Almost four years ago, a friend suggested that Matthew Armentrout visit Benedictine High School. Today, he is a rising senior and a captain in the Benedictine Core of Cadets.
"I came to Benedictine as a non-Catholic from a non-military family," Armentrout says. "And now I'm a devoted Catholic, a captain and hellbent on joining the Marine Corps."
He attributes the changes to his "brotherhood" at the Catholic military high school, and the Benedictine brotherhood has a special event to celebrate this year, the school's 100th anniversary.
"To truly celebrate the centennial, we'll have to capitalize on our community spirit," says headmaster Jesse Grapes. "You do that by bringing them all together, and they love being together."
In April, the school hosted a Boxing Smoker, re-creating a '20s-style boxing match in their gymnasium, inviting college teams from Georgetown, the Virginia Military Institute and the University of North Carolina to compete. Benedictine will also hold a giant birthday party and ball in the fall.
Founded by a group of Benedictine monks in 1911, the school was originally called Benedictine College. And while there have inevitably been some changes over the years — Armentrout's class will be the last to graduate from Benedictine's Sheppard Street campus, as the historic school will be moving to Goochland County in 2012 — Grapes thinks they're still true to their original mission.
"The school is grounded in three natures — Catholic, military and all-male," Grapes says. "It's that uniqueness that makes the school so special, and that value is what makes it the same as it was in 1911."
Benedictine is one of a handful of schools in the Richmond area celebrating a major milestone this year, including another all-boys school that's been around for 100 years. Nestled amid a quiet West End neighborhood off Patterson Avenue lies St. Christopher's School. Originally called The Chamberlayne School for Boys, it was founded in 1911 but moved to its current location in 1914. Many of the buildings today are renovated editions of the originals of a school that considers itself to be a major part of
"The school's traditions are very much in tune with the community in which it lives," says Sam Bemiss, a 1973 graduate and head of the school's alumni association.
St. Christopher's has made community involvement a priority for its centennial celebration. Along with homecoming birthday festivities that include a private visit and talk from famous alum (and renowned writer) Tom Wolfe, St. Christopher's will host a symposium open to the public in November called "Building Leaders from the Inside Out." This event's keynote speaker will be former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The school also intends to begin the program "100 Days of Service," in which all those connected to St. Christopher's are encouraged to help others and document their work electronically for all to see.
"Leadership is not for the chosen few, but leadership is something that we focus on for every single student," says headmaster Charley Stillwell, "and essentially it means taking advantage of the strength of character and the wisdom and the life skills in each boy to find ways to make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives of others."
Though smaller than Benedictine and St. Christopher's, with an enrollment of about 110, the Richmond Academy of Seventh-day Adventists is also still going strong after 100 years. The school started in the basement of the Patterson Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church, and after several moves has grown into its current building.
Sonya Bautista is the mother of three students at the Richmond Academy, and she's chairing the school's Centennial Celebration, which kicks off with the 100-year reunion weekend in October. It will include a vespers service for the five local Seventh-day Adventist churches connected to the school, a performance from a choir made up of students and alumni, a banquet, and a walking, running and biking marathon.
"When you have something that your children care about and love, it makes you want to contribute to the program as well," Bautista says. She and the other members of the committee are selling bricks to create a brand-new centennial walkway in front of the school, and each teacher at the Academy will decorate his or her classroom to commemorate a decade in the school's history.
Though halfway to the 100-year mark, St. Edward-Epiphany School is putting just as much effort into honoring its 50th anniversary this year. The school was founded in 1961 and originally taught only the first and second grades. Today, the school's enrollment runs from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Alumna Liz Gill is an event coordinator for the 50th anniversary of the coed Catholic school.
"We've had so much support from all the families within St. Edward's, even those who aren't alumni," she says. "What's been interesting is seeing some of the names pop up on the Facebook page that I went to school with."
Gill says that she got to know many local Catholic families through her time at the school, and it's that close connection that has kept her involved.
While the school is offering "50 days of fun," which includes a student golf tournament, there will also be a Mass in November, which will be open to the public and will include a tour of the school.
All of the schools celebrating anniversaries this year make up their own private communities.
"It is a giant family," Armentrout says. "You go through the same struggles and experiences together."
And this year these local private schools will "experience" these milestone birthdays in the only way they know how — together.