Into the heart of the Commonwealth

By Sisters Ann Morrison, Barbara Collins, Evelyn McKenna, Marna Rogers, and Sandra Napier, SNDdeN

Long before 1950, when the Diocese of Worcester became separate from the Diocese of Springfield, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur expanded into the center of Massachusetts to open many Catholic schools. The founding, education, and caregiving were critical to meeting the needs of the growing population. While many of these early institutions have since closed, the impact of the sisters' legacy continues.

Ascension Elementary and Secondary Schools – 1874-1972

"The Heart of the Commonwealth" greeted the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur for the first time in August 1872, when the first community took possession of the Bigelow House on Vernon Street, set up as a convent under the direction of the pastor of St. John Parish. The sisters took charge of the Sunday School, which numbered 700 girls. On the first school day, 300 pupils were registered, and the numbers increased rapidly as the population in central Massachusetts grew. The student numbers at Ascension multiplied to more than 600 girls. Ninety-eight years later, practically to the day when the first Sisters of Notre Dame had settled on Vernon Hill, Ascension High School was phased out. The Sisters of Notre Dame and the lay staff provided a sustained and caring program for the children from all the city's neighborhoods who attended.

Julie Country Day School, Leominster – 1930-2006

In December 1930, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur purchased the Ewing Estate in Leominster to supplement the Notre Dame du Lac facilities. Villa Immaculata functioned as a convalescent home for the sisters, offering the benefits of rest and education in the summer. Julie Country Day School opened in September 1943 with 15 pupils. In January 1945, a good friend of the community gave the sisters a house on his adjoining property and 15 acres of land as a gift. After World War II, a new Julie Country Day School took form, and construction was completed in 1955. Sadly, due to multiple factors, the school closed in 2006. The land and property are owned today by the Trustees of the Reservation.

Our Lady of the Angels – 1947

As new parishes developed after World War II, pastors invited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to teach Sunday School and open Catholic schools in their area. The Sisters at Ascension schools began the catechetical program for children at Our Lady of the Angels (OLA), which grew into a parish school, one of the first elementary schools in Worcester to offer French for the fourth and fifth grades and Spanish for the seventh and eighth grades. OLA also became a center for the new approach to Catechesis and the Confraternity of Christian Education (CCD). OLA continues today with the mission and vision of St. Julie Billiart, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Notre Dame Academy, Worcester – 1951

In 1951, at the request of Worcester's first Catholic bishop, Bishop John Wright, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur purchased 13 acres of the former Ellis Estate on Salisbury Street to establish a convent and Notre Dame Academy (NDA) for girls. In September 1951, classes opened, and seven seventh and 27 ninth graders were in attendance. Through the years, mothers' guilds, their school board, local trusts and foundations provided tremendous financial support, allowing NDA to utilize all the buildings on their property in the service of education. The alumnae of Ascension High School have remained valued contributors in honor of the education they received from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. One program, Love in Action, has become a hallmark of Notre Dame Academy's educational programming. It originated in the early 1970s and continues to flourish today. Over the years, NDA students have volunteered with older adults, children, differently-abled individuals, religious education programs, and many other areas. Class sharing of the "best" and the "most challenging" aspects of each project enables the students to learn from the reflections of their peers.

St. Mary School, Shrewsbury – 1961

After years of traveling six miles each way to Mass at St Ann in Worcester, in the summer of 1868, the Irish Catholics in Shrewsbury could finally attend Mass locally in a private home. Later, other parishes were erected in the surrounding area, providing additional places to worship. St. Mary Church began in 1952, and after years of planning, St. Mary School was established in 1961 by Father Lynch. He requested the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to "provide a parish school rich in educational excellence." Since its founding, the school has maintained this high standard while educating and nurturing all aspects of a child's development.


Articles in the Pilot
Read more articles from The Boston Pilot about the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and their enduring legacy of 175 years in New England.