St. Joseph Hill Academy Celebrates a Century Educating ‘Gems’

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Stella O’Brien, a senior who serves as student council president, has called St. Joseph Hill Academy on Staten Island her “home away from home” since she was a 4-year-old pre-schooler.

“It fills your mind academically, it fills your soul spiritually and it’s really been able to fill my heart because of the community that I’ve found there, and just socially the uplifting atmosphere,” she said. “It’s really allowed me to become a whole and complete person.

“It’s been one of the best decisions to continue my educational career at St. Joseph Hill,” Stella added. “My mom went here, a lot of my aunts went here.”

St. Joseph Hill Academy, which has a co-ed pre-k and elementary school and an all-girls high school under the direction of the Daughters of Divine Charity, is celebrating its centennial this year. Cardinal Dolan offered the Vigil Mass at the school Oct. 19 to commemorate the milestone.

“It’s a joyful, happy time,” said Sister Mary Coffelt, F.D.C., provincial superior of the congregation and school president. “Our greatest gem for the future is the fact that the students are our life.”

On behalf on the Daughters of Divine Charity, she said she is “very proud of the educational contributions that St. Joseph Hill Academy has provided to the families of Staten Island during these past 100 years.”

“It’s nice to see that generations of Hilltoppers are here in the high school,” Sister Mary said. “That’s a nice reflection…In the elementary, they’re also very proud of who they are, to know that they went to St. Joseph Hill Elementary.”

In all grades, Catholic identity is a priority, Sister Mary said.

The elementary school has an enrollment of 530 and the high school has 468. The elementary school principal is Lawrence Hansen. Maria Molluzzo is the high school principal.

The Academy’s history began in March 1919, with the purchase of the 14-acre estate of William Knauth by Mother M. Kostka Bauer. That May, the Daughters of Divine Charity arrived on Staten Island and in the fall, inaugurated tutoring classes for a group of 25 children who had come to them during the summer. Those classes grew and eventually led to the institution of the Academy.

The elementary school officially opened in 1923 with an enrollment of 36 students with classes being held in the convent. In 1925 the first Academy building was erected and dedicated as both a day school and boarding school. In 1930 St. Joseph Hill Academy High School was opened with six young women graduating in 1934. At the time, the Academy was affiliated with The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

A new elementary school building was dedicated in 1953, followed by the high school wing in 1958. A pre-kindergarten program was inaugurated in 1991. A capital campaign began in 1998 resulting in a new elementary school wing containing additional classrooms and a second gymnasium.

For the high school, a new construction project begun in 1999 was completed during the 2000-2001 school year. A new gymnasium, four additional classrooms and a distance-learning lab were added to the facilities.

St. Joseph Hill Academy has made many more advancements since those additions in the early 2000s. The Academy is now home to a new engineering lab equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including new 3D printers. Madonna Hall has also been transformed into a fully functioning art studio.

Reflecting on the Daughters of Divine Charity, Sister Mary said the faith was an important facet from which their educational system stemmed. “The sisters were the beacons of that light to challenge, to inspire, to prepare” the students. “The sisters did inspire the faculty to continue to get the most out of all of their students,” she said, including “giving back to the community” through service.

The Daughters of Divine Charity underscore that aspect beginning with their name. “Charity meaning that we are in God’s love,” Sister Mary said. “Making God’s love visible is our charism.”

Being a high school senior the same year the school celebrates its centennial, Stella O’Brien said, is “really special.”

The co-captain of the speech and debate team, and mock trial team, and French club member said she plans to pursue the fields of political science and international relations in college.

Stella gave a shout-out to the Daughters of Divine Charity who have been “so integral” to the school.

Charlotte Tama, an eighth-grader, also gave accolades to St. Joseph Hill Academy.

“Throughout the grades, there are a lot of friendships and connections between the older kids and the younger kids.

“We get a really good education here,” added Charlotte, who in December won the annual Regional Spelling Bee hosted by the Catholic schools on Staten Island for the fifth through eighth grades.“The teachers are amazing and they really try to challenge us. They make sure we know something before they move on.”

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