Then and now: St. Mary’s Elementary School celebrates 150 years


By Robert L. Worden

Special to the Review 

As St. Mary’s Elementary School in Annapolis celebrates 150 years (1862-2012) parish archivist Robert L. Worden reflects on the history of the school.

St. Mary’s Elementary School in Annapolis opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 29, 1862. There had been earlier efforts at Catholic education in Annapolis, but this was the first permanent school operation for St. Mary’s Parish. The school was initiated by Father Francis X. Seelos, C.Ss.R. (now Blessed Francis X. Seelos), pastor of St. Mary’s and rector of the Redemptorist seminary then located in Annapolis. The first teacher was Miss Josephine O’Donoughue, the sister of one of the seminarians. The school then, as it is now, was open to members of other faiths and emphasis was placed on “morals of the pupils” and “prompt obedience to the rules of the school.” Classes were held in St. Mary’s old church on Duke of Gloucester Street. This church was built in 1822 on land provided by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose birthplace and long-time home is on St. Mary’s property. The church was converted to a parish hall after the new church was dedicated in 1860. To make additional room for the new school, a second story was added inside the former church. Miss O’Donoughue lived in an attached house. By 1866 a free school for African American children of any faith also had been established at St. Mary’s under the direction of the Redemptorists.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame took charge of St. Mary’s schools, both for white and black children, in 1867. Their presence as teachers and administrators continues to the present day, except for a brief interlude in 1872–73 during which time the Sisters of Mercy ran the school. A new building (St. Mary’s Hall) was completed on the site of the old school in 1880 and continues in use today as St. Mary’s Primary Building. Between 1877 and 1882, the sisters also operated the Institute for Young Ladies, a private school for white girls in the primary and upper grades. It was located in the Upton Scott House on Shipwright Street, which, by then, served as the sisters’ convent. Additions were made to St. Mary’s Hall in 1902, 1929, 1934, and 1942 but space constraints led to the completion of an additional elementary school building in 1956. The old school was renovated and modernized in 1979–80. A third building, devoted to arts and physical education, was dedicated in 1989.

St. Mary’s Catholic Colored School students attended classes in a separate building. A new mission church and school—St. Augustine’s—was established in Annapolis under the direction of the Redemptorists and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and African American students studied in the ground-story school from 1949 to 1957. The school was closed in June 1957 and the children attending St. Augustine’s were invited to transfer to the now-integrated St. Mary’s Elementary School the following September.

Enrollments in St. Mary’s School and St. Mary’s Catholic Colored School increased over the years as classroom space and faculty grew. More than 10,000 students have graduated from St. Mary’s elementary grades over the years. In 2012 there were 820 students enrolled in 28 classes from kindergarten to eighth grade. It is the fourth oldest parochial school still in operation in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.




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