DeMatha Catholic High School first opened its doors on September 9, 1946 with an enrollment of only 18 students.
Under the direction and leadership of the Very Rev. F. Cyprian Nusca, O.SS.T., Provincial, the Very Rev. F. Michael Nardone, O.SS.T., Superior and first principal, and Rev. Paul Donovan, O.SS.T., Registrar and Dean, all priests of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinitarians), the primary focus of the school was to educate and prepare those interested in becoming clergy in the Trinitarian Order. However, due to a lack of Catholic high schools and facilities in the metropolitan area (and Hyattsville), Catholic parents requested that their sons be granted permission to enroll at DeMatha. Following their tradition of service to the community and to the Archdiocese of Washington, the Trinitarians agreed and began accepting a limited number of lay students.
The student body was suddenly over 80 students at the opening of school in 1947. Quick changes were needed. Since school was taught in the Monastery and that building was no longer sufficient for the larger enrollment, a six-car garage was rapidly remodeled to provide desperately needed classrooms. This building quickly gained the apt nickname "Fort Necessity" and is currently the home of the Fotos Arts Center.
DeMatha's first graduating class in 1948 consisted of four students. Work began in 1949 on a new building specifically designed as a secondary school, and in January 1950 (despite a flu epidemic at the time), the first classes were held in this new facility. The make-up of the new structure, now known as the "old wing", was quite different than it is today, containing a cafeteria (originally to be an indoor pool), chapel, library, laboratory, classrooms, and a large auditorium-gymnasium. The third floor, which was to contain additional classroom space, was not completed until the following year. Changes in curriculum were made so that high academic standards could be maintained and state requirements fulfilled. In 1954, DeMatha Catholic High School was placed on the list of state-approved non-public schools. DeMatha's first decade of existence was complete and a tradition of dedication, service, and excellence had begun.
Decade of Growth: 1956-1965
DeMatha Catholic High School's second decade was one of growth: in popularity, enrollment, and physical size. The humble days of 18 students in the Monastery basement were long gone as the school boomed to a student population of over 450 students by the mid-1960's. The staff at the school also increased to 35 and featured not only teachers but a librarian, secretary, and cafeteria crew. This decade also saw the beginning of the careers of three DeMatha legends largely responsible for much of the school's local prominence and national recognition: Mr. John Moylan, Dr. Charles "Buck" Offutt, and Mr. Morgan Wootten. Also beginning their careers in the early 1960's were DeMatha veterans Mr. Ray Smith, Mr. Mike Cullen, and Mr. Tony Fotos.
The rapidly growing school was forced to expand yet again in the late 1950's. In 1959, a new building program resulted in the addition of six classrooms, two laboratories (one a biology lecture room, the other a combination physics-chemistry lab), an enlarged kitchen and newly located cafeteria, mechanical drawing facilities, a paved parking lot next to the Monastery and later, an outdoor pool. This completed the basic structure of the main building of the school as it existed through the 1980's when ground breaking for the new addition began. Going into DeMatha's third decade, the school had established itself as a solid institution with growing enrollment, staff, and resources. The future looked as positive as ever with 20 years foundation having been laid.
On January 30, 1965, the national spotlight shined brightly on DeMatha and its basketball team. Led by a young coach named Morgan Wootten, the Stag's varsity basketball team upset the seemingly unbeatable Power Memorial (NY) and their senior center Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar). The victory, in front of a sold out crowd at Maryland’s Cole Field House, broke Power's 71-game win streak and has become one of the most legendary high school basketball games in history. DeMatha was on the national map.
Trying Times in Catholic Education: 1966-1975
Although enrollment at DeMatha continued to increase into the school's third decade (515 students by September 1969), there were ominous signs and rough roads ahead. In fact, the Hyattsville school's very existence would be spared by the narrowest of margins. In the early 1970's, vast reforms called for by Pope John XXIII caused many religious men and women to shun the institution of the church. This meant tough times for Catholic schools -- even DeMatha. In a development that still remains a haunting thought, the school was saved from extinction by only one vote in a Provincial Chapter in 1969 and again in 1972. Subsequently, the number of religious and clergy involved in the school dwindled making it necessary to employ more lay faculty and staff to run the school.
