From the start of the system through most of the 20th century, most students were taught primarily by religious sisters, whether in religious order schools, or in parish schools that were led and staffed by religious orders or congregations at the invitation of the pastors.
Religious orders also instituted schools, typically to serve a specific mission or population, such as Ursuline Academy, the all-girls school founded in 1850 that would later become Beaumont School, or Saint Ignatius High School, founded by the Jesuits in 1886 to educate boys.
Most of the earliest orders and congregations that served emigrated from Europe, such as the Ursulines, the Humility of Mary Sisters and the Sisters of Notre Dame. Others came from within the country, such as the Dominicans. The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine were founded in the diocese in 1851.
Then, like now, one of the most important parts of teaching is modeling, so the impact of the sisters and other religious cannot be overstated. These were educators so committed to their faith, they gave their lives to their vocation. Known for their high expectations, discipline and piety, these educators were role models who through their vocations lived and modeled joyful ministry. Their witness inspired other vocations and lifetimes of devotion, and their sacrifice helped make Catholic education attainable for nearly all who desired it.
For most of the 20th century, the Catholic school was the heart of the parish, which was an anchor in the community. The system of Catholic education that exists today was built by the vowed religious – especially sisters – who delivered the mission. These schools established the brand identity of excellence and mission, supported by parishioners for their families and the good of the parish.
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