A North Catholic reunion committee poses in front of De La Salle North Catholic in 2010. De La Salle will move to St. Charles Parish in Northeast Portland next year, but alumni of the older school say they will continue to support it following the relocation. (Sentinel archives)
A North Catholic reunion committee poses in front of De La Salle North Catholic in 2010. De La Salle will move to St. Charles Parish in Northeast Portland next year, but alumni of the older school say they will continue to support it following the relocation. (Sentinel archives)

On the morning of July 14, 1970, a fire destroyed North Catholic High School in Portland. The Sentinel will be running a series of stories (and publishing a special print issue July 3) to mark 50 years since the devastating blaze.

When De La Salle North Catholic was founded six blocks from the former site of North Catholic High School, alumni of the closed school rejoiced.

“I was happy there would be another Catholic high school in the area again after so long without one,” said North Catholic alumnus Sara McHugh.

“It spoke to the school’s spirit continuing on in a sense,” added Michelle Sosinski, one of McHugh’s close friends and a fellow 1969 North Catholic grad.

Established in 2001 — about 30 years after an arsonist’s blaze destroyed the beloved North Catholic — De La Salle provides college preparatory education to underserved students. It is sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and includes a corporate work study program that offsets educational costs. It is considered the most diverse private high school in Oregon.

For the past two decades, McHugh, Sosinski and other alumni have followed the progress of the innovative school that bears a part of North Catholic’s legacy. They also have provided modest financial support.

Now that De La Salle is set to move to Northeast Portland, will the enduring, if informal, connection to the school be severed?

Not anytime soon, according to a number of North Catholic alumni. Though they acknowledge the relocation will be a loss to the neighborhood.

John Lyster is a 1966 North Catholic graduate. He said the move further depletes the community of Catholic influence.

He pointed out that at one time five Catholic grade schools fed into North Catholic. Three of the schools have since closed.

“Losing yet another Catholic school will affect the tone and fabric of the neighborhood in terms of religious training,” said Lyster.

Next fall, De La Salle is moving to St. Charles Borromeo, about 3.5 miles away from the school’s existing facility. The lease on De La Salle’s current building — owned by Portland Public Schools — expires in June 2021. The St. Charles property contains a former parish grade school, which closed in 1986, and De La Salle leadership say the new campus allows room for growth.

“It’s wonderful that it will be connected to a church, and I think it’s a good fit,” McHugh said.

North Catholic alumni, including McHugh, see a continuity between the two schools that extends beyond a similar location and Catholic identity.

Many North Catholic students came from working-class families, and that’s also the case at De La Salle, said McHugh. “There was an emphasis on Catholic values as well as respect for each other and inclusion; all of that is the same at De La Salle,” McHugh said.

“North Catholic had this pioneering character,” added Sosinski. “It was forward-looking and hopeful, and I think that’s carried into De La Salle.” Also like North Catholic, “the school community works hard to help students go on to make positive contributions in the world.”

North Catholic alumni have supported the newer school financially by giving excess proceeds from the past several all-school reunions to De La Salle. McHugh believes that form of backing will continue.

Michelle Sosinski’s husband, Gary, class of 1969, has a suggestion to make the bond stronger between the two schools after the relocation.

“Offering an open house and inviting all North Catholic alumni to attend would serve De La Salle well, I think,” said Gary.

It also would be a gift to alumni “to get just a sense of what we had when we were at North Catholic,” he said. And it would be a reminder that “the North Catholic name does live on.”

De La Salle North Catholic confirmed there are no plans for a name change when the school moves.

katies@catholicsentinel.org