The academic year of 1968-69 was the first year that saw Mr. John L. Moylan as principal. Mr. Moylan was also the first lay principal ever in the Washington Archdiocese. Due to his hard work, sacrifice, and vision, the school survived the tough times and prepared for the many challenges ahead.
DeMatha's award winning Music Director John H. Mitchell also began his storied career at the school in the third decade. In 1970, Mr. Mitchell, a University of Maryland graduate and one of the Army Band's youngest members ever, began the music program at DeMatha with only 19 members. In a mere 10 years, the program would become nationally known for its excellence.
Excellence in Education: 1976-1985
In September 1985, enrollment at DeMatha Catholic High School had reached an astounding 920 students, the peak of an increase seen throughout the school's fourth decade. Understandably, still more renovations and changes were needed to house the bulging population and increasing class size during this dramatic growth. The gymnasium, for example, was refurbished in 1977 and the cafeteria underwent major renovations the same year. A basement room in the Monastery was also called into action as the typing room. But in July 1979, tragedy struck as "Fort Necessity" was severely damaged by fire. To make up for the lost space, four temporary annex buildings acquired from Prince George's County were erected next to the burned out building. They were refurbished in later years and eventually housed the music program as well as various religion, foreign language and English classes.
After a major fund-raising campaign during the 1979-80 academic year, work continued on repairing the damaged "Fort Necessity". In the fall of 1985 two more temporary classrooms were brought in and placed behind the existing four annexes. At the time, they were used mainly for foreign language courses and instruction. Up until then, however, two residential houses next to the school contained the business office and French/Spanish classrooms respectively.
As early as 1982, however, the school began reviewing plans to renovate the "main building", creating what would be a new wing to be added to the area of the gymnasium. Massive fund raising efforts began as thousands of DeMatha friends, boosters, alumni, and supporters donated time, effort, and money to the building campaign. Receipts from DeMatha's Bingo program (run by the faculty) also helped greatly. Once again the tradition of quality people rising to the occasion to better DeMatha as a learning institution and role model for other schools was apparent -- and much appreciated.
In 1984, DeMatha Catholic was nationally recognized again, this time by the United States Department of Education, as one of 38 exemplary private schools in the country. DeMatha's devotion to all aspects of student growth -- spiritual, moral, academic, artistic, and athletic -- was rewarded with this high honor symbolized by the large banner now hanging in the main level of the new wing. (DeMatha received this prestigious honor again in 1991). Heading into its fifth decade of existence, DeMatha had gone from a basement operation in 1946 to one of the best high schools in the entire nation.
Excellence in Education: 1986-1995
Success, as they say, breeds success and DeMatha Catholic High School proved quite fertile in the years leading to the school's 50th anniversary. Enrollment remained strong while intense fund raising and school support by generous boosters, friends, and alumni allowed ground to be broken for a new addition in October 1988. The large addition to the school included several new classrooms, a chapel, faculty lounge, remodeled gymnasium and cafeteria, new offices, a state-of-the-art music center, and other much needed amenities. Then, on September 19, 1990, what was envisioned back in 1982 became reality as the $4.1 million new addition (designed by architect and DeMatha alumnus Michael Mulhern '72) opened and was dedicated by James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington. Fr. James Day, O.S S.T. was also present at the ceremony finishing his 15th and final year as the beloved Rector of DeMatha.
In May of that same academic year the Department of Education again recognized DeMatha Catholic as one of 200 exemplary high schools in the nation, matching the honor given in 1984. Currently both banners commemorating the awards proudly hang in school's main floor of the new wing. Another award presented in 1991 went to the man many consider to be "Mr. DeMatha", John L. Moylan, as he was named Principal of the Year by the Archdiocese of Washington. Mr. Moylan was honored again in 1993 as one of the area's top principals by The Washington Post, the only private school chief so honored. As of the 1995-96 academic year, Mr. Moylan completed his 40th year with the school and his 28th as principal.
