The Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity were founded in 1835 in the Netherlands. The first members of the order came to this country in 1874 to serve in the predominantly German parishes of St. Ann’s and St. Michael’s, locating the first Motherhouse in downtown Buffalo. By 1900, the need for a larger facility was apparent and a search began to find a location near a river or a lake.
The search ended in 1907 when the sisters purchased the March Estate (the building today known as The Pottery) on the banks of the Niagara River in the Town of Lewiston, New York. The March House, the original building on the grounds, served as the sisters’ residence until construction was completed on the magnificent Gothic structure that now serves as the home of Stella Niagara Education Park.
In succeeding years, growth was constant with the building of several structures such as Heidenkamp Recreational Center (gymnasium, indoor pool, and theater) and the Center of Renewal (originally the novitiate for the sisters)
The initial school year in 1908 had an enrollment of four boys and two girls. In the following year, enrollment grew to 40 students including 8 boarders and 32 commuters. By 1910, the number of residential students grew to 25.
The school existed as the Seminary of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart from 1908 through 1970. It consisted of a boarding and day program for high school girls and a co-educational elementary school.
In 1935, the Stella Niagara Cadet School opened within the elementary school. The cadet school existed in full format until 1971 and in modified form through the 1980s.
In 1971, the sisters obtained a Charter from the New York State Board of Regents to operate Stella Niagara Education Park. The efforts of the sisters did not cease, and they added a Montessori Program for 3 to 5 year olds, and expanded the curriculum to include a full physical education program as well as foreign language and art instruction.
Since 1908 the Sisters of St. Francis have provided a value-based academic program that seeks to nurture a child’s heart, mind and body for life. Stella Niagara Education Park is now looking to its second century of excellence in education.