When Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle became the first resident archbishop of Washington in January of 1948, one of the first priorities that he tackled was the creation of an archdiocesan boys’ high school inside the city of Washington.  Preparation for the school was already underway when Archbishop O’Boyle arrived.  Archbishop Michael Curley, who served as the archbishop of Washington when the new archdiocese was established in 1939 while continuing to serve as the archbishop of Baltimore, had formed a committee headed by Auxiliary Bishop John McNamara in 1944 to work on the issue.  With two subcommittees, one for fundraising and the second for site selection, Bishop McNamara raised over two million dollars to build the new school.

Through Bishop McNamara’s leadership, the Archdiocese of Washington acquired land from the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1945 on which to build a school.  The 11-acre parcel was located just north of The Catholic University of America off Harewood Road.  Fred Murphy, the head of the School of Architecture at Catholic University, and his former student, Bernard Locraft, were chosen as the architects for the new building.  Murphy and Locraft had also designed the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, Nativity, and St. Benedict the Moor, among other churches in Washington, along with the 1939 Apostolic Delegation Building.  

Archbishop Amleto Cicognani, apostolic delegate to the United States, blesses the new Archbishop John Carroll High School on September 9, 1951 with Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle and Washington Auxiliary Bishop John McNamara looking on.  (Catholic Standard file photo)

Archbishop Amleto Cicognani, apostolic delegate to the United States, dedicated Archbishop Carroll High School on Sept. 9, 1951 with a crowd of 7,000 people present.  The president of the Holy Name Society, John Foley, introduced Archbishop O’Boyle.  Judge Matthew McGuire, president of the John Carroll Society, spoke for the laity.   Fifteen bishops from across the United States were also in attendance.

The school was named for Archbishop John Carroll, who in 1789 became the nation’s first Catholic bishop, heading the Diocese of Baltimore which then included all 13 original states. That year, he also founded Georgetown University, the nation’s first Catholic university.

Archbishop Carroll High School’s original building in two wings had 22 classrooms, three science labs, a general science room, a suite for commerce classes (bookkeeping and short-hand), a 400-seat cafeteria, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a smaller lecture room, gymnasium, offices, library, and a student chapel. In the third wing there were quarters for the Augustinian brothers and priests who staffed the school, and that wing had a dining room, library and chapel. Interestingly, the core of the altar in the student chapel was from the Carroll family, a colonial altar on which the future Archbishop John Carroll had himself said Mass.   

Carroll’s initial freshman class of 250 students was fully integrated. Archbishop O’Boyle had integrated schools within the District of Columbia in 1948 shortly after his arrival in Washington.  But this fact was still remarked on in the press related to the opening of the school. Archbishop Carroll High School opened as an integrated school three years before the Supreme Court’s seminal 1954 Brown vs Board of Education case that barred racial segregation in public schools.   Through those initial 17 African American students and those that followed, particularly the players on the 1958 to 1960 championship basketball teams, Carroll developed a reputation for breaking down barriers and became the alma mater for many well-known Black Catholic men, including Boyd Rutherford, the current lieutenant governor of the State of Maryland; Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former chairman of the Republican National Committee; and the late John Thompson Jr., famed coach of the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.  

The Archbishop Carroll Basketball team is presented with their championship trophy at the Knights of Columbus invitational tournament from Archbishop Edigio Vagnozzi, apostolic delegate to the United States in March of 1960.  The team includes from the bottom right: Larry Rohan, John Austin, Bill Barnes, Mike O’Brien, Walt Lindsay, Julian Shelton, Ken Price, George Leftwich, Walt Skinner, and John Thompson, Jr. at the top near the Apostolic Delegate.  (Catholic Standard file photo)

In 1989, Archbishop Carroll merged with several other Catholic high schools in the city to become a co-educational institution.  The merger was overseen by Cardinal James A. Hickey, then the archbishop of Washington, who also set a reinvigorated mission for Archbishop John Carroll High School in serving others “not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”  

(Dr. Jacobe serves as the director of the Archives for the Archdiocese of Washington.)