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Sacred Heart Academy to celebrate 70 years on Sunday

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When Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead opened as the Mary Louis Academy Annex in 1949, the school had 58 students. Seventy years later, the all-girls school has a student body of more than 850. While the number of students and the size of the campus have increased, SHA’s mission has remained the same: to educate and empower young women.

“I think that’s what enabled the school to do so vibrantly,” SHA Principal Sister Jean Amore said. “We’ve lived the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

Students come from more than 50 school districts across Long Island, with many from Nassau County’s North and South Shores. “I think that contributes to our school-wide diversity,” SHA President Kristin Lynch Graham said. “I think it gives students really healthy relationships outside of their own neighborhoods as well as college readiness.”

Sacred Heart annually takes part in several outreach programs throughout the year, including a Midnight Run in New York City and visits to developing countries to provide school supplies and resources. Sacred Heart boasts roughly 11,000 alumnae, many of whom who have continued volunteering in their professions and communities.

“It speaks to everything that the mission promotes,” said Dr. Mary Ellen Minogue, chairwoman of SHA’s English department. “It’s been inspiring to see how we are involved and how we both respond to the needs of the times and also to be countercultural in a very positive way. It’s just a living, breathing viable manifestation of the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

Minogue, who has worked at the school for 33 years, said that while the girls have developed a strong sense of womanhood, she understands that when they graduate, they are entering a co-ed environment, which makes it more important to prepare them for society.

“It’s about helping them to be constructive, not combative,” Minogue said. “We have a lovely bubble of female empowerment, but part of our goal is helping our girls move beyond it and build them up for the real world.”

Patricia Mallon, the SHA math department chairwoman, added that community service helps the girls to connect with their communities. She works with the student council and helps to organize a community service project with the Math Honor Society.

“We do these things to make them aware of the people around us that they don’t have what they have,” said Mallon, who has worked at SHA for 17 years. “Whether they went into the field of math or not, it’s just so gratifying to see that they’ve become so productive and conscious of the world around us and community service.”

Several of the newer employees at SHA have also learned the significance of SHA’s tradition of promoting community awareness. Ken Tompkins, a SHA theology teacher, has taught at the school for two years. He taught in Catholic schools in the past, but this is his first time teaching at an all-girls school.

“It’s really been enlightening and really moving to see the willingness of these girls that come from diverse zip codes and bring them to this institution,” Tompkins said. “It’s OK to differ and disagree, but helping them understand ways to work together as a community. Common ground is not a pre-condition for common life. It’s about instilling that through the lens of inclusive love.”

Volunteerism “is required, and it looks good on their resume,” Amore said, “but I think that as they do it, it’s much more than that. It really touches their heart.”

As SHA prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary on Sunday, many faculty members said they look forward to seeing former students and teachers. Michael Goetz, an English teacher and former athletic director, who has worked at the school for more than 20 years, is among the faculty members who hopes to reconnect with his former students.

“During the graduation ceremonies, it’s like I’m losing daughters every year,” Goetz recalled. “In fact, my two daughters attended the school, so I’ve experienced what it’s like to be a parent and a teacher. I can’t wait to see all my girls again.”

Along with the celebration, Sacred Heart recently launched a strategic-planning process to study the needs of school moving forward. The plan will take shape over the next three to five years.

“Each year has its own energy,” Lynch Graham said. “Sometimes you get caught up in all these things, but when you really realize that you’re here to educate and empower young women, I think always that makes the work feel meaningful. There’s a strong tradition rooted here with a really bright future.”

The celebration, which starts at 10 a.m., is expected to feature alumnae from each decade, former and current faculty, staff and administrators, and current students and families.