Fourth in a series

I recently read some information in The Fortieth Vermont School Report made by the Superintendent of Education to the General Assembly – October 1908 – St. Albans, VT. One area of this report from 1908 caught my attention – a tabulation of 27 Catholic schools in Vermont (at the time), their location, grades taught, number of teachers as well as students in each listed school. A few footnotes included which schools only employed lay teachers and which schools offered a commercial or academy course. Among the schools listed, St. Michael’s College was identified as a college and likely included because it was a Catholic institution for learning. Therefore, I focused attention to other 26 grade-level schools. As I continued to survey this table, I noted the larger Catholic schools in St. Albans, Burlington, Winooski, Montpelier, Newport, Bennington, and Brattleboro. I chose to highlight two Catholic schools on this list and three other Catholic schools not on the list. While these schools were widely known in their own communities, their stories quietly receded to the background of Diocesan history once the schools closed. What Catholic populations were served? How were these schools staffed? How were the schools impacted over time?

Holy Ghost Convent and School, Graniteville, 1903 – 1967

Almost 500 Catholic families were registered at St. Sylvester Church when Father Damase Daigneault became the parish’s new pastor in 1901. He, like many of his brother priests who had arrived at large parishes lacking a Catholic school, prioritized establishing a Catholic grammar school. Under the guidance of Burlington Bishop John Stephen Michaud, the Daughters of the Holy Ghost (Les Filles du Saint-Esprit Soeurs Blanches de Bretagne) were invited to Graniteville to operate the new school. Bishop Michaud had learned of the sisters’ desire to establish themselves in America, as they were being persecuted and exiled from their native France – St. Brieuc in Brittany.

The Holy Ghost Convent and School was formally opened on Sept. 7, 1903 with 163 students registered. Graniteville was home to many immigrant families – with French-Canadian, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish, Irish and Scottish to work in Graniteville’s 80 quarries. The Irish families in the parish were especially skeptical at first of the French-speaking sisters. With the help of Father Daignault, his assistant priests and other English-speaking parishioners, the sisters proved themselves increasingly proficient with the English language, any prejudices soon dissipated. By 1912, enrollment grew to 247 children.

The sisters taught in Graniteville for 64 years until 1967 when the school closed because of enrollment too low to continue to sustain the school. Over these years, they faithfully lived the mission given them by their superiors and the Diocese of Burlington to teach and form children – a Christian education rooted in the development of the whole person.

It was evident that providing a Catholic education to Vermont’s children was a priority since the early days of the creation of the Diocese of Burlington, as more and more churches and parishes were established throughout the state.

Opening all these schools was likely a financially daunting task in the beginning because doing so required enormous sacrifices from the parishioners and the religious sisters recruited to operate the schools. Parishioners all over the state consisted of immigrant populations who labored tirelessly to earn a living and the religious sisters received very little salary for their work. Parish priests were not rich in worldly goods but were endowed with the strength of their faith, dedication to their vocation, and the Catholic faithful in Vermont.

They adopted Bishop de Goësbriand’s motto, God will provide, in their quest to educate children. Religious sisters were invited to take part in establishing and operating these schools for many years in this diocese and are credited with fostering many vocations to the priesthood and religious life – a visible sign of God’s blessing on parishes. Although many schools closed long ago for financial or other reasons, the most important subject taught on the purpose of life – to know, love, and serve God – will not be forgotten.

Kathleen Messier is the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington. For more information, email Archives@vermontcatholic.org.

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