First 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?

St. Mary Academy, 1886-1969, Island Pond

In 1884, St. James the Greater Church welcomed the newly-ordained Father Cleophas D. Trottier as its next pastor. One of his first objectives was to open a school and convent and within two years, five religious sisters arrived from St. Hyacinthe, Québec. The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, a religious order of women founded in France, established their first permanent mission – St. Mary Convent and School – in the United States in Island Pond at the invitation of Bishop Louis de Goësbriand and Father Trottier. St. Mary’s Academy opened on Aug, 26, 1886, with more than 130 students enrolled at the time and 203 students by the end of that first academic year. At the time, the St. James community consisted of Irish and French-Canadian families, but St. Mary’s was also a boarding school to accommodate students who lived a great distance away.

In 1887, a wing was added to the school to accommodate a new chapel which was blessed under the title of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first public graduation took place in 1909 and the first high school class graduated in 1922. A small group of students continued to graduate each year, having received rigorous instruction in prescribed academic subjects as well as the Catholic faith. St. Mary’s educational system was designed to aid its students to adapt themselves to the real world by incorporating habits in industry, fair play, cooperation and sociability into the curriculum.

In June 1944, St. Mary’s Academy received accreditation from the State of Vermont Board of Education and was ranked among other schools throughout Vermont for the exceptional work accomplished by the teachers and students. Due to declining enrollment, the high school portion of St. Mary’s closed in 1955. The sisters remained at St. Mary’s until the last eighth-grade class to graduate in 1969, when St. Mary’s was closed.

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

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