A Look Back: Maryville’s Sophie Barat School

The school was dedicated to social service, and educated high school girls and out of work women

by Emma Prince

When Maryville Academy was established for girls in 1872, a free co-ed grade school opened on campus at the same time. In later years, it became known as the Sophie Barat School.

By 1900, the original grade school served nearly 350 students. Sixteen years later, a building for the school was erected on the Maryville campus, located behind the administration building.

In 1906, the school was formally associated with St. Thomas of Aquin, an Irish parish located a few blocks north of Maryville’s campus. In 1932, St. Thomas of Aquin built a freestanding grade school closer to its church, and the school transferred to the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sacred Heart sisters did not let the building stand vacant for long. That summer, they founded the Barat Association, a Catholic Action Center, in July of 1932. Mother Margaret Murphy, former principal of the departed school, headed this new center. The school was dedicated to social service, and educated high school girls and out-of-work women.

Classes offered the first semester included shorthand, typewriting, sewing, office management, art and public speaking. The center was open during the extraordinary hours of 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. — before and after work. The Catholic Action Center started its first semester with 200 students and closed with 425.

The Center later became known as the Sophie Barat School. In 1933 alone, the Red Cross Unit at the school made 3,000 garments for the local poor. Electric sewing machines were donated by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which provided sewing experts two afternoons a week for critique and instruction.

By 1947, the curriculum became more structured and the hours flipped from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. A three-year business course was offered to teenage girls; directed by Mother Lamor, it focused on typing, sewing and comptometer (one of the first calculators).

The Sacred Heart “Madames,” as they were known in the neighborhood, reached out to the community through the school. Students at the Sophie Barat School put on plays open to the neighborhood and held graduation ceremonies for their students. The Barat Association also sponsored pilgrimages to the Shrine of Philippine Duchesne in St. Charles.

Today, the spirit of the Sophie Barat School is carried out through Maryville’s many outreach programs, such as Maryville Reaches Out, an annual day of service held each fall, and countless other community organizations and partners served by Maryville students.