For me, “back to school” means teaching British literature at Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School. I am rather a newcomer to Catholic education, but its long and interesting history in Montgomery dates from 1873. Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School is the oldest continuous non-public K-12 school in Alabama.
The Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross came to Montgomery in 1873 to start a school for girls. The sisters intended to begin their school immediately, but a yellow fever epidemic was sweeping the city, so they unselfishly postponed their school opening, provided a place for the ill, eased the dying, and nursed victims back to health. This endeared them to Montgomery’s residents. The sisters bought the Perley Gerald House, a classic Greek Revival style mansion built circa 1851 on the southeast corner of South Lawrence and Adams Streets. It was across the street from St. Peter’s Catholic Church. The spacious home was three stories and featured a ballroom, parlors, dining rooms, and bedrooms. They converted it into a convent and school – the St. Mary’s of Loretto Academy.
Then, as now, many non-Catholic students were enrolled. Current Montgomery residents still remember going into the large antebellum mansion and being awed by its elegance. One of my friends remembers that the sisters who passed into the next life were placed in one of the parlors for a day’s viewing and remembrance before internment.
An archival document describes a built-in vault with an iron-studded door accessible only through the use of a large iron key. Gerald used the vault for “personal wealth.” According to local legend, during Montgomery’s occupation in the Civil War, federal officers used it to hoard “company treasures.” The document goes on to state that the sisters used the vault “to conceal dust rags,” leaving the modern reader to wonder at the need for such a measure. The sisters continued educating the spirits and minds of young people at that location until 1962.
In 1890, the sisters constructed a Victorian building next to the Gerald home, called the “Annex,” for classroom space. In 1938, the sisters built what was known as “the little red school house” on the site of Gussie Woodruff’s home and school. A new high school building, described by the Montgomery Advertiser as a “trim modern brick building,” was constructed at Adams and South McDonough, next to St. Peter’s Catholic Church and diagonally across from the Gerald House. It opened on January 12, 1952.
In 1962, the Gerald Mansion was condemned. Father Powell led a building campaign and constructed the high school at its current location on Vaughn Road in 1965. The original entire block where the Gerald Mansion and school stood is now occupied by the Montgomery County Courthouse and the Phelps-Price Justice Center.
Today, Montgomery Catholic Preparatory High School continues to serve students in Montgomery by teaching, loving, guiding, and molding them into “persons of faith, virtue, and wisdom.” Three campuses offer programs from kindergarten to twelfth grade: St. Bede’s Elementary on Atlanta Highway, the Middle School and High School on Vaughn Road, and the brand new Holy Spirit school, also on Vaughn Road.
So, its back to school, and although I will miss what the two months of summer provide for me – time with friends and family (furry and human), and writing time – I am still proud to be part of going back to school at Montgomery Catholic.
Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.