A Rebirth For An Old School

St. Ann's School Building In East Baltimore Is Readied As New Home For Mother Seton Academy

May 11, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

It has the look of a classic urban parochial school: no-frills architecture, granite walls and stairs pounded by saddle shoes.

And now, nearly four decades after the last pupil at what was then St. Ann's School closed a composition notebook, the three-story building at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street is being readied to accept a new school.

Some of Baltimore's best-known philanthropists and charities - led by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and his wife, Renee - have donated $7 million to renovate the building to accommodate Mother Seton Academy, a 15-year-old school now housed in a Fells Point convent. The school will move in July, and students will arrive Aug. 24.

The arrival of a school known for its academics and high graduation rate is seen as an anchor of hope for the East Baltimore neighborhood, where St. Ann's School closed in the early 1970s.

"It is a mission that sells itself," said Sister Charmaine Krohe, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and president of Mother Seton Academy. She helped raise the money for the tuition-free school that readies at-risk middle schools students for admission to high schools.

"Every time I visit the new school, I'm overwhelmed by the space and the opportunity to network in the area," she said. "We are looking to help revitalize a neighborhood that has been struggling for decades."

In addition to the Bisciottis, the Weinberg, France-Merrick, Bunting, Knott, Rouse, Linehan, Lawless, Batza, O'Neil, Sheridan and Columbia Vending foundations made financial pledges.

The school sits just north of a Baltimore landmark: St. Ann's Church, with its green steeple and ship's iron anchor, a relic of a 19th-century ship captain who prayed for safe deliverance during a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. His prayers answered, he paid for the church.

The old school building - its cornerstone was dedicated by Cardinal James Gibbons in 1887 - is being hammered and nailed, skim-coated and reglazed, all to make way for an extended day program described as providing "a holistic education to at-risk students in order to prepare them for future success in high school, college, and the work force."

"It's like a miracle," said Sister Jeanne Barasha, the St. Ann's parish administrator, who taught religion in the old parochial school from 1968 to 1969. "The building became a men's shelter for so many years, and I thought it would be that forever."

Mother Seton Academy, founded and backed financially by several Roman Catholic religious orders - Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Scranton, Pa., Daughters of Charity, Xaverian Brothers and the Marianists - is leaving Fells Point after a plan to house it in the old St. Stanislaus Church on South Ann Street proved too costly.

"We needed to move but had to stay in an area ... our students could reach by bus," Krohe said. "Our school speaks to the need of the city."

The academy has a maximum of 72 students, all on scholarship, who are chosen after a rigorous admissions process. Some 87 percent are African-American and 13 percent are Hispanic.

The school has class sizes of no more than 15 students. Krohe described a "rigorous academic curriculum" that uses guest speakers and field trips and focuses on values, service and respect. Students arrive at the school at 7:45 a.m. and remain until 5 p.m. There is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner program.

"We knew in God's time the right thing would happen," said Barasha, the parish administrator. "The thought of the school reverting to its original use is exciting."

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