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History of the Academy of Notre Dame

Nun and childWhen you join the Academy community, you connect with more than 150 years of American history, set against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution in Lowell, MA. Our nation’s commitment to public education, which began in Massachusetts during Colonial times, was renewed and expanded as populations clustered in urban centers like Lowell, and as droves of immigrants came to America for opportunity and freedom.

In the mid-1800s, education was still largely considered a luxury. However, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) were determined that poverty would not be a deterrent to the mill children. Just as St. Julie Billiart walked through the streets of Napoleon’s France to welcome poor children to educational opportunities, so the SNDdeNs developed educational opportunities for children in Lowell.

When Father Timothy O’Brien of St. Patrick’s Parish in Lowell invited Sister Desiree, SNDdeN and several others to assist in the parish, the sisters eagerly began organizing an educational program to address the long-neglected educational needs of the girls of the area, as well as to meet the city’s dire need for that era’s version of daycare. From their roots at St. Patrick’s, the SNDdeN sisters also opened a boarding school in Lowell in 1854.

arielBy the turn of the century, the number of day and boarding students had grown to a point where, by 1907, overcrowding had hit critical proportions. Funded by generous benefactors, 194 acres of land were purchased from the Nance O’Neil estate in Tyngsboro, MA. In 1926, ground was broken for the Academy’s new home on the property. In addition to classrooms, the building contained a chapel, gymnasium and residences for boarding students and the religious faculty. 

Later as the residential facilities were phased out, the school embarked upon an expansion program. A new chapel and auditorium were constructed along with the Blanche M. Walsh Sports Center. Computer facilities for both the lower school and upper school, lower school music rooms, and new upper school classrooms and science labs were added. In 1998, the Kathryn McGuiggan, SND Athletic Facility became part of the campus. 

The Academy continues to offer a unique, highly esteemed educational option to families of all backgrounds. Today, our students come from over 30 communities throughout Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, as well as a growing number of foreign countries, and represent a diverse blend of cultures, economic backgrounds and faiths. 

The Academy's 200-acre campus offers pristine fields, ponds, and forests in which to explore, learn and play. The natural environment provides seclusion and security unique to our location while also being in close proximity to local emergency services.

To learn more about the Academy's history, click below to read an article by Nancy Barthelemy, SND New England Archives.