Opened as St. Mary's Seminary in East Providence by the Sisters of Mercy in 1874, St. Mary Academy – Bay View began and continues as a private school for young women.
The focus on single-sex education is rooted in the belief of Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, that “there is nothing more conducive to the good of society than the education of young women.” Continued research supports this value.
In 1874, the Howard Mansion in Riverside, Rhode Island, was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy, under the direction of Mother Mary Bernard Read. The mansion was to be opened as a boarding school for girls. Sister Mary Juliana Purcell was named the first directress, taking charge of students from age five through 18.
Fire destroyed the nineteenth-century building in 1948, making construction of the present complex a necessity. St. Mary Academy – Bay View opened for the first session in the present high school building on January 31, 1949.
In January 1967, St. Mary Academy – Bay View was separately incorporated. The entire elementary school moved to St. Joseph Hall in 1968. The boarding school closed in June 1979. The elementary school was coeducational for many years. In 1970, when grades 7 and 8 became part of the high school, education for boys was formally phased out. By the academic year 1995–96, boys were no longer part of the makeup of the elementary school.
In the spring of 1991, after a year of intense preparation and visitation, the United States Department of Education recognized St. Mary Academy – Bay View as a Blue-Ribbon School of Excellence. Because the level of students continued to become stronger and stronger, by 1996–97, the curriculum no longer included a level-three placement. The Blue-Ribbon School of Excellence was renewed in June 2002.
The Board of Trustees was formed in June 1991. In September 1991, a proposal on reconstructing the Academy was presented to the Board of Trustees “that the elementary and high school combine into one institution—pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 under the direction of a president.”
The proposal became a reality; the elementary and high school combined into one institution. The first president was named in the spring of 1994, began her term of office in the fall of 1994 and was installed the following spring.
In the spring of 1996, for the first time in the history of the Academy, a laywoman (a Mercy Associate) was appointed by the president of the Academy to serve as principal of the Middle and Upper Schools. At the same time, a new focus was established—the Middle School concept. After considerable time spent in workshops and courses, the Middle School became a reality in September 1996.
As part of Bay View’s former strategic plan, Bay View 2000, a facilities study was initiated in September 1997 that resulted in the development of a master facilities plan for the entire complex. The master facilities plan was a multi-phased one. The first phase included construction of an Athletic Wellness Center, which supports the preschool through grade 12 physical education and athletic programs. Subsequent phases included the renovation and relocation of the kitchen, dining room and Upper School Library, installation of a sprinkler system, dedicated exits for early childhood classrooms, renovation of Middle School classrooms, replacement of the central heating plant and underground storage tank, replacement of the Mercy Hall elevator and creation of a new main entrance and reception area.
In July 2017, Sister Marybeth Beretta, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, was appointed as the third president of the Academy. As a Sister of Mercy, she has devoted herself to values inspired and grounded in Mercy. She is an experienced leader with exceptional skills in the areas of strategic planning, finance, facilities management and school operations. She will continue to lead Bay View forward as it continues to foster academic excellence and empower young women in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy.