Villa Maria celebrates 125 years

This year’s International Day of Peace celebration had a little more meaning for the students and faculty at Villa Maria Academy.

The school’s peace celebration, which was held on Tuesday, September 22, also marked the 125th anniversary of the founding of the school.

To celebrate peace and the founding of the institution, students gathered for a special assembly in the gymnasium. They sang songs and read prayers before stepping into the sunshine on the track field, where kids decorated the fence along the waterfront with large, plastic daises.

“It’s an important year for the school, and we could not have done this without the support of the community and parents over the past 125 years,” Sr. Teresa Barton, principal of the school, said. “It is a testament to the teachers, families and students.”

The school was founded in 1886 by the sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, a Montreal order, which was founded in the 1700s by French immigrants fleeing to Canada from war-torn France.

While the first school occupied a building in upper Manhattan, the academy moved to its facility in Country Club in 1928.

In 1968 it became exclusively a middle school after graduating its last high school class, and in 1976 the academy, which had been an all-girls establishment, began accepting male students.

According to Sr. Stacey Hanrahan, mission effectiveness coordinator for the congregation in the U.S., the academy is one of the oldest schools founded by the congregation that is still operating.

While the first schools were started in Canada, now the congregation operates academies in El Salvador, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Cameroon and France.

“We’re very proud of the Villa,” she said as she watched the students tie white plastic ribbons around the yellow centers of daisies. “Today the congregation sees our schools as real mission centers for educating children, and for adult outreach on how to live the gospel in today’s world.”

Because the original congregation was established as the French immigrants were escaping war, the academy is dedicated to peace and holds a Peace Day celebration each year.

“The congregation came from Canada to the United States during the American Civil War, as well, and now we’re celebrating our history of working for peace,” she said. “That’s why we’re celebrating the anniversary this day. It brings that out.”

For the rest of the year the academy will be celebrating the significant anniversary with community events and gala benefits, said development director Ann Eduardo.

“It’s a pleasure to be a part of this milestone,” she said.

“And we’re happy to have had such a beautiful day for it, too.”

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