Category Archives: St. Joseph’s Academy

Our Four Campuses: Emmitsburg, Maryland

This is part one of a four-part series on the history of the four primary campuses in the Province, which correspond to the locations where the four provinces that formed the Province of St. Louise had their provincial houses:  Emmitsburg, MD; Albany, NY; Evansville, IN; and St. Louis, MO.

The foundation of the Emmitsburg campus, the oldest of the four campuses in the current Province of St. Louise, came from Mother Seton herself when she founded St. Joseph’s Free School.  Although this is applying the term anachronistically, the “campus” at the time would have consisted of the Stone House, where the Sisters lived when they first arrived, and the historic St. Joseph’s House, also called the White House.

Mary Jamison’s needlework of St. Joseph’s Academy in 1812, the oldest “photo” of the campus in the collection

As St. Joseph’s Free School developed into St. Joseph’s Academy, more buildings were added to the campus.  By 1902, when the Academy was re-incorporated as St. Joseph College, the campus featured classroom space, student dorm rooms, a library, art studios, living quarters and chapel for the Daughters, and an area for the Provincial Council, as well as a Seminary for the formation of the Sisters.

St. Joseph’s Academy, 1850

Between 1964 and 1965, the current St. Joseph’s House was built, allowing the Sisters, Seminary, and Council to move away from the College.  The move took place on September 12, 1964, with employees on hand to assist the Sisters in the move. 

The building’s original layout featured a central courtyard with four spokes:  “A Wing” was Seminary, “C Wing” the postulatum, “E Wing” the Council offices and Administration, and “K Wing” the Chapel and Shrine of the recently beatified Mother Seton.

The new Provincial House under construction, 1963, with the old campus in the background

In 1972, the Villa St. Michael, the Sisters retirement facility in Baltimore, permanently moved to the Provincial House in Emmitsburg, filling the top floors of rooms.  In 1975, with the canonization of Mother Seton, the process began to convert the Daughters’ chapel into a place of public veneration at the tomb of the Saint.  In 1979, the Seton Shrine Museum opened in its current location beneath the Basilica.

The large amount of downsizing that the Province and the campus had experienced after the 1960s allowed for the Daughters to begin to partner with good works in the area.  From 1992 to 1994, construction for St. Catherine’s Nursing Home took place, offering a home and care for the elderly that continues to this day.

In 2008, the Marian Center closed.  Having been created in 1953 to spread devotion to Mary, this ministry created Miraculous Medals and red and green Scapulars, along with the distribution of educational materials.

In 1998, the Seminary, now Interprovincial and covering all provinces of the United States, moved to Los Altos California (it has since moved to St. Louis). 

In 2011, the four provinces merged, and the modern iteration of the Provincial Archives was created.  Moving from their spot at the end of E-wing, the new repository made it one of the largest archives for a community of women religious in the country.  It opened to researchers in 2013

Touring the archival repository under construction, October 2012

In 2013, the Daughters sold A-Wing of the campus to Homes for America to create Seton Village, a series of low-income apartments for senior citizens, fulfilling a valuable need in Northern and Western Maryland. With E-wing now empty, in the early 2020s, the Daughters began talks to partner with Mount St. Mary’s University for a new home for their Physician’s Assistant program.  Sister Teresa George, the current Provincial Treasurer, discusses the collaboration on the Live Significantly podcast in the episode “Sister Teresa George:  Synergy.”

Other changes are coming to the Seton Shrine, as they expand their space on the campus to present high-quality historical and spiritual exhibitions on the life of the community’s American Foundress and the Sisters of Charity Federation communities.

The campus on a summer day, 2014

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St. Joseph’s School before St. Joseph’s Academy

The commitment to education of the American Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity dates to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s initiative for female education, begun in Baltimore in July 1808.  It took two years, however, for female education to become a primary mission of the Sisters of Charity in the form of St. Joseph’s School in Emmitsburg, MD.   

Invited by Rev. Louis William DuBourg, P.S.S., President of St. Mary’s College, the Widow Seton began a small boarding school for Catholic girls on Paca Street with the support of the Sulpician priests at St. Mary’s Seminary.  There she met Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a seminarian who was divesting himself of accumulated wealth in order to pursue his vocation to the priesthood.  He encouraged the widow to agree to direct an educational program on a property that he would purchase.

