A Cornerstone of the Community
For more than 140 years, families in the Glens Falls area have had the option of educating their children in a Catholic school. Sisters from the Order of the Presentation began the first Catholic school in Glens Falls in 1873 on the city’s west side. Known first as Academy of Our Lady, it became Ecole St. Alphonse (later St. Alphonsus School) in 1908 when the French-speaking Sisters of the Assumption arrived.
St. Alphonsus, always an elementary school, was an integral part of the fabric not only of its predominantly French-speaking neighborhood and parish, but also of the city. Father Arthur Dandeneau’s St. Alphonsus Club, for example, provided city boys with a place to play basketball; the Minstrel Show, held for many years at the Rialto Theater and the Knights of Columbus Hall, was an entertainment favorite year after year; and the St. Alphonsus Bazaar, held annually to raise funds for the school, was a family event cherished for its old-fashioned games and famous fried dough.
On the city’s east side, meanwhile, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened St. Mary’s Academy in 1883 to serve the predominantly Irish and Italian immigrants of St. Mary’s parish. In 1932, with an enrollment of 1,200 students, the school moved into its present building, an imposing Gothic structure on Warren Street across the street from its more modest first home. The building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by renowned architect Ralph Adams Cram and features terrazzo floors, a custom, two-story stained glass window depicting the history of Catholic education and a Great Hall modeled after Westminster Hall. (See the film about our window created by and starring the Class of 2016!)
From its first days, St. Mary’s Academy had a tremendous impact on the city’s educational scene. The daily newspaper, for example, reported at the time of the school’s opening that enrollment at the local public school fell from 200 students to just sixty. During the mid-1900’s, the Kindergarten through Grade 12 Academy enjoyed a tremendous reputation for academics and sports, and the building’s central downtown location reflected the centrality of its role in the Glens Falls community. Many SMSA graduates of those early generations went on to college and came back to their hometown to lead law firms, banks, government institutions, and commercial ventures. Scores of priests and sisters traced their vocations to St. Mary’s Academy.
The 1970’s and 80’s were difficult decades for Catholic education across the country, however, and the Glens Falls area was no exception. As three local Catholic elementary schools closed, St. Mary’s Academy was asked to absorb their students and became a regional school called St. Mary’s Academy of the North Country. The perception that more closings were inevitable fueled the enrollment drop-offs until, ultimately, St. Mary’s high school program closed in 1989. In 1990, St. Alphonsus School closed its doors and merged with St. Mary’s, located just a half-mile away. The school became known as St. Mary’s-St. Alphonsus Regional Catholic School and a halo was added to its cross-and-crown logo to reflect the heritage of the St. Alphonsus Angels.
The turbulent years have passed, however, and SMSA is in a period of resurgence. The academic program is exceptional, enrollment has remained strong, and many areas of the school building have been renovated thanks to the generosity of friends and alumni.
Today, Principal Patty Balmer, the SMSA School Board and PTSA are laying the groundwork for the next century of Catholic education in Glens Falls.