NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH — “If you build me a school, I will build you a church.” These are the words that ignited the urgency for building a Catholic elementary school in the town of North Attleborough to evangelize and educate the Franco-American families of the area. These words were spoken by Father Louis Dequoy as part of his pulpit announcements shortly after his arrival as the second pastor of Sacred Heart parish. By January 21, 1923, Bishop Daniel Feehan had approved plans for the new school building. Construction commenced on April 12 of that same year, with all the major work on the eight classrooms and convent wing completed by August 1923.
Father Dequoy knew that he would need a faculty to staff the school, at which time he approached Mother Marie Helena and the Religious of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts in Fall River. On September 15, 1923, led by Mother Adrienne Cecile, a native of France, five Sisters arrived in North Attleborough. Because desks and chairs had not yet arrived, and finish work in the school was not completed, the Sisters gathered the first students in the church (the present parish hall) for a three-day retreat.
On Sunday, September 23, 1923, Father Dequoy asked for volunteers to help assemble the desks and chairs that had arrived the previous week. That afternoon, armed with screwdrivers and hammers, men and boys from the parish gathered in the school and ably completed this task. The following morning, after renewing their religious vows in the newly assembled convent chapel, Mother Adrienne Cecile and the first Sister faculty welcomed 211 students in grades one through five.
Catholic education expanded in North Attleborough the following year when Fr. Patrick McGee, longtime pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish, built Saint Mary School and invited the Sisters of Mercy from Mount St. Mary Convent in Fall River, to serve as the faculty. On Saturday, August 29, 1924, the first seven Sisters arrived led by Sister M. Delores Daily, as superior and Sister M. Cletus Sullivan as principal and Grade 7 teacher. A beautiful school building had just been constructed, but the convent building was still a work in progress. The Sisters lived on the third floor of the school until the convent was completed in February of 1925.
When the first St. Mary School registration was taken on Sunday, August 30, about 250 students were enrolled, necessitating additional faculty. Scrambling in the week before the opening of school, two additional Sisters were missioned to North Attleborough. Over the years, St. Mary School grew to be one of the largest elementary schools in the Diocese of Fall River, at one time enrolling over 800 students.
By the early 1970s, with the decline of religious vocations and rising costs of education, the future of the two schools was bleak. In 1972, in an effort to ensure the successful future of Catholic education in the town, the Diocese of Fall River proposed a merging of the two schools. Overcoming many challenges, St. Mary-Sacred Heart School (SMSH) opened in the former St. Mary School building in September of 1972, led by Holy Union Sister Jeanne Poirier, with a faculty of Sisters of Mercy, Holy Union Sisters, and lay men and women. After a few years, the school was transferred to the present Richards Avenue campus on the Sacred Heart Church property. This past June saw the fiftieth graduation ceremony of the St. Mary-Sacred Heart School community.
“St. Mary-Sacred Heart School is an integral part of the parish,” said Father David Costa, pastor of Transfiguration of the Lord Parish and director of SMSH. “Imagine the many young lives that have been shaped and formed over these many decades. The impact and influence of our graduates continues to make a difference not only in North Attleborough, but I dare say, across the globe. We would not be here today without the vision, the courage, the determination and the many sacrifices of families, parishioners, and benefactors. While we no longer have Holy Union Sisters or Sisters of Mercy on our faculty, their dedication to the formation of our children lives on in the wonderful work of our lay faculty, administration, and staff. We are blessed with their commitment to Catholic education!”
Daniel S. Roy, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Fall River, added, “There are several schools in the Diocese of Fall River that have reached their centennial. We are excited to celebrate St. Mary-Sacred Heart’s achievement! Catholic education has been a cornerstone of this country’s educational landscape since the late 18th century. Despite the investment and updates to technology and curriculum, the core of Catholic education has remained the same – to evangelize young people to develop a relationship with God. There has never been a better time for Catholic education to serve families and children. We encourage all families in the North Attleboro area to strongly consider investing in your child with a Catholic education.”
Lisa Serak is St. Mary-Sacred Heart’s newest principal. After teaching at the school for 15 years, during the summer of 2022 she was tapped on the shoulder to take the reins and lead the school.
“The role of school principal had never been on my agenda,” she said. “After prayerful reflection, I just knew I needed to say ‘yes.’ I am humbled and honored to follow in the footsteps of a long line of inspirational leaders including Denise Peixoto, who was the principal from 1996 to 2016. This is such a proud moment in the rich history of the SMSH community and I look forward to serving new families while growing the relationship we have with both current and legacy families.”
The kick-off celebration was a September 27th Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., which will be followed by planned events throughout the school year. Please refer to the school’s website www.smshschool.com for more details.
About St. Mary-Sacred Heart School
St. Mary-Sacred Heart School is a Pre-K 4 to grade 8 Catholic school in North Attleborough, serving students from 12 surrounding towns and 10 parishes. The 2023-24 academic year will commence SMSH’s centennial celebration of educating and forming students. Our school philosophy is that we believe 1) education must develop the whole person, spiritually, academically and socially, with Jesus as our model; 2) every student has the potential and right to learn; 3) every student has unique talents and abilities; 4) students learn best in a comfortable, safe, affirming environment that accommodates a variety of learning styles; 5) students need clear expectations, structure and high standards.
We will work cooperatively with parents and students to provide the most beneficial educational experience for each child. We will attempt to use each child’s strengths to help that child achieve academic success. We will help students understand the importance of respecting others and taking responsibility for their actions and daily interactions. We will offer students appropriate conflict resolution and problem solving strategies in order to help them become contributing members of a Christian community. The faculty will consistently evaluate the school’s curriculum, textbooks and materials to ensure that academic standards are in compliance with both state and national standards in each subject area. The faculty will continue to attend workshops, seminars and conferences to upgrade teaching and evaluation methods. On a regular basis, teachers share their newly acquired information with the rest of the teaching staff.
For more information, go to www.smshschool.com.
About the Catholic Schools Alliance
The Catholic Schools Alliance comprises administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and clergy joined in partnership to educate the children of the Diocese of Fall River in Catholic faith and values. Our schools have a demanding educational culture that helps students reach their God-given potential across the academic spectrum. With an emphasis on love of others through their service and respect, we prepare students to meet the challenges of today’s diverse world and become meaningful contributors to society by helping to rebuild a culture of life and love. For more information, please go to www.RediscoverCatholicSchools.org.