Pace Street House, Baltimore, c. 1890s

Located beyond the town limits of Emmitsburg, Cooper and the Sulpicians believed the setting to be ideal for an institution to educate girls, with nearby Mount St. Mary’s College providing education for boys. 

On June 22, 1809, Mother Seton arrived at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg with one of her daughters and a few of her companions; the rest of her children, early community members, and two pupils arrived a little more than a month later when the Stone House was ready for occupancy.  On July 31, 1809, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s officially began, and St. Joseph’s School became one of the first free Catholic schools for girls staffed by sisters in the United States.

As it became increasingly clear that funding was required, the school began admitting boarding students who paid tuition in May 1810.  These students came from the surrounding Frederick County and became the first boarding students. 

The school curriculum included grammar, spelling, reading, writing, geography, parsing, arithmetic, French, music, and fine sewing, etc.   All pupils received religious education and faith formation, according to their grade level.  Mother Seton wrote to her friend, Julia Scott, how her daughter Annina “studies French, Spanish and Italian with [the day students] under a mistress who is sweetness and modesty itself”

After St. Joseph’s School became St. Joseph’s Academy in 1828, the school continued to teach “day scholars” from the surrounding area for free up until 1870.  When operating costs began to hinder this practice, the Sisters still offered discounts and worked to find ways for students to afford tuition when they needed it. 

St. Joseph’s School and, later, St. Joseph’s Academy, were not parochial schools but Catholic schools sponsored and funded by the Sisters of Charity.  Saint John Neumann, CSsR, 4th bishop of Philadelphia, initiated Catholic parochial education when he established the first diocesan parochial school system in the United States in 1852.

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Voices of Students

 “Soon scenes may change, soon friends prove untrue

When for I rove, from dear Saint Josephs view

Yet naught can chase, thy image from my mind”

-From “Farewell to St. Joseph’s,” 1830, by “Remember Maria”

This is part of a yearlong series about the early days of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the community.  In 1850, the Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the international community of the French Daughters of Charity.

In many archives that gather administrative or corporate records, the voices of the people who used those services can be frustratingly absent. Luckily, the collection of St. Joseph’s Academy, the school founded by Mother Seton and the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, features many of the voices of students, including their creations and their writings. 

Some of the earliest examples of students’ surviving works include their needlework samplers, several of which come from the era when Mother Seton directly ran the Academy before her death in January 1821. 

Needlework by Mary Jamison, July 1812, St. Joseph’s Academy Student, 1810-1813

While the number of surviving student mementos from Mother Seton’s era are limited, they become more voluminous as time goes on until St. Joseph’s Academy received a charter as St. Joseph College in 1902.  Other markers of the students’ work include “premiums,” which are what would be called in the modern day certificates of achievement or small awards for top performers in the class in different subjects.

Premium earned by A.C.A. Grace, June 30th, 1825
Later programs listed out all premiums. This one is from 1854

Other materials in the archives contain some more direct creations from students of the Academy.  Although we refer to it as “Sr. Joannah Hickey’s Journal,” this small volume dated 1830 contains writings from a variety of individuals.  It includes the complete version of the poem at the start of this post.

“Farewell to St. Joseph’s,” by “Remember Maria,” 1830

The Sister Mary Raphael Smith Scrapbook contains similar pieces, written by Smith herself, other sisters, and students of the Academy.  Sister Mary Raphael had been a student at the Academy before becoming a Sister; she later became Directress of the school.  In addition to poetry, the scrapbook contains accounts of events that occurred in the Academy between the 1830s and the 1890s.

Accounts of the death of Father Burlando, by Sister Madeleine O’Brien, Mary Huneker, and others

A handful of these additional “Scrapbooks” from the Academy exist across the middle of the 19th century.  Other materials address the education provided by the Academy more directly.  Katherine McDonough’s lecture notes from 1899 show an average day of education in science, geology, and grammar.

The students of the Academy also contributed to a display of their schoolwork for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Art and Schoolwork displayed at Chicago World’s Fair

In addition to a lucky genealogist looking for an Academy student-ancestor who may stumble upon their ancestor’s writing or work, the collection provides a valuable tool of the community and its earliest mission in the United States, along with a picture of education during this time period.

St. Joseph’s Academy on the true lawn tennis court

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