In the north-west part of Washington DC, there was a school that educated and housed girls who had nowhere else to turn. Founded in 1868 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the school’s focus was girls from the ages of 14 to 18 who were orphans and in need of educational and spiritual guidance. In 1928, the head of the school, Sr. Mary Gabriel, said that “children from 14 to 18 years of age need loving care and supervision more than at any other period in their lives. Their lifetime habits and characteristics begin to crystalize during this formative period”. The Sisters of Charity directed every aspect of the girls’ lives, from their studies to their spiritual growth to their recreational activities. This guided approach was implemented in order to “make of them capable self-respecting Christian women”. When the school year was not in session, the Sisters would take the girls to Camp Saint Rose in Mayo, Maryland. The students would be able to go to the beach, play games, and enjoy some well-deserved rest.
Celebrating Mass in their chapel, Rosa Mystica, a number of chaplains served the community and school until its closing in June of 1946. The first chaplain was Cardinal Bonaventure Cerretti, who started his service at the school in 1910 until 1916 when Archbishop John A. Floersch, D.D. took over. The student newspaper recounted an amusing anecdote from the inaugural cleric, quoting “that Monsignor C[h]eretti confessed his real motive in stopping to offer his services was an ‘honest-to-goodness’ breakfast”. Other chaplains who served the school were Bishop George Leo Leech, D.D., J.C.D., Rt. Rev. Msgr. Francis Edward Hyland, Bishop Leo Binz, and Very. Rev. Msgr. Donald M. Carroll, J.C.D. Not only would the priests celebrate Mass for the students and Sisters, but they would also celebrate the sacrament of marriage for students who had found love.
Many of the girls who attended St. Rose’s Technical School went on to lead successful personal and professional lives! Some got married, so entered the religious vocation and some continued their education. Examples of the schools that St. Rose’s graduates went on to study at St. Joseph’s, Dunbarton College, and Trinity College. Many of the students also went on to become nurses at Providence Hospital, St. Agnes Hospital, and Jenkins Hospital.
As time went on though, enrollment dropped. There was an effort to bring in “day students” who would not be living at the school, but who could participate in the institution’s stellar academics program. In a letter written to Archbishop Curley of Baltimore in 1945, Sister Serina, the President of St. Rose’s Technical School, laid out the predicament that faced the school: “At present, however, our registration is much smaller than in former years, people are better able to provide for their children and demands for total care of adolescent girls are fewer. In light of these and other impinging factors, superiors of our community have suggested that we offer our excellent school facilities to other girls who could not afford the higher tuition elsewhere”. Although this plan was approved by Archbishop Curley, it did not last very long. The Community Chest, the organization that helped fund the school, approved the plans to accept day students (for the price of $10 a month!) but soon expressed concerns about the growing cost to fund the burgeoning student population. At a special meeting held on January 21 of 1947, it was decided to shut down the school and transfer the property to St. Ann’s Infant Home. In a letter to the Director of the Community Chest, the Sisters echo the reasons for the decline in attendance and the closure of the school, “due largely to Social Security and other forms of government endowment, combined with the fact that girls today are equipped at an earlier age to meet life’s problems”. With these daunting social and economic changes, the school was officially shut down on July 25, 1947. The Sisters who worked at the school were sent to serve in other ministries and the remaining girls who could not support themselves were transferred to Saint Vincent’s Home.
St. Rose’s Technical School operated for less than 80 years, but in that time the Sisters made a significant impact on the lives of young orphan girls. With no other place to go, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul nurtured and taught generations of future nurses, professionals, Sisters, wives, and mothers. To learn more about the impact of St. Rose’s Technical School, please read Dr. Maria Mazzenga’s blog post on the scrapbook that the students put together during World War II.
For more information, check out our Finding Aid on Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC!