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The History of Saint Mary Star of the Sea

Situated on the edge of Mill Creek across from historic Fort Monroe, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School has been educating the children of Hampton Roads, Virginia, since 1923.

Father Thomas J. Wilson, pastor of Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, saw the need for a Catholic school, and by 1920 had acquired enough funds to start. Judge Frank Kearney, William Gibbons, Patrick J. Flynn, and John Mugler committed themselves to the cause of beginning the school, and in 1923, a piece of property called Bright View was purchased from a local family. Formerly a hospital for soldiers during the Civil War, the old mansion was quickly converted to classrooms, and Saint Mary Star of the Sea School opened its doors to its first student body of just under 100 children.

In the same year, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, came to administer and staff Saint Mary Star of the Sea School and have remained ever since—a constant presence in service to the Church’s apostolate of Catholic education.

The next several decades would reflect the population boom that was taking place all over America, especially during the years after World War II. The number of students at Saint Mary’s seemed to grow exponentially, reaching a peak in 1960-61 of 910! The original buildings quickly became inadequate, and major construction projects were undertaken in 1951 (the front wing of the lower building), 1953 (the back wing of the lower building), and 1960 (the upper building).

As a measure of how times have indeed changed, the building projects of the 50s necessitated a tuition charge for the first time in the school’s history: $2 per month for one child, and $1 a month for each additional child, up to four children. Beyond that, tuition was free.

From the 1970's to the1990's, the school population decreased to a more manageable size of only one grade of each, pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade. The next major phase of construction at Saint Mary’s didn’t begin until 2000, when extensive interior and exterior renovations were made to the buildings, now between 40 and 50 years old. Roofs, windows, ceilings, floors, and lighting were all given a complete makeover.

Finally, in 2004, the long-held desire to have a real gym and cafeteria reached fulfillment when a successful capital campaign culminated in two beautiful facilities, now situated between the upper and lower buildings.

Today, the school enrolls children from four different Catholic parishes in the area—Saint Mary Star of the Sea on Fort Monroe, Saint Joseph in Buckroe, Saint Rose of Lima in Wythe, and Immaculate Conception in Riverdale—as well as from around Hampton Roads.

After more than 90 years and several thousand children, Saint Mary Star of the Sea School continues to do best what it has always done: providing a Catholic education in which students may grow in truth and love.