Long game: Father Watters develops the Jesuit “ecosystem” to encompass kindergarten through high school

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Justin Fowlkes, left to right, Jesuit Father William Watters and Kintrez Fowkles stroll around the Loyola Blakefield campus in Towson. (Kevin J. Parks / CR staff)

Kevin Marshall spent the summer touring the Western National Parks, pursuing a passion he traced back to an eighth grade immersion experience in the Grand Tetons.

DeJonna Farmer uses her degree from Stevenson University as a Marketing Coordinator for the Greater Baltimore Economic Alliance.

Farmer attended Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Fells Point. Marshall is one of three alumni of the faculty of St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Federal Hill, the boy’s college that has broadened its horizons.

Both came through a Jesuit educational “ecosystem” in Baltimore City that is the inspiration of Jesuit Father William J. Watters. He is 87 years old and last month announced his intention to expand a kindergarten based in St. Ignatius Parish to Loyola School, a school that will also serve students from grades 1 to 4.

High school tuition is capped at $ 2,500. The other two are free. All of them depend heavily on sponsors.

“Father Bill has an incredible quality,” said Earl Linehan, a parishioner from St. Ignatius who helped start St. Ignatius Loyola Academy and is on the board of directors of Cristo Rey Jesuit. “People want to help him, because there’s never anything about him in there. There is no ego. His people have a hard time saying no because they know he is doing good.

In 1952, fresh out of St. Peter’s Preparatory in Jersey City, NJ, Bill Watters climbed from a train platform at Penn Station in Baltimore and discovered life south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“I walked into the great hall and saw ‘white’ bathrooms and ‘colorful’ bathrooms,” he said. “The exits were marked in the same way. I said, ‘Wow, it’s a different world.’ “

The recent graduates of the Loyola Early Learning Center are now called The Loyola School, where they will be on their way to becoming its first fourth graders as the school grows in Mount Vernon. (Courtesy Marie Machin / Loyola Early Learning Center)

Seeking to enter the Society of Jesus, he walked to 740 N. Calvert St. St. Ignatius Church opened there in 1856, a year after the Jesuits of Maryland established a school that became what is now Loyola Maryland and Loyola Blakefield University.

“The great task of the Jesuits, their mission, was to educate the poor,” said Father Watters. This is what we have done here.

His affinity for education included teaching at Loyola Blakefield. He had two terms as parish priest of Saint-Ignace, where he remains assistant priest; ran a retreat center; and kept an eye on 215 priests.

The Jesuits encouraged service in Africa. He went there on sabbatical, fell in love with the people of Nigeria and eventually returned as pastor of a parish where Mass was in the thousands.

Father Watters saw “all these young Nigerian scholastics enter Catholic schools which are not our schools”, and created a steering committee which led, in 1996, to the opening of Loyola Jesuit College, a secondary boarding school. mixed with 600 students in Abuja.

By then, heart disease had sent Father Watters back to Baltimore, where he had already opened a school.

Opportunity, experience

In 1993 he founded St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, with $ 150,000 from the Jesuits and a matching grant from the Abell Foundation. In 2013, the school moved from the cramped quarters of Calvert Street to the former South Baltimore Catholic Community School on the St. Mary’s, Star of the Sea campus.

Kneeling Adewale Otusajo and, left to right, Sterling Holliday, Cristian Quesada, Zonte Painter, Dominic Marine, Aaron Sievers, Jerry Watkins and Howard Wicker graduated from St. Ignatius Loyola Academy and then Cristo Rey Jesuit in 2019 ( Credit: Grant Gibson / Jesuit Lycée Cristo Rey)

Marshall, the fan of national parks, learned in the first and teaches social science and reading in the second.

“This school offered opportunities and experiences that I might not have had (otherwise),” Marshall said. “Some of our boys can’t mark Maryland on a map when they come to see us. Until I got there I couldn’t locate Wyoming on a map.

Marshall experienced more Jesuit rigor at Loyola Blakefield, Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, and Loyola University Maryland, where he received his Masters in Education. Kintrez Fowlkes, among the triplets of the class of 2017, had a similar experience.

“They had Latin in St. Ignatius Loyola,” Fowlkes said. “I didn’t realize how much that put me forward until I got to Loyola Blakefield.”

His brothers, Justin and Tre, went to Archbishop Curley High and Baltimore City College, respectively. All are freshmen at Towson University, among 567 St. Ignatius Loyola graduates who have also attended service academies and Ivy League schools.

Father Watters resigned as president in 2004 and said to himself, “We have to have a high school for these kids. Following a model he observed in Chicago and with considerable human capital from Loyola University Maryland, Cristo Rey Jesuit opened in 2007.

Farmer, the Marketing Director, is one of its 714 graduates. Students at CRJ supplement tuition through an internship program, which sent her to an adult daycare, an insurance company in Owings Mills, and a children’s museum.

DeJonna Farmer and Kevin Marshall benefited from the educational vision of Jesuit Father William Watters. (Courtesy photos)

“The academics were also top notch,” Farmer said. “In my second year, I was at a point of a higher grade in Spanish. I argued for this B-plus, but my teacher said, “You haven’t done the homework for this extra point. That’s not how we do it at Cristo Rey Jesuit. ‘ “

These internships are among the reasons CRJ is the only school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to require COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and students.

The next stop for Father Watters is Loyola School, which plans to accommodate 200 students from preschool to grade 4.

“We will certainly find a way, with the grace of God,” he told the Review.

For two days in mid-September, half a dozen teens and pre-teens were among the victims of gun violence in Baltimore City, which could exceed 300 murders for a seventh year in a row.

“I don’t know of a better way out of some of the city’s problems than education,” said Linehan, president of Brown Advisory, an investment management firm. “I take my hat off to Father Watters and all the people who are trying to solve this problem.”

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