120 Years of Excellence in Education
Almost immediately after the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived in the Erie Diocese in 1860, education became an important work of the Congregation. Within twenty years, the Sisters were educating more than two-thousand children in the area. The cornerstone of the Sister's commitment to the ministry of education was the establishment of Villa Maria Academy in 1892.
It was Father Thomas Casey, Vicar General of the Erie Diocese, who presented the Sisters with a parcel of land at 8th and Liberty Streets in Erie and provided funds for the construction of a non-sectarian academy to provide young women with a liberal, systematic, thorough, cultural Christian education. The school would be one of the first boarding and private day schools in the City of Erie. Although a Catholic institution, students of any religious denomination were welcomed and the school opened its doors with an enrollment of 85 students from 15 states and an additional 100 day students.
Villa Maria Academy was referred to as the "grand educational institution". The school flourished as the number of students increased each year. In the late 1920s, the Academy was restructured as two separate entities: Villa Maria Elementary (VME) for grades 1 through 8 and Villa Maria Academy (VMA) for grades 9 through 12. Both schools remained at the original location until 1953 when the Academy moved to West Lake Road in Millcreek.
Villa Maria Elementary remained at the 8th Street convent until 1993 when they moved to the Villa Maria College campus on West 8th Street in Millcreek. Eventually, the pre-school which had been housed in the Maryvale House on campus was moved into the main education building. Today, Villa Maria Elementary is the premier private catholic day school in the community serving children from two-year old preschool through grade eight.
The Villa Maria community teaches, affirms and supports a respect for life through love of God, self and others and strives to form young people who are knowledgeable and active in their faith and who will become committed to living the Gospel message.
The impact that the establishment of Villa Maria schools would have was evident from the onset. According to the Erie Press, a local newspaper at the time, an estimated 8,000 people attended the school's dedication in 1892. Together with the thousands who have graduated from the Academy and Elementary school since then, the Villa tradition continues to influence generations of students and their families with a Catholic Education experience fostered by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania.