The spiritual roots of Mount Alvernia High School date back to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare in the twelfth century and to Mother Elizabeth Hayes, founder of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Belle Prairie, Minnesota, in 1873. Mount Alvernia High School is a direct descendant of the missionary spirit and commitment of Mother Elizabeth Hayes and the Franciscan sisters.
The physical presence of Mount Alvernia in Newton began with the foundation of a novitiate at Manet Road in Chestnut Hill in 1912. Fifteen years later, in 1927, Mount Alvernia Academy opened its doors at Manet Road as a day school for boys and a boarding and day school for girls. In 1935 the program was extended through high school, for girls only.
A new building was constructed for the high school at Manet Road in 1937, and the high school affiliated with the Secondary School Department of the Catholic University of America, which awarded diplomas. The first class of eight students graduated in 1939. (The Academy continues to function as a coeducational elementary school at Manet Road.)
The Move to 790 Centre Street
In 1972, the high school was moved to its present Centre Street location, several miles from Manet Road. For the previous six years, the Centre Street building had been used as a novitiate and, for a short time, as a college for the Franciscan community. The high school moved into the classroom side of the building, while the residential side continued to be used by Franciscan sisters, as it still is today.
Between 1972 and 1994, enrollment steadily increased-from 90 students in 1972-73 to 179 in 1993-94. In 1993 the Provincial Council of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters decided to disband the seventh and eighth grades at Mount Alvernia Academy and open the seventh and eighth grades at Mount Alvernia High School.
The high school administration, under the leadership of principal Sr. Suzanne Fondini, rose to the challenge and within eighteen months had transformed the high school into a six year institution. A carriage house on the property was renovated to contain five classrooms, an art studio, and several offices; the faculty, after studying the academic and social implications of adding twelve and thirteen year olds to the school, implemented a strong six year curriculum; and the outside community enthusiastically embraced our new program.
Enrollment has been steady and full at about 250 students since the introduction of the seventh and eighth grades in 1994-95. In the year 2000 our first class of students to attend Mount Alvernia High School from grade 7 to grade 12 graduated.
Mount Alvernia has had five principals on the Centre Street campus. Sr. Damon Nolan (1972-79), Sr. Helene Byrne (1979-88), and Sr. Suzanne Fondini (1988-1999) are all members of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Mrs. Kathleen Kent became Mount Alvernia High School’s first lay principal in September 1999. She retired in 2010. Ms. Eileen McLaughlin served as Head of School from 2010-2019. Mrs. Nicole Pascarelli O’Brien ‘97, Mount Alvernia High School’s first alumnae school leader, has served as Interim Head of School since September 2019 and continues to lead the school through the Covid-19 pandemic.