St. Mary’s Academy began on Prince Street and by 1870 there were 6 teaching Holy Cross 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 WW II 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 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.
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,the School reluctantly closed its doors. 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 the SMA students were welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm by the Ireton community. Happily, that spirit of collaboration still exists today.