Academy of Notre Dame celebrates 150 Years

TYNGSBOROUGH —The day started out as cold and overcast and carried the threat of rain or snow — not a promising way to start a celebration. But the sun came out for the 150th anniversary of the Academy of Notre Dame (NDA).

On Sunday, Oct. 19, 2003, Father Oscar Pratt, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Boston, assisted by Deacon James Daly of Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua, N.H., celebrated an anniversary Mass that was attended by over 600 people on the NDA grounds under a tent. The attendees included past and present NDA faculty, staff and administration, as well as many students, parents, alumnae and friends. The theme of the event was to celebrate the power of the dream of the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, St. Julie Billiart, which has been realized in the presence of the school and its continuing tradition.

Mary Lou Crane Keenan, chair of the school’s board of directors, welcomed the assembled guests and thanked them for their continued support of the academy. Throughout the liturgy, many members of the past and present faculty and administration, as well as current representatives from the corporation, alumnae association, parents’ clubs and associations, and student body, contributed their talents to the celebration as lectors, altar servers, chorus members and musicians.

During his homily, Father Pratt spoke of the original dream of St. Julie Billiart that culminated in the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the schools they started. He noted the sacrifice and dedication of the sisters to the school and its students throughout its history and how their efforts contributed to the success and endurance of the school. He further observed that the enthusiasm and support evidenced by the great attendance at the celebration foreshadowed a continued success in the school’s mission for another 150 years.

NDA president, Sister Kathryn Lawrence McGuiggan, SND, presented a brief history of the school. In her presentation, she noted that the school was founded in 1854 on Adams Street in Lowell as a way to meet the needs of the women who worked in the mills and whose girls were not able to receive an education. In time, the property in Tyngsborough was acquired and, in 1927, the academy opened as a boarding school with 30 students. Sister Kathryn also reminisced that the Tyngsborough location was initially used as a summer vacation spot for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who lived in the city and later was known for its annual picnics for students from the surrounding area.

She said, “It is a testimony to the vision of St. Julie Billiart that the academy has impacted its students, faculty and administration to such an extent that so many have returned to celebrate the 150th anniversary.”

She continued by thanking the many people who contributed to the festivities and extended special thanks and recognition to honorary co-chairs, Julie Saunders Trull and Mary E. McGauvran. Sister Kathryn noted that each woman exemplifies the school’s mission through their willingness to share their time and talents in service to the school and the community. Their actions throughout the years have made a difference to the academy and have helped to fulfill a dream.

The meditation that followed was comprised of a powerfully performed liturgical dance choreographed and danced by Kristina, Kyndra and Lyndsey Angell to the music “Power of the Dream.” The dance was received with an enthusiastic ovation from the assembled guests.

Sister Marcia Billings, SND, and Sister Mary Farren, SND, each spoke of their future vision for the academy. The liturgy concluded with academy junior Rachel Morrison proudly acknowledging that she had been a part of NDA since kindergarten and thanking the sisters who had been a part of the school over the years. She then asked the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who were present, numbering over 50, to stand and allow the audience to acknowledge their contributions. They were given a thunderous round of applause and a standing ovation.

A reception, allowing guests to reminisce and view NDA memorabilia dating back to as early as 1924, followed in the Blanche Walsh Gymnasium.