January of 1993 saw another historic event as the legendary Morgan Wootten won his 1,000th basketball game as head coach of the Stags. The achievement gained national attention and came roughly 28 years after the win over Power Memorial.
Occasionally with great success, however, comes great sadness. The DeMatha family experienced this first hand when, in the summer of 1993, senior-to-be student/athlete Tim Strachan was paralyzed during a swimming accident in Bethany Beach, Delaware. With spiritual and emotional support, however, Tim and DeMatha showed tremendous resolve and came together as a community to deal with the tragedy. "T's" jersey, number 13, was retired on November 22, 1993 and remains in the school's convocation center, a constant reminder of his strength, courage, and determination.
Strength in Dedication: 1996-2005
DeMatha's faculty, staff, alumni and friends have proved to be a tremendously loyal group over the years. Several of DeMatha's faculty members reached the 40 year mark during this decade at DeMatha, including John Moylan, Morgan Wootten, Dr. Buck Offutt, and Tony Fotos. DeMatha's Senior Boosters, parents of graduates from the 1960's and 70's, continued to hold events to benefit school renovations. Alumni dedicated to education returned to the classrooms to carry on the tradition of excellence.
In September 1997, DeMatha opened a new Student Activities Center which includes an expansive multi-purpose area, a weight room, a training room, a photography dark room, and additional classrooms. Once again, generous support from the DeMatha faithful has meant a better a place for others to learn and grow. This building was renamed the MAC, the McCarthy Activities Center, named in memory of Brendan McCarthy '64, the first two-time All American at DeMatha. The MAC Building also housed The Walt Coughlin '52 Strength & Fitness Center, named after Walt Coughlin, one of the school's most generous alumni.
In June of 2000, Mr. John Moylan retired after serving 33 dedicated years as Principal. His successor, Dr. Daniel McMahon '76, a veteran faculty member, hailed a new age for the school. Working with the Trinitarian leadership, Dr. McMahon led the school on another building campaign called 'A Crusade For Tomorrow'. This ambitious project includes an impressive Convocation Center that will house classrooms, the Coughlin Strength & Fitness Center, a wrestling room, and a 1,200 seat gym. In addition, 'The Crusade' includes a new gateway to the school's Route One entrance, several parking areas, a plaza leading to the new building and a conversion of the MAC Building as a music and performing arts facility. This ambitious effort mirrors the vision and courage of the school's founders.
Looking Ahead: 2006 and beyond
As DeMatha Catholic High School continues now in its seventh decade of existence, its importance in the community is as crucial as ever. With wayward youth and societal problems seemingly on the increase, DeMatha continues to be an oasis of spiritual, academic, artistic, and athletic instruction, leading young men on the path of hard work and good citizenry with balance and perspective as constant guides. The tradition so firmly established by those whose sacrifice and dedication made the school possible will never be forgotten nor will be taken for granted. There is too much at stake.
DeMatha is well known both nationally and internationally for its excellence in academics, music and athletics. The Washington Post has recognized six of the school’s educators for Distinguished Leadership and Outstanding Teaching. Those educators are Dr. Daniel McMahon, Principal; Mr. John Moylan, Principal Emeritus; Mr. John Mitchell, Music; Mr. Rick Reeves, Science; Mr. Rich Macheski, History; Mr. Tom Krawczewicz, English and Computer Science.
In the last several years, the face of DeMatha's campus has changed. Three new parking areas off Route 1 opened in September 2008. The Brendan McCarthy Center reopened in September 2009 as the home of DeMatha's outstanding Music Program. The 72,000 square foot LT (SEAL) Brendan Looney '99 Convocation Center was dedicated in March 2010. The Hanley Science Wing, with state of the art science facilities, opened in 2011.
DeMatha will continue to provide the best possible environment for the education of the next generations of young men. DeMatha's future continues to look bright as the school remains committed to producing Gentlemen and Scholars, all in a tradition that began in 1946 with just 18 students.