Catonsville school marks 150 years

History: A couple gathered information from every nook and cranny to tell the story of Mount de Sales Academy.

January 18, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

The hand-painted ornithological prints that were hung around the bow-shaped Bird Room sparked Susan Randt's interest. But it was the cast-iron cemetery crosses that she and her husband, Richard, found on Mount de Sales Academy's 14-acre campus that spurred the Randts to take on the job of compiling the history of the all-girls school.

The couple, who live in Ellicott City, spent three years doing research. They visited the academy's archives, local libraries and basements, and they contacted alumni, their families, and members of the staff and faculty.

The result of those efforts is a 300-page hardcover book - An Academy of Every Virtue: A History of Mount de Sales Academy - that was published this month as part of the Catholic school's sesquicentennial celebration.

The Randts were helped by what they called "key recorders" of Mount de Sales, including Mary Teresa McKee Waggaman, an 1866 graduate, who was an author and poet; Grace Hausmann Sherwood of Catonsville, a writer and historian; and Linda Zimmerman, a 1969 graduate and former faculty member, and her husband, Russell Schumann, who researched the school's land acquisition and architectural history.

The Randts also credit the Rev. Michael J.P. Roach, a professor of church history at Mount St. Mary's College & Seminary and a priest at St. Bartholomew's Catholic Church in Manchester, with encouraging them to compile the book. Roach, who is president of the Mount de Sales board of trustees, has been associated with the Catonsville school for several decades.

"The Randts did a pretty thorough job," Roach said. "There were also 150 photographs that were included in the book. They deserve credit for what they did."

"Genealogy becomes a compulsion," said Richard Randt, a recently retired Department of Defense employee. "My wife and I started on family genealogy in 1985, then we started on this project. It became like family here at Mount de Sales."

The couple said they have explored every nook and cranny of the four-story school building. They point out the stained-glass windows in the chapel that came from France in 1884; the Jardine pipe organ from 1885; the trompe l'oeil on the two-story high ceiling in the music room; the glass-enclosed artifacts lining the hallway outside the library; and the cross atop the cupola.

The four-story Greek revival building, with its distinctive portico in the front and extensive ornamental wrought-iron porch railings in back, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The school opened in September 1852. It was founded by the Visitation nuns as a boarding school for 21 students. Today, Mount de Sales is a college preparatory school with 465 students.

The school nearly closed in 1969 after major financial problems and extensive renovations. But alumni, parents and students conducted fund-raising events and the school remained open.

The Visitation nuns ran the school until 1979, when it was purchased and administered by a board of trustees. In 1985, the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn., agreed to run the school.

The Randts' association with the school started in 1994, when their daughter, Justine, was accepted as a freshman. In 1998, the summer after her daughter graduated, Susan Randt and members of the Parents' Club cleaned and painted the Bird Room, once known as the little girls' playroom. It was renamed because of the 66 watercolor prints of birds by wildlife artist Rex Brasher hanging there.

The cast-iron crosses were discovered on the school grounds after the remains of the Visitation nuns were moved from the campus cemetery to the New Cathedral Cemetery on Edmondson Avenue.

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