Saint Mary School was the vision of the sixth pastor and the first permanent rector of the Immaculate Conception Church, Reverend John A. Mulcahy. He recognized the need for a parochial school in 1885 and decided to build on the Cole Street property purchased by his predecessor, Reverend Thomas F. Hendricken who had left the Immaculate Conception Church to become the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.
The cornerstone of Saint Mary School was laid by the Most Reverend Lawrence McMahon, Bishop of the Diocese of Hartford on August 29, 1886.
The school was formally blessed by Bishop McMahon on September 3, 1888, and classes started the following day, September 4, 1888, with an enrollment of 700 pupils.
The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, New Jersey, were invited by Father Mulcahy to staff the school. Mother Mary Xavier assigned eight nuns to the new school. However, there were so many applications for enrollment on opening day that Father Mulcahy traveled to New Jersey and convinced Mother Xavier to assign four more Sisters to the staff of the school.
The first Principal and Superior was Sister Rita O’Donnell who stayed until 1890. She was succeeded by Sister Maria Agnes Clune who was in charge for 1890 and 1891. The Third Principal and Superior was Sister M. Claudine Van Noort who was in charge from 1891 until her death in 1936. The Immaculate Conception Church was filled to overflowing for her funeral Mass.
There was no convent available when the Sisters arrived in Waterbury. Arrangements were made by Father Mulcahy to house the nuns in a home on Union Street opposite to where St. Mary’s Hospital was later built. The convent was completed on November 27, 1889.
The seventh pastor of the Immaculate, Reverend Monsignor William J. Slocum erected Mulcahy Memorial Building between the school and the convent. This building containing an assembly, library and other features was used extensively by the children for physical education, assemblies, shows and other activities.
It was after Mulcahy Hall was opened that the St. Mary’s School Alumni Association was formed by Monsignor Slocum. In years past, the association’s annual carnival was one of the big events of the year for the school. Thousands gathered on the school grounds, patronized the booths, and danced in the center of the schoolyard on a dance floor erected each year. The annual carnivals reached their peak during the early and mid-1920s.
The continued increase in enrollment at Saint Mary School caused Monsignor Slocum to formulate plans for another school building on the opposite side of the convent from Mulcahy Hall. In 1904, the new school building with eight classrooms opened, making a total of twenty classrooms. At this point in history, Saint Mary School’s enrollment was between 1,100 and 1,300 pupils with a staff of twenty-one Sisters and two lay teachers. As other Catholic churches opened in Waterbury and founded their own schools, Saint Mary School’s enrollment stabilized between 600 to 700 pupils.
Monsignor Slocum was not only interested in the children at his parish, but also in the pre-school children of working mothers. For them, he established a day nursery at the corner of Cole and Scovill Streets, also supervised by the Sisters of Charity. Enrollment increased in the following years to ninety. However, it dropped considerably in 1925 and the nuns were withdrawn by their superiors for assignment elsewhere.
The continued success of Saint Mary School is due to the able and dedicated pastors of the Immaculate Conception Church and their assistant priests. The pastors following Father Mulcahy and Monsignor Slocum were Reverend Luke Fitzsimons, Reverend William J. McGurk, Reverend Monsignor Francis M. O’Shea, Reverend Charles M. Kavanaugh, Reverend Monsignor Harry C. Struck, Reverend John P. Blanchfield, Very Reverend John J. Bevins, and the present pastor, Very Reverend Christopher M. Ford. These devoted priests enriched the love and devotion that is needed for the spiritual and educational welfare of young children.
The success of Saint Mary School is also due to the leadership, love and sacrifices of the many Sisters of Charity who have zealously served Saint Mary School. The school has had three lay principals - Margaret Joseph, Joseph M. Kenny, and the present principal, Jonathan A. DeRosa.
No historical tribute would be complete without the acknowledgment and grateful appreciation of the lay teachers and staff personnel who have served so faithfully throughout the years.
Without the sacrifices of the devoted parishioners, wonderful and hardworking parents, and loyal alumni, Saint Mary School would have never survived the financial strain such a large school placed on a parish over the years, especially during the great depression. To these good people, our sincerest thank you and remembrance.
Today, Saint Mary School has an enrollment of close to 200 students, with grades Pre-K to 8th as well as before & after-school programs. The school is staffed totally by lay teachers and personnel. Children participate each year in sports activities, school plays, field trips and concerts.