis was to be on the sciences. Of course, religion would be one of the daily subjects, and Latin would be compulsory, taught by Father Aguera, a friendly priest from Spain.

Although there were relatively few students compared to public schools, Cardinal Mooney fielded a football team, as well as basketball and baseball teams. Soon after, student Bob Stirk started a golf team.

According to Class Maj. Elspeth (Elliott) Abbate, the Cougars name and school colors were voted on by the student body. Local football hero Guy Amuso, who was also a teacher, was hired by Daley to coach the football team because, as Father Daley said, “I liked him”. Amuso took over from Sarasota’s iconic coach John Heath.

The school was a prayer come true for Catholics in Sarasota. Noting that the Catholic community had grown significantly over the previous 10 years, The News, an afternoon newspaper, also opined that the new high school would be good for the community at large.

On April 6, 1960, the newspaper editorialized that the construction of the new school would provide “good competition between the public and parochial systems, and it would relieve the ratepayer in that the necessary facilities of the high school would be provided without a penny for the public.” Treasury.” The newspaper continued, “Protestants … will want to send their children to such a school in search of a good schooling and the basics of our confusing life.”

On Sunday April 5, 1961, the school was inaugurated. For the occasion, His Grace, the Most Reverend Archbishop Hurley, came from Saint-Augustin. Two thousand people joined priests, nuns, altar boys, students and parents, as well as city and county officials for the ceremony. Then the school was opened for a visit.

The first class of 1962 was made up of 46 hopeful seniors, many of whom had spent their entire childhoods together since freshman year at St. Martha.

The dynamic Father Joseph Daley, who spearheaded the creation of Cardinal Mooney High School and served as its president, was not there to witness the momentous occasion. He went on sick leave in January 1962 and never returned.

A 60th reunion this month gave these few graduates the opportunity to come together and share memories of what may have been the best years of their lives.

Jeff LaHurd grew up in Sarasota and is an award-winning historian.

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