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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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Jeanette G

Thursday 12th of May 2022

I found a very lovely book of poetry written by a Sister Mercedes from the St. Xavier Academy. The poems are deeply spiritual and moving while also describing the gardens and chapel. I was excited to see the rose bushes in the pictures posted. One of her poems recounts how she gathered roses for the altar on Rosary Day. It was published in 1922. Any chance someone knew Sr. Mercedes?

Robert M. Kissner

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

What a delightful bit of nostalgia!

I was in Sr. Mary Paul's handwriting class when the bell rang for us to evacuate the building. It was an overcast March afternoon, and it began to spit rain on us after we'd been outside for a while. The sisters piled us into their cars until our parents could arrive. From there we watched the fire eat up the roof. We finished the year at St. Joseph Hall, closer to Greensburg. I remember taking a field trip back to St. X that spring, and we ran around on the lawn, thinking we'd be back in our old school in the fall. It was the last time I saw it.

The building was enchanting. I used to have dreams about it well into adulthood--never about the fire itself, just the shadows and drafts and mysteries of that beautiful old place. I began putting those dreams onto paper so I wouldn't forget what the building looked like. Those notes evolved into a semi-autobiographical novella called The Sacred Halls of St. Disaster. I had a lot of fun writing it. It's on Amazon if you're curious.

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.

David Shaffer

Sunday 26th of December 2021

@Barbara Michael, I grew up in Latrobe and started working evenings and weekends at St X at 15 in 1969. I worked for Sister Bartholomew, started out washing pots and pans in the kitchen, but did everything from housekeeping (including washing windows across from the dorm rooms), working on the farm, helping the old carpenter, ending with working with the painter right up to the fire. I remember going there to help during the fire but the policeman didn't believe me when I said that I worked there and wouldn't let me through. Sister Bartholomew then had me sit in my car at the entrance to keep people out for a time. I also helped renovate the house near the entrance afterwards for some of the Sisters to use later. Anyway, I knew every square foot of that place (and a few of the girls) and have many fond memories. I moved to CA in 1977 (now in OR) and used to go by St X when visiting over the years. I loved that place was heartbroken when everything was demolished and leveled.

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.

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