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Education: Why Is This Former School Still So Important?

By Sarah Varner Harris
Director of Advancement

June is the month when many families with children are focused on the end of school. But for hundreds of women who were once students at the Academy of the Holy Names in Silver Spring, Maryland, anticipation is building for a new beginning stemming from a long-ago ending.

My mother and her five sisters graduated from the Academy, and my aunt – Anne Patrick, SNJM – is a Holy Names Sister who taught there in the early 1970s. Even though the Academy closed in 1988, the bond between its graduates and between faculty and students remains powerful. So imagine the excitement they’ve been feeling ever since plans began to circulate for a reunion this coming October, around the Feast of Blessed Marie Rose.

Why is this old school so important to its alumnae, long after they’ve moved forward with their lives?

The Academy of the Holy Names, like all SNJM institutions, overflowed with a spirit of possibility. Students learned to embrace their potential as young women, empowered to be a positive force for social justice, then and now. And they were inspired, then and now, to carry forward the heritage bestowed by Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Names. An article published in the Washington Post when the school closed quoted then-senior Mary Spidle saying, “All the values they taught us will not die. There will be a little bit of Holy Names in all of us.”

It’s also easy to fall in love with the unique history of the place. Our SNJM Archives contain stories about how the Sisters and their first students crowded together in their small building, forming “a cozy hominess and for the Sisters, a personal interest in their pupils.” They taught, nurtured and fed their students like family. One account says that after the Sisters opened a high school on the site, “some former students who entered our Community declared that their first attraction to us was the delectable aroma that wafted in to their classrooms from the kitchen.”

In colonial times, the land that would eventually become the Academy was granted by the King of England to Charles Carroll, who later signed the Declaration of Independence. Ownership changed hands several times before the Sisters purchased it in 1933; according to legend, its first house (which became the convent) was once the site of a soiree where President Abraham Lincoln danced, and it served as a “station” on the Underground Railroad for enslaved people escaping to the North.

Our alumnae know their lives were profoundly shaped by the Sisters of the Holy Names, and they can’t wait to greet their former classmates and teachers again. Their education isn’t over. Their part in the story is still unfolding. They are still making new beginnings.

Photo credit: Archives, SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province