Friday, November 7, 2008
Notre Dame Academy was first opened on 5th Street, Covington, in 1876 as a grade school. The Sisters of Notre Dame had arrived from Coesfeld, Germany, shortly before this opening, making the academy one of the first efforts of the Sisters here in the United States. In the fall of 1906, the Sisters began the high school program that grew so quickly that by1937 the grade school program had to be discontinued.
The first 40 years of the high school’s existence were very literally graced with the leadership of Sr. Mary Agnetis Schmitz, S.N.D.. Sister saw the enrollment increase over those years as she watched the facility on 5th Street age and become less and less adequate. In the mid 1950s the Sisters began seriously planning for a new facility. Sister Mary Agnetis, now past her leadership years, but still very active in the school, began looking around for potential donors. This search led her to Conrad Hilton, the hotel magnate. Sister’s first letter to Mr. Hilton impressed his secretary so much with its charm and sincerity that she passed it on to him, and thus began a wonderful correspondence of 17 years. Not only that, which is little known, but Mr. Hilton contributed $500,000 to the building campaign, one third of the campaign goal, and helped to acquire additional contributions. All of these contributions allowed the Sisters to build a new facility on Hilton Drive in 1963.
Interestingly, the letters that passed between Sr. Mary Agnetis and Conrad Hilton forged a sort of partnership with Conrad supplying funds and business advice, and Sister offering interest in and promises of prayer for his business ventures. Revealed in the letters is a surprising candor on the part of both writers, along with a sense of genuine concern and congeniality. The partnership established between Sr. Mary Agnetis and Conrad Hilton was not extinguished with the deaths of these two titans. Mr. Hilton’s grandson Steven M. Hilton was responsible for an additional contribution from the Hilton Foundation when Notre Dame expanded the science labs and media center, added classrooms, and constructed a new gym in 1996.
Why all the money, all the effort on the part of so many people, starting unflinchingly with Sr. Mary Agnetis, over all these years? What would she respond if asked that question today? We think we know: Notre Dame Academy is here to help young women to be all that God made them to be, women of faith who have a clear understanding of themselves and their world, possessing leadership qualities that will enable them to bring that faith into their everyday lives, women who will make a difference in this needy world long into the future. That’s our goal, too, for Notre Dame Academy.