A Short History of St. Mary's Academy
Shared at December 5, 2004 Dedication
The Sisters of the Holy Cross arrived in Alexandria just after the Civil War. The first house, on North Fairfax Street, had been a hospital for Union soldiers. At Grant’s request, many of the sisters had served as nurses for both Union and Confederate soldiers and sailors during the war.
St. Mary’s Academy began on Prince Street and by 1870 there were 6 teaching sisters, 4 boarders and 86 elementary and high school students. Its reputation spread and its enrollment grew. In 1913 Mother Vincentia, Eleanor Fannon, was appointed principal of her alma mater. Her success was evidenced by the fact that she cancelled the debt, improved the plant, affiliated with Catholic University, won Virginia accreditation and increased enrollment.
When the Xaverian Brothers’ school closed, St. Mary’s became coed for 5 years. During WWII the government needed the Prince St. property for a nurses’ training center and St. Mary’s moved to Mt. Ida on Russell Road, the former estate of state Senator Floyd King. While the school was being built, the Baptist church across the street invited us to use their building for classes. The land on which the white house and school stood had extended to the Potomac River. It was part of a land grant the king of England had given Captain Joseph Alexander, the city’s founder. Bishop Peter Ireton officiated at its dedication.
In 1964 Bishop Ireton was opened, staffed by Salesian priests. The two schools collaborated when the girls participated in Gar Whaley’s excellent band and wind ensemble and the boys came to St. Mary’s to join Sister Rose Anthony’s choral group. Both schools have a tradition of excellence and have won many awards.
When Connie Southard and Steve Maczynski coached the Organization of American States competition, St. Mary’s won the best delegation every year. Parents were amazed at what they knew about remote places like St. Lucie’s and other South American countries. We were elated with them when they came running up the hill after a competition singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” They developed an interest in these countries similar to the enthusiasm Ireton students now have for Haiti.
In spite of its proud traditions, with the sisters going into more diversified ministries, and because the building was inadequate for current trends in education and athletics, we closed our doors reluctantly. Once the decision was made, however, everyone at Ireton and St. Mary’s threw themselves into the so-called “merger” with enthusiasm. When we went over to Ireton for joint meetings immediately after school, we weren’t surprised to find that the girls had already beat us over. Father Metzger, Marguerite Scafati and Sr. Anne Mae Golden skillfully facilitated the transition, and we could not have been welcomed with more genuine warmth and enthusiasm by the Ireton community.
Happily, that spirit of collaboration still exists today.