Mount de Sales Academy readies performing arts center

A rendering shows the Mount de Sales Academy Center for Performing Arts and Student Life. (Courtesy Rubeling & Associates, a Division of Johnson Mirmiran & Thompson Inc.)

CATONSVILLE – Maria Rew and Monica Slattery, sophomores at Mount de Sales Academy, spent a substantial chunk of winter afternoons off campus.

A musician and dancer/singer, respectively, they lent their talents to “Matilda the Musical,” a production Mount de Sales staged Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at Mount St. Joseph High School.

Some road shows such as that, however, will soon be a thing of the past for the all-girls’ high school, where a Center for Performing Arts and Student Life is under construction.

Scheduled to open in 2021, it will have an auditorium with 400 fixed seats; room for 200 more on a mezzanine that can be converted into a smaller lecture hall and performance space; a multipurpose area for dance; and other instructional spaces, some soundproofed.

“To have our own space to explore our art, that gives you a different experience,” said Isabelle Somma, a soprano and fellow “Matilda” contributor who hopes to be in the center before her graduation in 2021.

Somma came to Mount de Sales from Sacred Heart School in Glyndon. Rew, a graduate of St. Louis School in Clarksville, and Slattery, a parishioner of St. Peter the Apostle in Libertytown who attended Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City, will have a little longer to soak up the new surroundings.

An arts center has been part of the school’s master plan since the late 1990s. Despite COVID-19 shutting down the campus to students and lay teachers, it is taking shape on a slope beneath the main building, alongside the convent, structures which juxtapose the school’s past and promise.

The Mount De Sales Academy honors chorus rehearses March 12 in a lower-level space in the main building, construction of which began in 1852. (Kevin J. Parks/ CR Staff)

The main building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was begun in 1852, when Visitation Sisters founded the school. According to Father Michael Roach, emeritus board of trustee and Archdiocese of Baltimore historian, it was the largest structure in Baltimore County, “even larger than the newly constructed courthouse in Towson.”

Father Roach estimates that the campus was close to 75 acres when it was founded. Now it’s closer to 12 acres, and every square foot appears to be utilized, outside and in, as student lockers occupy an area on the lower level of the main building that served as a carriage way in the horse-and-buggy days.

In the early 1980s, enrollment dipped as low as 201, but then the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville arrived, with a new charism and energy. Phase I of a capital campaign included a new convent, which opened in 2011. Mount de Sales began the current school year with 488 students, and a Sept. 28 groundbreaking for the arts center.

“This is a historic day,” said Sister Mary Raymond, principal. “The arts form culture, and culture forms us. I am so proud of that our young women will now have their own space … to grow and flourish through their participation in the arts.”

They’ve been making do in the main building, where the Chapel of St. Francs de Sales was expanded in the summer of 2018. Similarly, visual and performing arts have been studied and mastered in retrofitted areas.

The arts center is part of the capital campaign’s Phase III. It will cost approximately $10 million.

Deacon Mark Cohagan, director of operations for the school, said the new arts center will include dressing rooms and a design shop, but once it opens, some traditions are not going to change.

“On the ‘A’ side of the (main) building, the stairs are worn, but you know some of those footsteps contributed to the art done by students,” said Rew, of the class of 2022. “Once we’re on our own stage, we’ll continue to produce our own work, just like students in the future.”

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen

Paul McMullen has served as the managing editor of the Catholic Review since 2008.

The author of two books, Paul has been involved in local media since age 12, when he began delivering The News American to 80 homes in his neighborhood. He began his journalism career with the Capital-Gazette Newspapers in Anne Arundel County, and spent more than 25 years as a sports writer for The Sun in Baltimore. His favorite writing assignments have included the Summer Olympics in Australia and Greece, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and “Feet for Francis,” a 2015 walking pilgrimage from the Baltimore Basilica to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.