The future looked bleak in 2020 when years of declining enrollment forced the closing of Lebanon Catholic School, but a dedicated group of parents, donors, and educators refused to let the 160-year tradition of Catholic education in Lebanon County die.

Now, 17 months after opening, Our Lady of the Cross Catholic School, operating independently of the diocese, has more than doubled its enrollment and looks forward to more growth, according to Head of School Deb Waters.

The school at 1691 Grace Ave., North Lebanon Township, is home to 73 students in pre-K through 12th grade, up from 33 when it opened its doors in September 2021.

Of the 73, 18 are in the 9th through 12th grades, and another 20 in the 6th through 8th grades, according to Waters.

Georgine Purcell teaching “Phonemic Awareness” to O.L.C. 1st and 2d graders (LebTown)

O.L.C. operates entirely on tuition, donations, and fundraisers, and is governed by the nine-member board of the non-profit L.C. Strong Foundation.

Waters said that while the school remains “financially independent, and our governance is independent” of the Harrisburg Diocese, “we certainly have a religious connection to the diocese.”

“If we are teaching in the Catholic tradition, if we are here so that the kids can grow in their faith, then we have to keep grounded … in the curriculum that follows the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ requirements.”

Local parish priests regularly celebrate mass and administer the Catholic sacraments at the school.

While O.L.C. is first and foremost a Catholic school, secular academics don’t take a back seat. All but one of the 12-member faculty, seven full-time and five part-time, taught at Lebanon Catholic. The other part-time teacher holds a Ph.D. and teaches at Lebanon Valley College.

Gaining accreditation has been a goal from the start. “You need to be established for two to three years before any accrediting organization will start the process,” Waters said. “It’s something we’ll start to look at in the very near future.”

O.L.C. students who aren’t looking to go to college can attend the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center. Waters said that one O.L.C. student completed the law enforcement program last year at LCCTC.

“We want our students to be successful when they leave here,” Waters said. “We’re not going to push kids to a four-year college if that’s not the best place for them to be.”

The school also works with Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 to provide services to students with special needs, Waters added.

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Our Lady of the Cross Head of School Deb Waters. (LebTown)

O.L.C. also has a fledgling sports program.

“At present, we are playing junior high basketball, boys and girls,” Waters said. “We aren’t P.I.A.A. yet, so we are playing an independent schedule, scheduling our own games against [mostly Christian and private schools] from Lancaster to Bloomsburg.”

O.L.C. also fields middle school and high school soccer teams that have girls as well as boys.

The school’s teams are nicknamed the Lions, and the colors  are blue and white, the same as once worn by Lebanon Catholic’s teams.

“There are definitely elements of O.L.C. that give a nod to where we came from,” Waters said.

Waters describes O.L.C.’s growth in its first year and a half as “miraculous,” and is grateful to the parents who entrusted their children to a school with no real track record. “Those folks took a huge leap of faith.”

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...

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