Category Archives: St. Joseph’s Academy

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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Happy Anniversary!

Edward Augustus Seton, View of St. Joseph's Academy, 1825. Oil on canvas. Used with permission of the Provincial Archives

Edward Augustus Seton, View of St. Joseph’s Academy, 1826. Oil on canvas. Used with permission of the Provincial Archives

July 31 marks a double anniversary. Four years ago today the Province of St. Louise USA began from the former US provinces of Albany, Emmitsburg, Evansville, and St. Louis. On this day in 1809 St. Elizabeth Ann Seton began the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, in Emmitsburg, MD, on the same grounds which today house the Emmitsburg Campus of the Daughters of Charity and the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The photo shows an oil painting of the Emmitsburg grounds as they appeared in 1825. The building in the middle is Mother Seton’s White House, which can still be seen today.

“Well, my own troubles will teach me I hope, how to comfort others, and serve as the payment of some little part of the great debt I own.”
—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (C.W., vol. II, L 6.4, p. 78)

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