Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy is one step closer to making its Jewish Studies program a permanent part of its overall curriculum.
The private Catholic school, located at 501 E. Chase St., received $200,000 during the 2012-2013 academic year to begin building an endowment for the Hoffberger Chair of Jewish Studies. Until now, the program has been operating for more than a decade, but the status is year-to-year. The endowment will allow the school to make the position a permanent fixture.
Endowing a permanent position costs around $500,000 at St. Frances. With the addition of some other donated funds, the school is still $285,000 short of its goal for the Jewish Studies position, but the donation brings the finish line much closer.
The school received the donation from the Thomas More Project, a Baltimore-based charity that seeks to help at-risk and underprivileged children receive a Catholic education.
“It’s absolutely critical,” said Deacon Curtis Turner of the Jewish program. Turner has been principal of St. Frances for six years.
“We don’t teach Jewish studies as an afterthought,” Turner said. “At St. Frances, instead of just doing the Old Testament of Hebrew Scriptures from a Christian point of view, we actually teach Jewish studies so that our kids get exposure to Hebrew Scriptures from the Jewish point of view.”
All students must take Jewish Studies during their junior year at St. Frances. Also, instead of offering the traditional Spanish or French options, the school offers students the chance to choose between either Hebrew or Spanish class to fulfill their foreign language requirement.
St. Frances Academy is the oldest continuously operating predominantly African-American Catholic high school in the world. The school opened in 1828 with the intent of teaching black children to read the Bible.
“African-Americans and Jews really have a shared history,” Turner said, explaining that Judaism is the foundation for everything the students, most of whom are Christian, believe. “We’re the spiritual little brothers of the Jewish Community.”