The recognized need for a Catholic High School in Tallahassee was articulated as early as the 1970s. In 1982, the Diocese of Pensacola – Tallahassee purchased 20 acres on the north side of the county to specifically be used as the campus for a High School. In the mid-1990s, Trinity Catholic School’s Long Range Planning Committee, chaired by Sterling Bryant and Dr. Michael Forsthoeful, formed to determine Catholic educational needs in Tallahassee.
Following a parishes-wide survey by MGMT Corp in 1997, a proposal was made by a Catholic High School Committee, chaired by Dr. Michael Forsthoeful, entitled Expanding Catholic Education in the Eastern Deanery of the Diocese Pensacola – Tallahassee, to Bishop John Ricard.
Community Counseling Service, Inc. was retained by the Diocese to undertake a Feasibility and Planning Study to assess the ability of the Tallahassee Catholic Community to raise money and support such a school in 1998. That study encompassed interviews of more than 100 people including pastors, lay leaders, potential donors, committee members and business owners. The study supported the construction and development of the school.
A Curriculum Development Committee, chaired by Sterling Bryant and Sister Mary Caplice, CND, was also formed in 1998 and issued a report in 1999. A Site Selection Committee, chaired by Chris Bryant and Michael Bell, was formed in 1998. Problems in the development of the Timberland School Road site required looking at other location options for the school. In developing the Southwood Residential Community off Capital Circle Southeast, St. Joe/Arvida Corporation offered a 37.21 acre parcel of land adjacent to Florida High School.
Together, these schools and Tallahassee Community College would form the concept of the Educational Village of Southwood. The Site Selection Committee recommended the Southwood parcel in 1998. A design team consisting of Huffman/Tarmey, P.A., Elliot Marshall Innes, P.A., Clifford Lamb and Associates (civil engineering), Patrick Hughes, L.A. (landscaping), Hines Hartman and Associates (mechanical, electrical, fire protection engineering), and David Jones, P.E. (structural engineering), developed the master plan for the site. Ajax Building Construction Company was contracted to be the Construction Manager for the project. John Koelemij chaired the Building Committee and Michael Pearson was the Project Manager.
In the spring of 2000, the “Panther” mascot was approved following an essay writing contest at Trinity Catholic School. A Principal Selection Committee, chaired by Michael Bell, and Monsignor Michael Tugwell, was organized in April 2000.
The first principal, Dr. Randall Felton, was hired on August 1, 2000 and ground was officially broken on August 6, 2000. The first student, Veronica Occhuizzo, applied to attend the school and was accepted on December 22, 2000.
On January 12, 2001, Bishop Ricard formally established the first John Paul II Catholic High School Advisory Board. The Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sisters Susan Emmerich, Susan Marie Krupp, and Christine Ring) arrived in Tallahassee to staff the school on July 17, 2001. Dedication of the school by the Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J., occurred on August 12, 2001.
The first day of classes at John Paul II Catholic High School took place on August 13, 2001. On that opening date, the school received approval for full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
During JPIICHS’ first year, the school signed its initial articulation agreement with a Catholic institution of higher education, Barry University, making college credit available to students during the day and adults at night.