The Rev. William J. Watters, who founded three Baltimore schools for under-resourced students, announced May 31 he is ready to retire from the presidency of The Loyola School at the age of 89.
He will remain president of the school until the appointment of his successor, a decision that could take six months to a year to be made, he said.
“I need to pass the baton to people with greater energy, younger people with vision,” said Watters, a Jesuit priest.
The three schools — The Loyola School, St. Ignatius Loyola Academy and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School — are scholarship-focused or tuition-free for students who are accepted into the programs. At The Loyola School, all students who meet eligibility requirements receive full scholarships, paid for by sponsors. Parents and guardians must only pay $20 per month, as well as volunteer.
Watters founded Mount Vernon’s The Loyola School in 2017, starting out as a preschool and later adding kindergarten and first grade. The Jesuit school hopes to roll out second, third and fourth grades by 2025, according toDennis O’Shea, a volunteer at the school.
The Loyola School has been undergoing a $10 million capital campaign since 2020 with $2 million still needed, O’Shea shared in an email. Five rowhouses on East Madison Street are being renovated to provide students with a new learning center, complete with classrooms, a library, a computer center, a health care station and more. The new center’s kindergarten and first and second grade classrooms are expected to open next year.
The school earned a three out of five rating last year under Maryland Excels, the state’s rating system for early childhood education. Students do not have to be Catholic to apply.
Before The Loyola School, Watters founded St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a boys school in the Riverside neighborhood, in 1993. The school serves grades five through eight on a tuition-free basis.
Watters in 2007 founded the co-ed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Upper Fells Point, catering to grades nine through 12. The school’s cost per student averages around $17,000, though no student has to pay more than $2,500 per year. All students pay part of their tuition by participating in a corporate internship program five days per month.
The soon-to-be-retired president will still remain a trustee for The Loyola School and assist in any way he is needed, he said. Watters is also still a trustee and trustee emeritus at Cristo Rey and St. Ignatius, respectively.
Wayne Gioioso Jr., chairman of the board at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, has known Watters since 1975 as a spiritual advisor and friend. Gioioso said Watters has the ability to take ideas about making a difference in the world and turnthem into actions and concrete results.
“If he could clone himself, we’d solve the education problem in the whole country,” Gioioso said. “Everything he really does is founded in justice and his Jesuit beliefs.”
Gioioso said the retirement announcement didn’t surprise him, but he wouldn’t be phased if Watters revealed he wanted to come out of retirement in the future.
“I’ve seen him retire a few times only to not retire again,” Gioioso said. “He’s a force of nature.”
Watters became involved with education in 1989, when he joined the Jesuits and started working in Nigeria at the first Jesuit school in the country. He came back to the United States in 1991 due to medical issues and decided he wanted to do similar work but for low-income Baltimore families who don’t have the means for private education.
In a letter announcing Watters’ retirement, Joseph Lombard, chair of the school’s board of trustees, wrote that Watters has a history of creating the vision for a school and finding the philanthropists, building space and staff to make that vision come to fruition.
“And then — once he is satisfied that the school is strong and solid, with the infrastructure and support it needs to thrive — he humbly steps aside and invites others to assume leadership,” Lombard wrote. “That moment has now arrived for The Loyola School.”