Academy of the Sacred Heart

On the corner of Eighth Street and Washington Avenue once stood a Catholic school and convent that taught thousands of students during its years of operation from 1874 to 1946. The Academy of the Sacred Heart received its name partially because the property on which it stood was purchased on June 12, 1874—the day of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

The academy’s origins lay in Namur, Belgium, through the Institute of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. The Cistercian Father Nicholas Joseph Minsart served as one of the founders, and he elected Sister Claire (originally Rosalie Niset) to preside over the community in Belgium following his death. In 1863, the now Mother Claire encouraged a group of Sisters of St. Mary of Namur to come to the United States to assist Catholic immigrant communities. The Sisters of St. Mary set up their first house in Lockport, New York. In 1873, at the request of Bishop Claude-Marie Dubuis of the Diocese of Galveston, a group of the Sisters moved from New York to Waco to start a house and establish a school. This would soon become the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

On October 1, 1873, the school opened in a residence at Sixth Street and Washington Avenue. The first Sisters of St. Mary to begin instructing at the Waco academy were Mother Emelie, Sister Mary Angela, and Sister Stanislaus. Although only three students attended that opening day, the school soon grew and the Sisters’ influence spread throughout the state. Within a year, the first brick was laid on what would become an impressive campus of Victorian-style brick structures that housed the academy for the rest of its existence.

Sacred Heart Academy was initially devoted to the education of girls, but the Waco academy—a day school offering first through twelfth grade—soon made exceptions. Sacred Heart allowed boys to attend grammar school through the eighth grade, reserving ninth through twelfth grade for young women. Only girls were allowed boarding privileges.

The academy welcomed students from non-Catholic denominations, too. The 1876 Waco city directory describes it as follows: “Its course of study is complete and comprehensive, and among its patrons and pupils are the representatives of the various denominations of the city and county. Its conduct and discipline are free from sectarianism.”

However, student enrollment had dwindled by 1946. Only six girls boarded that year which would become the last year of operation for the academy. After more than seventy years, so ended a chapter in the ministry of a group of Sisters who came from New York “to open a school for young ladies in a rough-and-tumble Waco celebrated for its gun fights.” After the academy’s closing, the building and site were sold and slated for demolition. This didn’t happen until July 1951, “when the last brick was carried away.” Consequently, the area where the academy once stood for decades was turned into a parking lot.

Despite the Waco school’s closure, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur remained active missionaries and educators throughout Texas and the rest of the nation. A recent quote from the Sisters describes the way in which their “early calling to Christian formation continues at the heart of [their] ministry.” This “early calling” that brought them here to Waco in 1873, with their roots in Belgium, led to their passion to influence many in their mission work in faraway lands—even in a “rough-and-tumble Waco” of the 1870s.

Images

Academy of the Sacred Heart (c. 1918)

Academy of the Sacred Heart (c. 1918)

Students, teachers, and US Army soldiers pose in front of the school. It is believed that the soldiers pictured are from Camp MacArthur, the military base that was once located a short distance away from the academy. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Notable Architecture

Notable Architecture

Although early classes took place in a home, the school soon moved into its impressive Victorian campus surrounded by magnolia trees and an iron post fence, as shown in the circa 1910 photograph of the exterior of the academy.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Classroom Style

Classroom Style

This photograph demonstrates what a typical elementary school classroom at the Academy of the Sacred Heart looked like. Classroom decorations cover a variety of themes, including a “Let’s Be Helpers” banner with ducks marching across the top, a poster portraying the Virgin Mary, and a crucifix hung above two American flags and a bulletin board reading “God Bless America.” | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Academic Rigor

Academic Rigor

The academy aspired to provide a comprehensive education for each of its students and was viewed as an academically rigorous school. Both the Catholic University of America and the University of Texas accredited the school at one point during its existence.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Growing Academy

Growing Academy

Enrollment increased steadily for many years, encouraging the sisters to purchase a tract of land in Northwest Waco and lay plans for the construction of a larger school. However, these plans never came to fruition, and the Sisters donated the twenty-three acres to the Diocese of Galveston in 1941. Two parochial schools—St. Louis School and Reicher High School—later opened at that site and remain active today. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Class Photo

Class Photo

A class picture at the entrance of the Academy of the Sacred Heart at Washington Avenue and Eighth Street, circa 1946. The academy—which also served as a convent— functioned as a coeducational day school through the eighth grade, and young women could continue their education through the twelfth grade. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

New Opportunities

New Opportunities

The option to board at the school provided educational opportunities for families living outside of downtown Waco. The boarding school became quite popular among girls whose families lived and farmed in the rural areas surrounding the city.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

A Sorrowful Farewell

A Sorrowful Farewell

Waco photographer Fred Marlar took these classroom photographs in 1946, the year that the school closed, and they are likely the last photographic evidence of school operations. On May 24, 1946, the Waco News-Tribune reported: “With the singing of the class song by 11 graduating seniors, Sacred Heart Academy …ended… an existence which began in 1873.” | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Class Reunion

Class Reunion

Many Sacred Heart alumni remember their time at the academy fondly. In 2005, nearly two hundred former students of the Academy of the Sacred Heart, and thirteen Fort Worth-based Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, returned to Waco to reminisce about fond memories of their times at the school.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Souvenir Postcard

Souvenir Postcard

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur are often credited with pioneering the field of Catholic education in Texas, and Academy of the Sacred Heart is believed to have been the first Catholic school in Texas.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Salary in the 1920s

Juanita Ybarra Herrera speaks about how much she was paid as an employee of the Academy of the Sacred Heart and the cost of living in Waco in the 1920s. | Source: Herrera, Juanita Ybarra, interviewed by Rebecca Sparpless, May 3, 1983, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Picnic for the Nuns

Dora Horne remembers a picnic that was prepared for the Sacred Heart Academy nuns. | Source: Horne, Dora, interviewed by Patricia Wallace, May 23, 1983, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

A Cute Old Place

Adrienne Wilkes Olenbush describes the features and curriculum of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in the 1920s. | Source: Olenbush, Adrienne Wilkes, interviewed by Susan Monaghan, October 29, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Levels of Education

Adrienne Wilkes Olenbush speaks of the grade levels and the quality of education at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in the 1920s. | Source: Olenbush, Adrienne Wilkes, interviewed by Susan Monaghan, October 29, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Dormitories

Adrienne Wilkes Olenbush describes the dormitories that students lived in while attending the Academy of the Sacred Heart. | Source: Olenbush, Adrienne Wilkes, interviewed by Susan Monaghan, October 29, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Language Education

Adrienne Wilkes Olenbush tells of the education departments at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. | Source: Olenbush, Adrienne Wilkes, interviewed by Susan Monaghan, October 29, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Geoff Hunt, “Academy of the Sacred Heart,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/153.

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