HISTORY OF MOST PURE HEART OF MARY SCHOOL
Most Pure Heart of Mary School has had an interesting and complex history. First known as St. Anthony School, it was attached to St. Anthony Mission Parish. In 1902 the Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia, known as the Glen Riddle Franciscans, arrived to assume school responsibility.
The parish had begun two years earlier, in 1900, served by the Josephite Fathers of Baltimore, Maryland. The first structure, a frame building at the comer of Sengstak and Chestnut streets provided for a combination church and school.
As enrollment increased, a branch of the school named St. Bernard was opened in a small frame building at Davis Avenue and Ann Street.
In 1908, the building of a new church at the northeast comer of Davis Avenue and Sengstak Street was begun by Father Francis Tobin, S.S.J., and was completed by Father Rebescher S.S.J., in 1910. The Sisters of the Holy Ghost’ arrived in 1911 and remained until 1943. Under Father Rebescher and the Holy Ghost Sisters the high school began its 57 year span of life.
The high school was opened in the building that had previously provided living quarters for the Sisters. The Sisters simply moved upstairs and converted the first floor into classrooms. In 1920, the first graduates were four young ladies.
In 1926, a donation of $2500.00 from a Miss McGill of Springhill gave the impetus to start planning for a new school. The affable Father John Albert, S.S.J., engaged the service of contractor-parishioner, Nathanial Henningburg, and the construction of a two-story brick building was completed in 1929 for the sum of $37,500. St. Bernard, the annex school was closed.
The second floor of the new building provided classrooms for the high school students and the first floor provided classrooms for the grade school pupils. At the request of Bishop Thomas J. Toolen, and invitation of Father Vincent Warren, S.S.J., the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (Wisconsin) replaced the Holy Spirit Sisters who departed in 1943 after 32 years of service. Eight sisters were assigned, four for the high school and four for the grade school. Five lay teachers also staffed the high school. Enrollment had increased to 400 pupils In grade school and 171 students in high school.
To solve the problem of overcrowded classrooms in the primary department, kindergarten was ‘moved to a small cottage next to what is now the priest’s rectory.
The Elks of Mobile chose the Heart of Mary School Band to participate in their national convention in Chicago in July 1944. The organization raised the funds to take 45 band members to Chicago, providing chaperons and places for the students to stay.
Achievements made academically in the diocesan testing programs gave great satisfaction to teachers, parents, and children. Athletic prowess was demonstrated by the pupils as they took part in athletic contests and carried home trophies and ribbons for excellence. Participation in such events as the Christ the King celebration, Mardi Gras, and Field Day brought joy and a sense of “belonging” to the students.
Father Ed Norton, S.S.J., met the challenge to expand the school capacity by hiring Mr. Remus Glaude to construct what are now the cafeteria and eight classrooms. With the completion of the new building in 1956, the high school was given additional space in the two-story building.
During the tenure of Father Charles McOsker, S.S.J., a formal letter came from Bishop Toolen in 1964 ordering the integration of all Catholic schools in the diocese of Mobile. A plan to integrate McGill-Toolen High School was presented, precipitating the closure of Most Pure Heart of Mary High School after 57 years of quality education, the phasing out of a productive, successful high school that had meant so much to so many.
Project Opportunity, a program directed toward preparing culturally isolated, yet talented youths for admission to higher education, was introduced at this school in 1964. The program was spearheaded locally by Springhill College and the Diocese of Mobile, but the major financial assistance came from the Ford and Danforth Foundations. In order to further the integration of the Catholic High School in Mobile, Most Pure Heart of Mary High School closed in 1968.
This was a mixed blessing. It gave additional space to the grade school, making it possible to introduce the upgrading of the language arts program and the teaching of math skills; but many were sad to see the high school close.
Title 1 Reading and ESAA Programs were introduced into the grade school, giving supplementary help in reading and mathematics. Father Robert Sullivan, S.S.J. (1980-86) taught advanced math to many Heart of Mary students and motivated them to excel.
Father William Norvel, S.S.J., the first African-American pastor arrived in 1987. The Dominican Sisters withdrew in 1989. A diocesan study group recommended that the school be closed in 1990. Archbishop Lipscomb vetoed he recommendation after considering a plea by Father Norvel and twelve parishioners.
The courage and wisdom of the Archbishop in giving our school a new life was soon vindicated. Ms. Wanda Johnson served as principal for one year. Dr. Legrant Wright and alumnus James Prichard became principal and assistant principal respectively. They stabilized the school.
Father Charles Moffat arrived in 1991.With the return of the Franciscan Sisters in 1993, enrollment rose to 225 (1999) with the strong support of the development office and Alumni support.
On April 8, 2003, Father Stephen F. Brett, S.S.J., and Sister Nancy Crossen, O.S.F., principal initiated the beginning of a Development Advisory Board. Its role is to coordinate the fundraising activities of our many parish and parish-related organizations to support Heart of Mary School so that the goal of a monthly fundraiser could be achieved. Sister Francine McDermott, O.S.F., served as the coordinator of the Development Advisory Board, linking the church, school, parents, teachers, administrators and interested volunteers in this effort to help Most Pure Heart of Mary School survive.
In 2002, the school received a five year accreditation from SACS, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Renewal of this accreditation is contingent upon the school refurbishing the Library or constructing a new one at a cost of approximately $100,000.00 and also upgrading the sidewalk which is approximately another $60,000.00.
In 2004 there were 215 students enrolled representing a cross-section of the black community here in Mobile. The Heart of Mary Community hopes that the school will continue and prosper; that the quality of education will continue to be the best, graduating young people who will seek further education and eventually enrich their lives and the lives of those with whom they come in contact.
In 2007, The African-American Heritage Trail of Mobile permanently installed a bronze plaque for public viewing, memorializing the significant historical events involving Most Pure Heart of Mary School located on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue. A dedication ceremony was held on Sunday May 27, 2007, with Ms. Barbara Drummond representing Mayor Samuel L. Jones. Councilman William Carroll was also in attendance.
The plaque will help preserve and share with others the rich colorful history of Most Pure Heart of Mary School.
The Inscription on the Plaque reads:
“1 Thes 1:3 SEAL OF THE CITY OF MOBILE
Organized in 1899 as St. Anthony’s Mission by Creoles of African descent. By 1901, Josephite priests, Rev. Joseph S1. Laurent and Rev. Louis Pastorelli had established a small school. The present church was completed in 1908 and dedicated as Most Pure Heart of Mary, honoring the Blessed Mother. ‘The parish and school were spiritual beacons during the Civil Rights Movement, hosting meetings for the Neighborhood Organized Workers -NOW. Diocesan priests and nuns participated in boycotts and marches in support of the Black community. The Parish continues as a spiritual home for Mobile’s Black Catholics. The African-American Heritage Trail of Mobile”
Most Pure Heart of Mary School received an Exemplary’StatusAccreditationin2007 from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
SACS, a representative body of the College Delegate Assembly, is responsible for the accreditation of all school in eleven Southern states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The Basketball team, The Lions, has been the Mobile City champions for two consecutive years.
The 7th and 8th graders have been participating in a National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) project involving the tracking of ozone levels in the City of Mobile.
Grades K -3 participated in the Alabama Reading First initiative ARFI and have been ranked four percent higher than other school in reading for the past three years.
Most, Pure Heart of Mary, Established 1902
Keep the School alive Remember it in Your Will