De La Salle North Catholic High School will be housed in St. Charles Parish’s former elementary school, which closed in 1986.
De La Salle North Catholic High School will be housed in St. Charles Parish’s former elementary school, which closed in 1986.

De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland announced last month that it has signed an agreement with St. Charles Borromeo to relocate to the parish’s property, situated on the corner of Northeast 42nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street. The parish and school are negotiating the details and have signed a letter of intent for a 50-year lease with two 25-year extensions. The plan is to be at the new site in the fall of 2021.

“We are a Catholic high school and to have a sanctuary as part of campus is really important,” said Tim Joy, longtime principal of the college preparatory school for underserved students. “Now we can have the entire student body attend Mass in the church.”

The St. Charles property includes a former parish grade school that was opened in 1950 and closed in 1986. The new campus will accommodate more than 350 students and allow room for growth, according to De La Salle President Oscar Leong.

Since it opened in 2001, the Catholic school has rented its two locations. The lease on its current building, which formerly served as Kenton Elementary School and is owned by Portland Public Schools, expires in June 2021.

School leaders looked at more than 40 potential sites, some further away from the original location. But the corporate work study program — in which students spend one day a week working for a local employer — means the school needs to be near downtown. “And staying close by, at the St. Charles property, allows us to stay true to the roots of the school in North Portland,” said Leong.

“When I first stepped foot into the sanctuary at St. Charles, it had this different feel,” added Joy. “We have a gym and auditorium where we conduct services, but the architecture of a sanctuary calls forth something in people — an intuitive reverence.”

The school will be the first new Catholic high school campus in Portland in more than 50 years, according to school officials. A capital campaign will raise funds for renovations and additions. There will be a couple of phases, said Joy, but the plan is eventually to build a gym.

The current school property has a grade-school-sized gym, so the boys basketball team practices off-site. Nevertheless, the team was this year’s 3A state champion.

Leif Kehrwald, pastoral administrator of St. Charles, said the parish community will offer a “warm welcome” to De La Salle. “We have a dedicated, passionate group of parishioners and the extra space to accommodate this transformative school. We look forward to merging our communities,” he said.

The church will maintain its operations, including parish offices for staff members and the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank.

“Joining with De La Salle will be a real benefit to both our institutions and our community; I'm looking forward to it,” said Father Elwin Schwab, priest moderator at St. Charles.

About 73 percent of De La Salle students identify as black or Latino, according to De La Salle officials. Many come from low-income families. Of the students who stay for four years, 95 percent graduate and get into college.

“Things happen at De La Salle that are providential, that are hard to explain but that are changing kids’ lives,” said Joy. “The work here is the most needed in the city, and that’s why it’s beautiful.”

He added that he’s grateful for the support of the Catholic community. “What we are doing is at the heart of the Gospel,” he said.