For more than 140 years, the legacy of the cornerstone of Bibb County education was tucked away on quiet hill overlooking downtown Macon.
Tuesday at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon-Bibb County and the Historic Macon Foundation celebrated the history and recent campus enhancements designed to keep up with the school’s neighbors in the College Hill Corridor.
A new historic marker documenting the school’s groundbreaking contributions to education history was unveiled in front of Sheridan Hall on Orange Street.
Headmaster David Held said the landlocked high school and middle school complex considered moving out of downtown to accommodate expansion and athletics a couple decades ago, but stayed to maintain the Catholic school’s mission.
“We’re very, very proud of our student body, which is extraordinarily socioeconomically diverse,” Held said. “We are very committed to the downtown area.”
When five Catholic Sisters of Mercy arrived during the Civil War, they opened a mission and small school while serving poor students in the basement of St. Joseph Catholic Church.
In 1876, they outgrew their convent and school on Walnut Street.
They bought property from former Georgia governor George Towns and demolished his home to build a larger convent and school.
Mount de Sales was chartered on its current land, which local general contractor Chris Sheridan noted is an elevation higher than the towering Massee Apartments on College Street.
“That’s physical height, but much more importantly is the spiritual height that this school represents,” said Sheridan, who mentioned it was the first school to integrate in Macon in 1963.
Sheridan’s grandmother had entered the sisters’ convent there, but instead married and settled just down the block on Park Place.
About a century later, the family that followed continues to make its mark in the neighborhood.
The Phil J. and Alice S. Sheridan Foundation recently funded a massive campus makeover of brick entrance ways, student plazas, prayer garden and flowering landscapes on the property nestled among College, Columbus and Orange streets just up from Medical Center, Navicent Health.
“It’s now one big outdoor classroom, and the teachers take advantage of it and use it every day,” Sheridan said. “There are seating areas here where there is collaboration going on, where students can work together outside, where students and teachers can relate to each other and get to know each other in a special way.”
Sheridan, a trustee of the foundation, spearheaded the renovation while mindful of the love his aunt and uncle had for nature and learning.
“Even though they were talking from heaven, they spoke loud and clear,” Sheridan said. “If we’re really going to be part of the College Hill Corridor, and if we’re really going to be part of downtown Macon, we need to step up our game. So that’s what the foundation has done.”
Historic Macon Foundation Executive Director Ethiel Garlington, who lives near the school and watched its renovations from his balcony, recognized the school’s impact on that neighborhood over the years.
He noted that in 1976 the Washington-McCook house was moved to build a parking lot near the Washington Memorial Library.
As the stately home was transported to Park Place next to the school, the Mount de Sales band joined the fanfare to celebrate one of the community’s first victories in historic preservation.
“I think Mount de Sales has a long history with our organization, and a long partnership with our community,” Garlington said.
Mayor Robert Reichert, who was lauded for help in closing Rose Place for the new Middle School entrance, proclaimed May 16, 2017, as Mount de Sales Day in Macon.
“Our community treasures its history,” Reichert said from the podium. “This day is a great day to celebrate the past, to commemorate what happened here before and to celebrate also the great future of Mount de Sales and Macon-Bibb County.”