Catherine McAuley High School was established in 1969 as an all-girls’ college preparatory school operated by the Sisters of Mercy. It is named in honor of the Venerable Mother Catherine Elizabeth McAuley (1778-1841), the Dublin-born foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. She opened the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland in 1831, after she inherited a considerable legacy at the age of forty-eight and decided to provide a refuge for homeless women and their children.
In 1968 a task force comprised of clergy, religious, and lay people was devised to study the future of Catholic education in the Diocese of Portland. One of the recommendations was to open a co-educational high school in Greater Portland, but this was later dropped. Instead, the aging Cathedral High School and St. Joseph’s Academy were closed (1969) and plans were announced in March 1969 that a new girls high school to be named McAuley would be constructed.
While the new school was being built, classes were held in the old St. Joseph’s Academy building near the Motherhouse. Classes moved into the new Catherine McAuley High School in the spring of 1971 and it was formally dedicated by Bishop Peter L. Gerety on May 7, 1972. Representatives of the four former Catholic girls’ schools (St. Elizabeth’s Academy, King’s Academy, Cathedral High School, St. Joseph’s Academy) were present. The school had been designed by the architect Walter I. Ingalls, Jr. and cost $1.2 million.
Sister Mary Luke Silva was the principal of the new school from 1970 until 1974 and was succeeded by Sister Mary Mark Barrett, chairman of the Department of Education at St. Joseph’s College. In the fall of 1980, Sr. Edward Mary Kelleher was appointed the fifth principal of the school. The school’s enrollment stood at 282 the following school year.
Many teachers from the Portland Irish community have taught at McAuley over the years, including, among so many, Mrs. Eleanor Dawson Minvielle (teacher at Cathedral many years), Sister Ruth Conlogue, Sister Donna Daley, James Morrison, and Joseph Kilmartin, director of athletics and mathematics instructor. The latter operated a girl’s basketball camp for many years. Father Stephen Concannon, the son of Connemara emigrants, was the school’s first chaplain, as well as acting spiritual counselor and guidance director. Sr. Edward Mary was the school’s principal until the early 2000s.
At the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, McAuley High School has an enrollment of 250 girls from over seventy Maine communities. It is situated on a twelve-acre campus which includes the main school (with two joining wings), the old St. Joseph’s Academy building, the Larry K. Mahaney Athletic Park, the Raymond & Peggy Veroneaur, Sr. Softball Diamond, the Wasileski Soccer Field, and the Andrew & Helen McSween Lacrosse Field. Andy McSween and his wife the former Helen Louise Cobb, were in their last years great benefactors of McAuley , Cheverus High School, and St. Joseph’s College. Helen McSween grew up in St. Mary’s Parish, Westbrook, and was the granddaughter of Galway emigrant John J. Burke. Andy, a Cheverus High grad, donated several millions to these schools in memory of his parents and his sister, Sr. Dolores Sablone, a prominent longtime parochial teacher.
McAuley High School, in the rich tradition of its many predecessors, continues to offer a “rigorous academic preparation for college” and “daughters and granddaughters of alumnae can be found in every graduating class.” According to its website, McAuley alumnae comprise 20% of its faculty and are active in the Alumnae Association and as members of the Board of Trustees. It remains the only single-sex high school in the state (see www.mcauleyhs.org/).