The largest Catholic education campus nationwide has taken root in a former alfalfa field in Draper.

The Skaggs Catholic Center graces the south end of the Salt Lake Valley with a 57-acre campus that offers students the best of both worlds: spiritual nourishment through a curriculum that integrates religious teachings into classroom learning and a campus considered state-of-the-art in technology and facilities.St. John the Baptist Elementary School, grades K-8, and Juan Diego High School are welcome additions to Utah's private education system. Benefactors Sam and Aline Skaggs deserve credit for their vision in developing this innovative school campus. As these schools begin their inaugural year, may their successes be championed by Utahns who embrace choice in education.

Long before the schools opened their doors, Utah's Catholic education system was overwhelmed by applicants. St. John the Baptist Elementary School had twice as many applications as openings. Built to house 700 students, the elementary school population has already swelled to nearly 900 students. To accommodate the enrollment, the middle school has been shifted to an unoccupied portion of the high school.

Juan Diego High School has capacity for 1,700 students but opened with 300 students in ninth and 10th grades. Juniors and seniors will be added at the start of the 2000 school year.

The great interest in these schools suggests a significant demand for the academic rigor and discipline that are the underpinnings of the Catholic education system.

The inaugural student body is 80 percent Catholic, although all students are required to participate in religious instruction integrated into the education curriculum. Likewise, all students adhere to strict conduct and dress codes -- boys must have short hair and girls may not wear makeup until the ninth grade.

The campus includes 100 K-12 classrooms and labs; a child care center; three gymnasiums; athletic fields and a 1,350-seat auditorium. Not only is the Skaggs Catholic Center a center for cradle-to-college learning, it is a community. At its heart is St. John the Baptist Parish, which serves a growing number of Catholics on the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. Plans are under way to build a chapel on the school campus.

Skaggs Catholic Center is a place where futuristic technology will meet bedrock values in a rich educational environment. The Skaggs are to be congratulated for their generosity and foresight in bringing about this exciting new chapter in the rich history of Utah's Catholic education system.