Nativity BVM High School is a Catholic four-year co-educational secondary school. It was founded in 1955 as the successor to Pottsville Catholic High School (formerly Saint Patrick’s High School) and Saint Stephen’s High School in Port Carbon.
In 1927 Father Edward L. Gatens, pastor of Saint Patrick Church, Pottsville, planned the building of Pottsville Catholic High School. On October 15, Cardinal Dougherty of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia dedicated the new building at 112 7th Street (now Assumption BVM School) which still bears the engraving “P.C.H. School” above the door. From 1928 to 1955, Pottsville Catholic was a diocesan Catholic high school with the Sisters of Saint Joseph as faculty. Saint Patrick’s Grade School, housed in the same building, was a parish school. At that time, Catholic schools in this area still belonged to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The constantly increasing enrollment made a new building imperative and Monsignor John Boyle, then pastor of St. Patrick’s, Pottsville, was commissioned by Archbishop John O’Hara of Philadelphia to purchase ground for the new diocesan high school.
When Lawtons Hill was selected as the site for the new Catholic high school, the cross was a prominent theme in the building’s design. Windows of amber glass, facing westward, form one large cross that looks out from all three floors of the building.
Catholic high school students beginning their freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years attended Nativity starting in September 1955. The school was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on April 14, 1956, with Reverend John J. Nugent serving as the founding principal. The Feast of the Nativity, or birthday, of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on September 8. The class of 1959 was the first class to go through an entire four years at Nativity.
During the early years, diocesan priests and Carmelite Fathers taught at Nativity; communities of Sisters on the faculty were Sisters of St. Joseph, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of St. Casimir, and Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first graduating class of 148 seniors received their diplomas in June, 1956. The first yearbook of Nativity BVM High School was called the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) and published in 1956.
Father Nugent was principal of Nativity from 1955 to 1967. During his tenure, the Allentown Diocese was formed from an area that had formerly been part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. In 1960, Catholic schools in Schuylkill, Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton Counties became part of the new Allentown Diocese.
Soon the Holy Family Sisters joined other religious communities on the school faculty. Enrollment continued to increase; some classes had approximately 300 students, and the enrollment of the entire school rose to about 1300. The school did not charge tuition at that time, although students had to buy their own books and pay an activities fee. Seeing the need for an ongoing fundraiser, Father Nugent sought the help of local businessmen, who began plans for an annual dinner which they named the “Century Club” (after the nickname for a $100 bill) because the admission fee was $100. The first Century Club dinner was held in 1968, during the administration of Rev. Joseph T. Gilmore, who was principal of Nativity from 1967 to 1969.
Rev. John A. Rusek was principal during the 1969-1970 school year. The name of Nativity’s yearbook was changed, and the 1970 school yearbook was known as The Lawtonian. “Skylines” was the name given to the school newspaper. Rev. Joseph D. Hulko was principal from 1970 to 1977. Rev. Leo F. Lenick was principal during the school year of 1977-1978. Rev. John V. Egan ’61 served as principal from 1978 to 1982, but died several years after he left Nativity.
By the early 1970′s, Catholic schools had begun to charge tuition, and decreasing enrollment was a trend in most areas. In 1978, 178 seniors graduated from Nativity, and the school enrollment was still larger than it was in 1956.
Rev. Stephen L. Maco became principal in 1982 and served in that role until 1991. Rev. Anthony P. Mongiello was principal from 1991 to 1992. In 1991, the new Development Office of Nativity published the first Alumni Directory and the first Alumni Newsletter, Nativity Now. Nativity’s Recruitment Committee was also formed during Father Mongiello’s tenure. 97% of the graduating class of 1992 went on to further their education. Members of that class were awarded a total of over $700,000 in scholarships, grants, and awards.
Rev. Ronald C. Bocian was principal from 1992 to 1999. During Msgr. Bocian’s tenure, there was a marked increase in Nativity’s enrollment, especially in the freshman class, which increased by 68%. As before, the vast majority of graduates went on to college, many with awards, grants, and scholarships. There was also a dramatic increase in the number and variety of new courses and new teachers.
Rev. Ronald V. Jankaitis came on board as principal at the beginning of the 1999-2000 academic year. He remained until July 14, 2008. Fr. Jankaitis was at Nativity as a teacher and prinicpal for 21 years.
Rev. Christopher L. Wakefield joined the Nativity community as President on July 15, 2008. At that time, Fr. Wakefield was joined on the Nativity Leadership Team by Principal Bruce Hess. This was the first time that Nativity had the President/Principal model at the school.
Mrs. Lynn Lechleitner Sabol ‘76 was named Principal Pro-Tem of Nativity in January 2010. Mrs. Sabol has almost 30 years of dedicated service to Nativity in several capacities. She was named principal of the school on June 1, 2010.
Nativity’s student-teacher ratio is 11 to 1. The dedicated faculty is made up of lay teachers. While Nativity is a Catholic secondary school, it accepts students of other religions. It also accepts students of all races, cultures, creeds, and economic backgrounds.
“Be it known to all who enter here:
Christ is the reason for this school!
He is the ever-present Teacher,
The model for its faculty,
The inspiration of its students.”