Rice's Roots: Cathedral High School

Under the direction of Bishop Joseph Rice, Cathedral High School opened in 1917 on the corner of Pearl and St. Paul Streets in downtown Burlington to serve the high school students of Cathedral Parish. The school was mostly staffed by Sisters of Mercy and diocesan priests. Due to its stellar reputation, it soon attracted students from other Burlington parishes and Winooski. It didn’t take long for the school building to be too small for its burgeoning population of students. Before long, classes were being held in the “Scout House” adjacent to the school and in the cellar of the Cathedral Church itself. Eventually the diocese leased an abandoned (and condemned!) schoolhouse on North Street called the Pomeroy School. For many years the freshmen class held classes in Pomeroy.

In the 1950’s, something had to be done to bring all of these students under one roof. Fr. Raymond Adams, Principal of Cathedral, was directed to build a new school on the Proctor Avenue property in South Burlington, which Cathedral Parish had purchased decades earlier with the intention of making it a cemetery. With the 1950’s move to suburbia, the new school was to be more regional in its approach. All Chittenden County parishes took part in its building, and to this day these same parishes financially support the school. Bishop Robert F. Joyce, Bishop of Burlington and a former Principal of Cathedral, named the school Rice Memorial, in honor of Bishop Rice, who founded Cathedral High School. And so on January 30, 1959, Fr. Adams led 880 students, 26 religious, and 8 lay faculty on a 2.6 mile march from Cathedral to the sparkling modern facility that is today Rice Memorial High School. 

The First 40 Years

Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges since 1961, Rice's first order of business was a reduction in class sizes and an increase in teacher-student ratios from the overcrowding that had prevailed at Cathedral High School.  In the late 1960's Rice's enrollment reached its historic peak of 1174 students. In order to meet the demands posed by spiraling growth, the school scrapped its original plans for an auditorium at the western end of the building and instead added classrooms at the far end of the academic wing. 
Through the 1970's, the Catholic Church saw a decline in the numbers of priests, nuns and brothers. Accordingly, the proportion of professed religious among Rice's teaching faculty also shrank, while the school grew to depend more and more on lay teachers. As a consequence, salaries and tuition rates climbed, while in further consequence the school's enrollment began to retreat.

In the 1980's, Rice came under the leadership of a succession of Brothers of the Sacred Heart. To reinforce the school's distinctive Catholic identity, all students were required to take prescribed religion courses.  Driven by changes in the law and student expectations, Rice's athletic programs expanded to include more offerings for young women. In addition, programs in soccer and ice hockey augmented the traditional football-basketball- baseball-track array. These changes set a precedent for later expansions, which would add men's and women's lacrosse, women's ice hockey, and eventually Rice's elite prep hockey programs.

The 1980's also saw a new emphasis at Rice on retaining highly qualified faculty. Of necessity, salaries - and tuition - increased dramatically throughout the decade, as did rapidly evolving technology and increasing economic challenges. The decade also saw the evolution of Rice's relationship with technology. As the 21st Century began, Rice had networked computer labs, an online presence, and email capabilities for staff. Today, teaching with technology is required of all teachers. In 2015, Rice is embracing a 1:1 ratio of computers to students, the next step in the evolution of teaching with technology.
 

Present Day Rice and Beyond

In 2003, Rice commissioned Black River Design architects to study the feasibility of reconfiguring and reconstructing its physical facility. Plans for construction were shelved for 10 years until, under the leadership of current Principal Monsignor Bernard Bourgeois, renovations began.  Deemed an historic site by the Vermont Department of Historic Preservation, the $12 million project includes an overhaul of the current facility (new heating and ventilation system, new windows, new lighting, flooring and paint, an elevator), as well as investments in advancement and technology. Construction was completed in time for the 2015-16 academic year. 

While the teaching and learning process have evolved since the day Cathedral opened in 1917, the values of a Catholic education have not. Since its earliest days, Cathedral and Rice have worked to form its students in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While a high school student in 1917 would not understand the wireless technology that is integral to an education of 2015, he or she would understand the work of inspiring students to live the Christian life, to embrace their Catholic faith, and to enter the world academically, faithfully, and morally formed. The work that started in 1917 continues 100 years later in the halls and classrooms of Rice!
 

Rice Memorial High School