Maine Irish Heritage Trail
South Portland Site Number 5
by Matthew Jude Barker
Holy Cross School
South Portland, Maine
Holy Cross Grammar School on Broadway is the only parochial school in South Portland and only one of a handful that still operate in the Greater Portland area. As was noted earlier, Anna Maud McCusker, who died in 1944 as Sister Mary Thomas, R. S. M., organized a Sunday school in South Portland in 1905, when she was only nineteen. This school was later operated by Mother Mary Raymond Noonan.
Holy Cross School, taught by Sisters M. Agnita Goyette and Mary James Shaw, opened for business in the fall of 1937. But under Father Karpe's direction, the first year comprised only students in Kindergarten and First Grade. After this, a new grade was added each year until, in June 1945, the first eighth grade class was graduated. The Sisters of Mercy who taught at the school had to commute from the Motherhouse in Deering every day for twenty-five years before a convent was built near the school for them to reside in. The convent, a three-story, twenty-three room, fireproof edifice, was not completely finished until the fall of 1963. Sister Gertrude Duplessis was the first superior of the convent and teacher-principal.
By the 1950s, many lay teachers had joined the staff of the school, including Mrs. May Lowell and Mrs. Alice Shannon Flaherty, whose daughter Helen taught at the school in the 1980s. In the 1960s other lay teachers included Miss Kathleen Hinds, Miss Eleanor Butler, and Mrs. Mary Miller; most of these teachers were from local Irish families. In 1964-1965, the school enrollment reached a high of 451; only six years later it had dropped to 240, but steadily climbed higher again in the late 1970s. Also in 1964-1965, lay CCD teachers prepared public school children for First Holy Communion for the first time. For many years the school offered a hot lunch program. One of the biggest events of the year for decades was the St. Patrick's Day Concert, in honor of the Sisters of Mercy's Irish heritage. The stage was lit to an overflowing crowd as students, dressed in costumes, sang Irish airs.
Sister Mary Anna Greaney replaced Sister Gertrude in the fall of 1966 and was superior and principal, as well as eighth-grade teacher, for many years. She was the daughter of an immigrant from Headford, County Galway. Later principals included Sister Dorothy Sullivan, and Sister Maura Murphy, who was principal until the 1990s. Murphy was the granddaughter of Galway immigrants. Other longtime teachers at the time included Sister Rose Mary Rush (also superior of the convent) and Bangor native Sister Martha Russell, the eighth grade teacher who had previously been principal at many schools in Maine, including St. Dominic's School. Music teacher Sister Kathleen Thornton held Irish jig contests for the children for many years on St. Patrick's Day.
The church rectory was removed about 2000 and a new playground created for the students. The school continues to have students and faculty of Irish extraction and parents send their children to the school from all over Cumberland County.
RELATED SITES: Holy Cross Church
Acknowledgements by Matthew Jude Barker
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