The Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity were founded in 1835 in the Netherlands.
The First Motherhouse
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.
The March House
By 1907, 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 when the Sisters purchased the March Estate on the banks of the Niagara River in Lewiston, New York. The March House, the original structure on the grounds served as the Sisters’ residence for two years until they completed construction of the magnificent Gothic structure that now serves as the Motherhouse for the order and the home of Stella Niagara Education Park.
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. A girl boarding high school, known as the Seminary of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, existed from the early years through 1970.
Heidenkamp Recreational Building
In succeeding years, growth was constant with the building of several structures, including the Heidenkamp Recreational Building (gymnasium, indoor pool, and auditorium) in 1929. Today, students utilize the gymnasium and pool for Physical Education classes and as an athletic venue. The auditorium is the setting for top notch productions performed by our Drama Club. Stella Niagara rents the pool to the Town of Lewiston Recreation for their swim programs. The local community theater group, Theatre in the Mist, has two to three productions in the Stella Niagara auditorium each year.
Stella Niagara Cadet Program
In 1935, the Stella Niagara Cadet Program was added to the elementary school curriculum for boys in grades 1-8. It existed until 1971 in full format and until 1982 in a modified format.
Stella Niagara Education Park
Education has always been a priority for the Sisters. In 1971, a charter was obtained from the New York State Board of Regents to operate Stella Niagara Education Park. A Montessori Pre-School for 3 to 5 year olds was added and the curriculum was expanded to include full physical education, foreign language, (K-8) music and art. In subsequent years science labs have been updated and a media lab was installed to integrate the latest technology into the curriculum.
In 2015, the Outdoor Education was implemented to afford students the opportunity to work, learn, and play outside in all seasons and subject areas. Respect for the land and attention to its beauty expresses the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi.
Dedication to Education
Since 1908, the Sisters of St. Francis have provided a values-based academic program that seeks to nurture a child’s heart, mind, and body for life. Stella Niagara Education Park continues this tradition.