It is been 50 decades considering the fact that Susan Scherff was standing in the grove outside the house St. Xavier Academy, huddled with the rest of the evacuated pupils as they viewed black smoke billowing from the burning convent and chapel hooked up to the Catholic school in Unity.
“Then it started off to rain,” she recalled. “It was in the middle of March, so it was chilly, and we experienced no coats on.”
Eventually, the college students took shelter in Bellbrook, a substantial pink brick creating nearby that was applied as a retreat by the Sisters of Mercy, who had operated the academy since the 1840s.
Scherff of Hempfield was a St. Xavier sophomore at the time, component of a class of only 7 students.
“I was there for only two yrs,” Scherff mentioned, but she was amongst pupils who boarded at the significant academy developing, sharing a 3rd-floor place with one more feminine student throughout the 7 days and heading property on weekends.
Though the flames did not achieve Scherff’s dormitory space, she explained, “Everything reeked of smoke and experienced to be cleaned.”
Bellbrook is the sole remaining creating on the house off Route 30 — across from the Wimmerton housing improvement — since the academy and convent have been demolished just after the March 16, 1972, fire that broken them.
A blue point out historic marker at Route 30 and St. Xavier’s Road informs passersby that the academy was the oldest institution of the Sisters of Mercy, a religious team of women who came to The us from Ireland in 1843 aiming to provide the sick and needy. The team, whose users have served as nurses and teachers, also launched the Pittsburgh spot institutions that would turn out to be UPMC Mercy medical center and Carlow University.
St. Xavier got its commence as Mt. St. Vincent’s Younger Girls Academy on the close by site of today’s Saint Vincent College. It opened in 1845 in a two-tale, 12-space brick household created accessible by the Rev. Michael Gallagher and graduated its initial course of 16 learners in August 1846.
The academy grounds started with 108 acres of farmland donated by early Catholic settler Henry Kuhn. It grew over the decades with additional residence attained from the Boyd, Geiger-McCaffrey and Miller-Steele farms.
The initially edition of the key academy building, a a few-tale brick composition, welcomed learners in 1847 but was gutted by flames in 1868. A new college stood in its put two decades later and gained additions in subsequent decades. In 1928, it was joined by a corridor for boarding boys in grades 1-8.
Right after the 1972 fire, St. Xavier college students concluded the faculty 12 months farther west alongside Route 30 — at St. Joseph’s Hall, now known as Christ Our Shepherd Heart. Retired nuns who experienced lived in the convent ended up welcomed at the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse in Pittsburgh or moved to another convent. Individuals who were being infirm were taken in temporarily by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg.
Scherff completed her substantial school schooling in Hempfield Region University District.
Even ahead of the hearth, Scherff was not anticipating to graduate from St. Xavier because of declining enrollment. “The school was going through a transition at that time,” she reported. “They experienced predicted closing the substantial university portion for grades 9-12.” A hallway served as a dividing line amongst separate spots designated for superior college and elementary pupils, she claimed.
The academy’s outdoor gathering room, regarded as “the grove,” was preferred with St. Xavier learners.
“There have been walkways and statues,” Scherff recalled. “The graduating class would plant a tree every single calendar year. Soon after class, we would go for walks. It was a attractive campus.”
At the very least a person statue stays. A solitary determine of Mary, it may possibly have been the a person that figured in May Crowning ceremonies Scherff can recall. “Everyone would costume up in gowns, and they would vote on the May possibly queen, who would put the crown of bouquets on Mary,” she mentioned.
An additional spring custom at St. Xavier was a balloon Mass. Scherff stated the students would go to the grove to release balloons stuffed with helium and bearing messages.
The multi-portion academy developing confronted Route 30 at the stop of a travel and highlighted a substantial wrap-all around porch, Scherff reported.
“I’m sorry it’s long gone,” explained Rosanne Henigin of Blairsville. She attended St. Xavier through her higher college decades, boarding on the dormitory ground and graduating in 1971 in a course of 19.
“Some of the factors in there ended up stunning,” stated Henigin, among the pick out pupils who attended St. Xavier on a scholarship, dependent on a qualifying test. “They had a good library and new music rooms with grand pianos in them.”
“What I realized there was definitely top-notch,” claimed Henigin, whose preferred lessons incorporated French. “I tested out of at a minimum a yr of French in school.”
In addition to the grove, the grounds included a secluded grotto that includes a further image of Mary. Some fellow learners went there to surreptitiously smoke cigarettes, but Henigin claimed, “I was fearful to test it.”
Significantly of the St. Xavier home is posted to continue to keep out trespassers, and it’s been a number of several years due to the fact its fields ended up farmed by the community Firestone family that sells seasonal create along Route 30 just east of St. Xavier’s Highway.
But, if all goes as planned, the community at some point will be invited to explore the terrain that as soon as was traversed by college students and nuns.
The Westmoreland Land Have faith in has an arrangement to acquire about 250 acres of the assets from the Sisters of Mercy, assisted by a $1.1 million grant from the point out Division of Conservation and Organic Means.
“Our strategy is to preserve it as a sanctuary and maintain with community obtain for the satisfaction of character,” explained Betsy Aiken, government director of the Land Trust. “We are doing the job via all of the thanks diligence essential for completion of the acquisition.
“We foresee setting up some trails and walkways and interpretive components in the previous campus region. There are farm roads in other components of the property that will be retained as walking trails.”
Aiken mentioned the Land Have confidence in hopes to plant vegetation to bolster protective borders along a 6,000-foot part of Monastery Operate that crosses the house.
A new use for Bellbrook has nonetheless to be identified. But, Aiken stated, “Our hope is to continue on procedure of the farmstand place along Route 30.”
The Sisters of Mercy will retain ownership of the adjacent cemetery, in which numerous of their users are laid to rest. They include 6 of the first seven females from Carlow, Ireland, who launched the get in The usa in the mid 19th century, and some who served as nurses during the Civil War.
“We’re nevertheless like a family, like a sisterhood,” explained Scherff, who allows administer a Facebook team for St. Xavier alumni. Previous St. Xavier pupils have gathered on a regular basis for reunions. The subsequent a person is set for April 30 at Ferrante’s Lakeview cafe and banquet facility in Hempfield.
“It doesn’t make a difference what year you ended up there. You have that kinship,” explained Scherff.