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Searching for Clues: Where was St. Xavier’s Academy in Latrobe

You’ve probably zoomed past the historical marker at the crest of Route 30 across from Wimmerton lots of time, but have you ever wondered what St. Xavier’s Academy was and what happened to it?

When I was younger I passed the sign and the historical marker tons of times, but one time I asked my mom what was back there. She said that there had been a school back there but it burned down years ago. I didn’t give much more thought to it until several years ago when I really started getting into local history (not to mention we had bought a house down St. Xavier Road) that I really began to start wondering about the old school. I wondered where it was located and were there any clues to what was left.

St. Xavier’s was originally started by the Sister’s of Mercy who came to the United States from Ireland in 1843. It is actually the oldest institution of the Sisters of Mercy. Originally started in a small building at St. Vincent, Mount St. Vincent Academy for Young Ladies started in 1945. In 1847 with the help of a donation from a local benefactor, St. Francis Xavier’s Academy was opened. 

Beatty, PA - St. Xavier Academy Main Entrance Vestibule - a

It operated as an academy for women, run by the Sisters of Mercy, up until 1972 when a large fire destroyed the entire building.

One evening when I was on my way to Walmart I decided to stop at the site and see if I could determine where the old school was located. I had read some conflicting things about where exactly the school was situated so I decided to figure it out for myself. When you leave Route 30, there are two roads. One is St. Xavier Road which has the old convent house, which once welcomed new recruits but is now used for offices, sits. The other was the path that led across the lawn and through the trees to the school itself. This one is gated off.

The statue of the Blessed Mother and Lawn of St. Xavier's in Latrobe

A remaining vestige of the former school is a statue of the Blessed Mother that stands at the entrance to the driveway. In fact, you can see this exact same statue on the right-hand side in one of my old postcards.

As you can see the path that leads to the school is slowly being taken back over by nature. Cracks are forming in the pavement and the overhang of trees is getting more dense. However, the grounds are very well taken care of. I followed the path through the grove of trees until I got to some benches, a large cluster of shrubs, and a clearing. My intuition told me the clearing was where the school once was since the benches seemed to be undisturbed, but I wasn’t sure. 

I happened to notice that inside the large clump of shrubs there seemed to be the pedestal for a statue. The statue had obviously been removed, and the shrubs seemed to have been planted to obscure it.

When I went home I dug out some of my old St. Xavier’s postcards and sure enough, there was a statue with the same sort of pedestal that was once facing the academy. This meant that my suspicions were correct and the statute (which we figured out was one of St. Xavier) had been facing the clearing where the school once stood. You can see the statue on the left of the postcard.

Beatty, PA - St. Xavier's Academy

Although there isn’t much to see anymore, the grounds of the former St. Xavier’s academy are still well-maintained and very peaceful. It’s a shame that I never actually got to see the school, but if anyone has any pictures they would like to share, I would love to see them! Also, if anyone knows what happened to the St. Xavier statue I would also be interested in finding out!

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Barbara Michael

Saturday 28th of August 2021

One of my projects during Covid lockdown was to clean my attic and I finally parted with my St. X scrapbook!! Sorry now that I did as I had saved so many memories, including the newspaper coverage of the fire my senior year. I was the last of 5 Mance sisters to go to St. X. Mary graduated in ‘60 or ‘61, Kathy -‘64, Margie- ‘68, Teppie -‘69 and I was class of 72. Sr. Ida was the only teacher all 5 of us had in common. We lived 2 1/2 hours away so spent many weekends there to fend for ourselves with a skeleton crew of nuns. I can point out the windows of every one of my dorm rooms over the years and the exact room we were in having English class with Sr. Magdalen when the fire alarm went off. I remember giving my wool uniform jacket to one of the informed nuns we helped wheel through the grove in the rain to the house on the corner. It was a sickening feeling seeing the flames engulf the part that was the chapel as they took us to St. Joe’s by bus. Everything I owned was in that building….it was my home.

John Thompson

Tuesday 5th of January 2021

I enjoyed seeing these old pictures of St. Xavier's. Although I never attended classes there, I visited often with my parents as my Aunt was Sister Mary Francis Jerome. I still stop when I am in the area.....

Diane Knill (Judge)

Sunday 20th of December 2020

I attended st. Xaviers in 1944/45 with my sister June who was 5 years younger. I was 12/13 years old then. The principal was Sister Jean and my dormitory mother Sister Bernadette. We were the only non Catholic girls in the school. Our parents had just separated and the nuns were extremely kind to us. I was very fond of Sister Kathleen who taught art and also Sister Sylvia. In 1946 my father who was Irish sent us to live with his parents in Ireland where we received a British education. I have lived in Ireland and England since 1946 and pursued a career in geology. Although the separation off our parents was very sad, The kindness of the nuns made the two years at St. Xaviers very happy ones.

Debbie Campbell

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

We were the final and 126th graduating class in 1972. Twenty in our co-Ed class.

Darlene Linhart Dira

Wednesday 25th of November 2020

Hi Debbie. I was in the 125th graduating class. We were the first class to graduate boys and the last to graduate from the chapel! As much as I didn’t want to go there, that school gave me lifelong friends. Something my old school didn’t do. It was not easy going there and staying 5 days a week there. But my crazy bunch of friends kept me strong.

Debbie Campbell

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

I was a senior at SXA in 1972 when the fire occurred between the Ides of March and St Patrick’s Day. We were in class with Sr Magdalene, our Principal. I’ll always remember the surprise on her face when the alarm sounded and thought, hmmm, the Principal would know if we were having a drill. We were still wearing our winter uniforms, blue wool suits, which got wet and ruined in the rain. I was a day hop, a term ppl are not so familiar with these days. I took turns driving to school every other day with another student and it was her day to drive. Because we were seniors, and didn’t follow the rules, we parked in front of the school instead of across the grove. She left the car keys in the building so we had no ride home. Students came from St Vincent to help get the Sisters from the infirmary. It was so sad. The fire started in the kitchen on the lower level. The chapel there was so beautiful. Sr Magdalene made an impact on my education and life. We were off for one week then finished at St Joseph.

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