New state-of-the-art Pope John Paul II High School ready to welcome students to their first year in its halls

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

UPPER PROVIDENCE TOWNSHIP – Pope John Paul II High School, the $65 million- state-of-the-art archdiocesan secondary school in central Montgomery County, officially opens its doors to more than 900 students Friday, Sept. 10.

“Following many years of preparation … we’re at the dawn of opening our new high school,” said Father Alan J. Okon, the president. “These days are very exciting for us here at Pope John Paul II High School.”

Cardinal Justin Rigali is scheduled to dedicate the school Sunday, Sept. 19. {{more}}

Located on an 84-acre tract of land in Upper Providence Township at the intersection of Rittenhouse and Township Line Roads off the Royersford exit of U.S. Route 422, the school is the consolidation of St. Pius X High School in Pottstown and Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School in Norristown, which closed in June.

Alex Frederick, an incoming senior, and Seb Pepper, an incoming freshman, are among a number of students who are already familiar with the school, having worked summer jobs there.

“The school is amazing,” said Frederick, who comes to Pope John Paul II High from Kennedy-Kenrick. He belongs to St. Titus Parish in East Norriton.

Frederick, who will go down in the school’s history books as a member of its first graduating class, has been busy moving books, setting up desks and assisting with other opening day preparations.

Pepper, a 2010 graduate of Sacred Heart School in Royersford and member of the parish, is pleased to be among the first class of freshmen who, four years from now, will be the first graduating class to attend the school all four years.

The technology-savvy student volunteered his time setting up Smart Boards. “It’s really fun,” he said. “They taught me a lot this summer.”

At 209,000-square-feet, Pope John Paul II High has a capacity for 1,200 students. Although the freshmen and senior classes are at capacity, admission currently remains open for sophomores and juniors.

The brick structure features 35 classrooms, two distance learning classrooms, five science laboratories, three computer laboratories and a library-media resource center.

In addition, there is a television studio; a fine arts center that includes two art studios, separate choral and band rooms; a 70-seat chapel; 1,200-seat auditorium; 1,000-seat main gymnasium, an auxiliary gymnasium, fitness center and 432-seat cafeteria.

The school is equipped with central air-conditioning and modern security access and surveillance systems.

Student athletes will compete on an all-weather track, six competition-level sports fields and six tennis courts.

The school colors, blue and gold, reflect those of the consolidated schools. The school mascot is the Golden Panther.

Pope John Paul II High will provide an accelerated honors program and a standard academic program.

A number of advanced placement courses will be offered. In addition to core courses and year electives, a new cluster or quarter elective program will also be included in the curriculum.

Students will take four cluster electives – one per quarter – studying a wide range of subjects, among them: a math course that features a geometry-based 3-D educational computer software program that creates animation for storytelling and interactive games; and English courses that include print journalism and a mystery and detective fiction course titled, “Who Done It?”

Pope John Paul II High will offer interdisciplinary teaching methods across its curriculum. For example, when students are studying world history, they will also be studying world literature.

Students will be issued netbooks, or mini-laptop computers, and those who hope to one day work in the computer and business industries will be pleased to know that a Microsoft IT Academy, providing certification in Microsoft and related technologies, will be offered.

The school’s adherence to Catholic identity is apparent upon arriving on campus, as the focal point of the structure is a stately outdoor cross made of steel and painted white, which soars high above the chapel.

On April 2, 2009, the fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death, Cardinal Justin Rigali blessed the 24-foot high cross before a crane slowly lifted it and workers secured it to two steel beams on the school building.

The school chapel, situated in the front center of the building, features a grand stained glass window from the now-closed Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Southwest Philadelphia. The window depicts Jesus giving the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter and an image of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

“The chapel is beautiful – I’ll be spending some time in there,” said Jenna Bergen, an incoming senior who considers Catholic identity at a school important so students “further develop faith in Christ.”

Formerly of Kennedy-Kenrick High and a member of Visitation B.V.M. Parish in Trooper, Bergen is applying for a leadership position with the school’s Kairos team. Under the direction of school minister Father Stephen P. DeLacy, it coordinates the Ignatian retreat program.

The school’s namesake will have a prominent place on the property: a 6-foot bronze statue of Pope John Paul II will stand in an outdoor plaza in the front of the building.

Father Okon is the former president of St. Pius X and Kennedy-Kenrick.

Among the administrators assisting him are the former principals of the consolidated schools. Judy Owens, who was the principal of St. Pius High, is the principal of Pope John Paul II High. Sister Janet Purcell of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, previously the principal of Kennedy-Kenrick High, is the assistant principal for academic affairs.

The ground for Pope John Paul II High was blessed in May 2008. The groundbreaking occurred in September of the same year.

Both blessings were administered by then-Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia Joseph P. McFadden, who assisted Cardinal Rigali in overseeing the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Education for six years before becoming the Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg Aug. 18.

For more information about Pope John Paul II High School, including registration guidelines, contact Meghan Callen, director of admissions, at 484-975-6500 or visit the web site

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or