On Friday, August 12, 1921, Bishop John Mark Gannon summoned the pastors of Erie’s twelve parishes to meet for the purpose of discussing the “lack of Catholic education for high school boys in the city.” “Many Catholics,” he claimed, “although highly intelligent and deserving, were denied the chance to receive a preparatory education because they were poor.” His goal was to establish a school that “provided the moral, intellectual, social, and physical training designed to prepare (men) to live in our democratic society…” thus, the Cathedral Preparatory School for Boys was established in the fall of 1921. The location of the new school was in the hastily remodeled basement of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The faculty consisted of four priests and one layperson. Tuition was $50 and paid for by the students’ parishes. In 1925, the first graduation class of 43 men became alumni.
In the early 1890’s Fr. Thomas Casey saw the need for young ladies to learn refinement and culture along with an opportunity for study and education. In order to fulfill this need, he donated the property for a school to be operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Mother Eugenia Quirk received his donation knowing that Father Casey actually wanted to plan the structure and supervise its building. The grounds were on the edge of the City of Erie covering what today is one city block from Eighth to Ninth and Liberty to Plum Streets.
Soon the educational institution became known as Villa Maria Academy. It provided a boarding school, day school, music lessons, and private lessons in painting, drawing and languages.
When VMA first opened the curriculum included---Latin, English, French, German, polite literature, botany, astronomy, logic, bookkeeping, algebra, plain and fancy sewing, painting, drawing, crayon, music, stenography, telegraphy, typing and obviously religion.
In 1908 school year, Villa Maria Academy opened with an enrollment of 85 boarders from 15 states and 100 day students. In 1945 the last boarders graduated from Villa Maria Academy.
Villa Maria Academy taught girls of all ages from 1st grade to 12th grade. Classes were held at Villa Maria Motherhouse and Academy building.
In 1953 Mother Aurelia A’Hearn relocated the high school division to its present location on West Eighth Street. The Elementary division took over some of the space and expanded its curriculum.
When the New Villa Maria Academy opened on September 8, 1953, it was staffed by 18 nuns (sisters) and 2 lay women. There were 1,200 Villa Alumnae.
The entire west section of the main floor was devoted to facilities for business education. Sisters Brenda Marie, Gertrude Marie, and Blanche were specialists in teaching bookkeeping, typing, stenography, and the use of office equipment.
One thing has remained constant during all these years and that is that VMA provides a high quality academic environment where students are encouraged to grow, develop and meet their potential. VMA is a place where friendships are forged, learning is alive and education is a life celebration.