Where Tradition & Innovation Unite
In 1950, Father John Lawrence McLaughlin, pastor of Stella Maris Parish on Sullivan's Island, responded to a growing concern on the part of his flock for Catholic education east of the Cooper River. He decided it was time to start a parish school. For the teaching staff he turned to the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston, and together they began Stella Maris School with 54 students in the kindergarten, first, and second grades. Father McLaughlin's choice of the OLM's turned out to be an inspired one since sisters from this order have been associated with the school ever since.
The original classrooms were in space loaned to Father from Fort Moultrie, but as early as 1953, with the school having grown to accommodate grades K through 6, it was clear that much more room would be needed. A capital campaign was begun, and the cornerstone for a new building was laid that same year on Russell Drive in Mount Pleasant. A wing was added in 1957 and another in 1962, by which time the school had grown to include kindergarten through 8th grade. In 1973, the school was renamed Christ Our King-Stella Maris to reflect both the original parish and the new parish it now served.
Over the next fifteen years the school grew, trying to keep pace with the East Cooper community's expanding Catholic population. However, in 1989 it was the damage from Hurricane Hugo to the solid but aging school structure that finally drove home to everyone the fact that, while faith may be eternal, 38-year-old school buildings are not. Early in 1990, under the leadership of Principal Sister Stella Maris, the decision was made to expand and update Christ Our King-Stella Maris and, using the hurricane insurance settlement as seed money, a $3 million campaign was begun.
Bishop David Thompson presided over the groundbreaking in 1994, and in 1995 the 33,000 square foot addition was completed. In 1996 the original building was renovated to the same modern standard, and the overall result was a two-story structure housing three classrooms each for pre-kindergarten through 8th grade with networked computer workstations and internet access. The school also now had an automated media center, modern music studio, guidance center, and an assistant principal's office to go with the refurbished art center, kitchen, faculty lounges, workrooms, and enlarged staff offices and conference facilities.
In 1999, with Christ Our King Parish about to embark on a campaign to build a Life Center, the school was presented with the opportunity to "complete" its campus by joining in the $3.5 million campaign. This would be the chance to build a state-of-the-art gymnasium and auditorium, gain much-needed space for the growing After School program, and add the five classrooms and science lab on the Camellia Drive side of the school as originally planned.
In 2009 the school was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, the school began the highly successful President-Principal administration model and also began the largest and most ambitions 1-to-1 iPad Education Technology Initiative in the entire state of South Carolina. COKSM is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The progress of the school, from its modest beginnings on Sullivan's Island to the large, modern facility in Mount Pleasant serving the children of Stella Maris, Christ Our King, St. Benedict's, and St. Clare's parishes, was made possible by the faith, vision, hard work, and sacrifice of countless priests, sisters, teachers, parents, and parishioners. When filled with the enthusiastic young people that are its student body today, it stands as an example of what can be done with God's help and our willingness to take seriously His admonition to "...suffer the little children to come unto Me...".