Established in 1874 as St. Mary's Seminary in East Providence by the Sisters of Mercy, St. Mary Academy – Bay View commenced its journey as a private school dedicated to the education of young women. This emphasis on all-girls education stems from the visionary belief of Catherine McAuley, the esteemed founder of the Sisters of Mercy, who asserted that "there is nothing more conducive to the good of society than the education of young women." Over time, ongoing research has consistently reinforced the value of this principle.
In the year 1874, under the direction of Mother Mary Bernard Read, the Sisters of Mercy procured the Howard Mansion in Riverside, Rhode Island, with the intention of establishing a boarding school exclusively for girls. Sister Mary Juliana Purcell was appointed as the first directress, assuming responsibility for students ranging from five to eighteen years of age.
Tragically, a fire ravaged the nineteenth-century building in 1948, necessitating the construction of the present complex. Thus, on January 31, 1949, St. Mary Academy – Bay View commenced its inaugural session within the newly erected high school building.
In January 1967, St. Mary Academy – Bay View underwent separate incorporation. Consequently, the entire elementary school relocated to St. Joseph Hall in 1968, while the boarding school ultimately closed its doors in June 1979. Although the elementary school had been coeducational for numerous years, the formal phase-out of boys' education took place in 1970 when grades 7 and 8 were integrated into the high school. By the academic year 1995–96, the elementary school no longer included boys among its student body.
In the spring of 1991, following a year of meticulous preparation and evaluation, the United States Department of Education bestowed the esteemed recognition of a Blue-Ribbon School of Excellence upon St. Mary Academy – Bay View. Given the continually increasing caliber of students, the curriculum underwent progressive enhancements, resulting in the removal of level-three placements by 1996–97. The Blue-Ribbon School of Excellence designation was subsequently renewed in June 2002.
The Board of Trustees was established in June 1991, and during that same year, a proposal advocating for the consolidation of the elementary and high schools into a singular institution, encompassing pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 under the leadership of a president, was presented to the board. This proposal materialized into reality as the elementary and high schools merged into a cohesive entity. The inaugural president, Elizabeth A. McAuliffe, RSM, Ed.D, was appointed in the spring of 1994, assuming office in the following autumn and receiving the formal investiture in the subsequent spring.
In the spring of 1996, St. Mary Academy – Bay View witnessed the historic appointment of Colleen Gribbin, a laywoman (a Mercy Associate), as principal of the Middle and Upper Schools. This development coincided with the establishment of a novel focus—the Middle School concept. Following extensive engagement in workshops and courses, the Middle School officially materialized in September 1996.
As part of Bay View's former strategic plan, Bay View 2000, a comprehensive facilities study commenced in September 1997, resulting in the formulation of master facilities plan for the entire campus. Executed in multiple phases, the initial stage encompassed the construction of an Athletic Wellness Center, serving the physical education and athletic programs for students ranging from preschool to grade 12. Subsequent phases involved renovating and relocating the dining room and Upper School Library and the creation of a new Mercy Hall main entrance and reception area.
In July 2017, Sister Marybeth Beretta, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, assumed the role of the third president of St. Mary Academy – Bay View. Throughout her six-year tenure, Sister Marybeth admirably led the Academy through the profound challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her noteworthy enhancements to the campus included extensive beautification efforts, such as the installation of the statue of Catherine McAuley at the entrance, a comprehensive campus revitalization with new classroom furniture, and the completion of the state-of-the-art Barbara A. Papitto Science and Innovation Center. Furthermore, Sister Marybeth skillfully guided the Academy through the ten-year New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation process and played a pivotal role in developing a strategic plan for the Academy's future.
In 2021, following the retirement of Collen Gribbin, the Middle and Upper School principal, the Academy transitioned to a single principal model. After careful evaluation by a search committee, Sister Marybeth appointed Dr. Marcela Rossi, Ph.D., as the new principal overseeing the entire Academy, spanning from Pre-K to 12th grade. Driven by her own experiences of receiving an all-girls K-12 education, Dr. Rossi values the intellectual curiosity, exploration, discovery, and reflection that can flourish within a learning environment tailored exclusively to young women. With a Ph.D. in Applied Biological Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Physics with a minor in English Literature from Fordham University, Dr. Rossi's expertise extends across multiple disciplines. Furthermore, her fluency in English, Spanish, and French enhances her ability to engage with a diverse student body. Possessing almost 25 years of educational experience, Dr. Rossi joined Bay View after serving seven years as the Pre K-12 Head of School at an international private institution.
Sister Marybeth established an elevated standard for her successor, Ms. Amy Gravell, who assumed the role of the Academy's fourth president in July 2023. A native of Rhode Island and a proud alumna of the Academy, Ms. Gravell brings a wealth of nonprofit leadership and community experience, having previously served as the Managing Director of the Gamm Theater and the Associate Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket. Committed to leading Bay View towards its 150th anniversary and beyond, Ms. Gravell upholds the cherished legacy of fostering academic excellence and empowering young women, embodying the enduring tradition of the Sisters of Mercy.
The Sisters of Mercy are an international Catholic religious order of women who influence and serve in education, healthcare, low-income housing, social services, social justice, and advocacy work. As part of Mercy Education System of the Americas (MESA), St. Mary Academy - Bay View cultivates connections with a vast international network comprising 40 distinguished high schools, 20 esteemed elementary schools, as well as 17 prestigious universities and colleges, all of which are sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.
The historical origins of St. Mary Academy - Bay View can be traced back to 19th century Ireland, a time when Catherine McAuley, an Irish heiress, demonstrated her remarkable vision by establishing the House of Mercy in Dublin on September 24, 1827, coinciding with the feast of Our Lady of Mercy. The primary aim of this establishment was to provide a sanctuary for women and girls, where they could seek refuge and receive an education.
Catherine McAuley possessed an enlightened perspective that recognized the transformative power of education for women, enabling them to effect meaningful societal change. She firmly believed that every young girl deserved access to education regardless of social standing. In 1831, Catherine took the momentous step of becoming the inaugural Sister of Mercy, dedicating her entire life to serving the underprivileged.
Nearly two centuries have elapsed since Catherine's noble efforts. Yet, her indelible legacy remains through the works of Mercy that continue to place the education of women and girls at the forefront of its mission.
For more information, visit www.sistersofmercy.org.