Notre Dame Girls ~ Thanks to St. Julie Billiart


Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro ~ Class of 1960

Today April 8 is the Feast Day of  St. Julie Billiart – a French religious leader who founded and served as the first Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. During my years at the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro she was “Blessed Mother Julia” and we constantly prayed for her canonization which finally happened in 1969. She co-opened free schools for poor girls – also opened day schools for middle-class girls and academies for the wealthy, both of which supported the free schools. The Lowell/Greater Lowell connection to St. Julie Billiart is told on the NDA website – here is an exerpt:

In the mid-1800s, education was still considered by most to be a luxury. However, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were determined that poverty would not be a deterrent to the mill children of Lowell, MA, receiving an education that would better prepare them for the rigors of an often harsh life – and, in fact, could be a means for them to surpass it.

When Father Timothy O’Brien of St. Patrick’s Parish in Lowell invited Sister Desiree, SND, and several others to assist in the parish, they eagerly began organizing an educational program. The long-neglected educational needs of the girls of the area, coupled with the dire need for that era’s version of daycare, prompted the sisters to step in and provide adequate daily care for the area’s children. In 1854, responding to a burgeoning population and pleas from parents of means who were struggling to find quality education for their children, Sister Desiree opened a boarding school in Lowell, the Academy of Notre Dame.

By the turn of the century, the number of day and boarding students had grown to a point where, by 1907, overcrowding had hit critical proportions. Funded by generous benefactors, 250 acres of land were purchased from the Nance O’Neil estate and, in 1926, ground was broken for the Academy’s new home in Tyngsboro, MA. The following year, the Academy moved to its new location, a beautiful, four-story brick building designed in the English Collegiate Gothic style. In addition to classrooms, the building contained a chapel, gymnasium and residences for boarding students and the religious faculty.

As one who benefitted from a Notre Dame education as did my maternal grandmother Agnes Meehan Kirwin (in the Acre site), aunts Agnes  Kirwin Collins and Jane Kirwin Stanton, sisters Agnes Kirwin Owens and Patti Kirwin Keilty, mother-in-law Helen Callahan Sweeney, sisters-in-law Miriam Sweeney Murphy and Cathy Sweeney and countless cousins, friends and mentors, I offer thanks for St. Julie Billiart’s commitment to education particularly of young Catholic women. That Notre Dame education made all the difference. (In the photo above I’m in the third row up – second girl in… we honored the tradition of the cross, our long white dress, picture hat and bouquet of red roses! There were some terrific ladies in my class – later teachers, nurses, businesswomen, community leaders, philanthropists, mothers… ever-loyal to Notre Dame.)