Thursday, August 18, 2011

Historic St. Vincent's Academy

The following information has been abstracted from an article, "St. Vincent Academy is Historic Kentucky School," published in the Evansville (Indiana) Press, Sunday, 9 February 1936.

Five miles north of Morganfield in Union County, hidden from the highway by towering trees and shrubs, stands the oldest secondary educational institution in western Kentucky. It is St. Vincent Academy, founded in 1820 by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.

Prior to 1881, Sisters of the Academy sponsored a small school for boys across the road from the academy. In 1881, the boys' school was closed because of small attendance. It was reopened in 1914 and is September 1923, for the first time in the history of St. Vincent's, 22 boys were enrolled in the academy proper. Francis Murphy was the first graduate of this group.

In 1820, Sisters Angela Spinks, Frances Gardiner and Cecily O'Brien were sent by their superiors to organize a school in Union County on a farm set aside for use of the Sacred Heart Church. They made the journey of some 150 miles on horseback through what was then a wilderness. Their equipment consisted only of what they could tied in three aprons and carry in their arms.

Hardships of that journey were many and the three pioneers met discouragement when they arrived at the log cabin farm house only to find it occupied by a family that refused to move. The three educators spent their first night on what was later to become the academy farm in a poultry house.

Once established in the primitive log cabin, it fell to the lot of Cecily O'Brien and Frances Gardiner to teach the "large" class of five students. The following year the sisters were joined by three more instructors. A log cabin lean-to was added to the cabin. The school started to grow.

By 1842, there were 35 students. To keep pace with the growing enrollment, cabin after cabin was built. In 1852 or 1853, the academy's land totaled some 400 acres, including the property on which the old Sacred Heart Church stood. Construction was started in that year on a new brick academy building. For years the old Sacred Heart Church was used as a recreational hall. A second floor was added to the building and it was to this portion of the school that students were "sentenced" for misdemeanors. Punishment usually consisted of mending clothes or memorizing columns of words from a dictionary.

Perhaps one the best word pictures of the school in the 1850s was left by the wife of General John A. Logan of Civil War fame, in her book, "Reminiscences of a Soldier's Wife." She tells how students were coached in manners, or how to enter a parlor and meet guests without being awkward; of sewing all her own clothes, and of the Sister Superior's journeys to Louisville by boat to buy material for graduation costumes and of graduation exercises under the trees on the lawn.

The school was now housed completely in brick buildings. It had its own light plant, its own power plant, orchard, truck garden, dairy and bakery. The enrollment in 1936 was around 135 pupils.

St. Vincent's Academy was in operation until 1967.

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