Site 6: Convent
Convent Chapel 1956.
The convent was built in 1951 to house the sisters who would staff the new Saint Ann School. The brick Williamsburg Colonial-style house faced what was then N. Fairfax Drive (although the sisters always used the rear entrance at the top of the stairs as it was closer to the school). The convent contained a living room, dining room, library, kitchen, modest bedrooms, and a private chapel.
The first four Sisters of Loretto arrived from Kentucky on August 27, 1951 for the start of the first school year on September 4. Our parish priests and the leaders of parish women’s organizations greeted the sisters on their arrival. The sisters found their pantry well-stocked with food as a gift from our parishioners.
Additional Sisters of Loretto arrived as the school expanded from four grades to eight over the next four years. These sisters taught here until 1964, when they were recalled to Kentucky by their order. Eleven Sisters of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio arrived that fall to take their place.
Sisters of Loretto with Parish Leaders in Convent Dining Room.
The convent was a very busy home. At times as many as thirteen sisters lived in the Convent or in over-flow housing in Joachim Hall. Until at least the 1970s, the sisters opened their home to our school children, offering after-school enrichment classes in the living room. Students learned guitar, piano and even ballet there.
There was a big meadow in front of the convent where the Custis Trail is now. In the 60s, the meadow was an outdoor classroom where Grade 4 students collected insects each year to study in science.
For many years, there was a small grotto with a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Convent yard. (Originally, this grotto had been in the yard of the first rectory along Fairfax Drive). The grotto was a stop for numerous May Processions.
Virgin Mary Grotto c. 1990.
May Procession headed to Convent Grotto 1965.
In the late ‘70s, construction on Route 66 began. In late 1979, it reached Saint Ann and came right alongside the school playground and almost to the front door of the convent which can be seen in the distance in the picture below. As an unexpected effect of this road construction, Saint Ann grounds became a temporary refuge for displaced turtles and possums!
Concrete being poured for Rte. 66, Saint Ann School and Convent in upper right, December 1979.
Over the years, many school and parish children visited the sisters on Halloween, climbing the steep backstairs with their treat bags to show off their costumes and see what goodies awaited them at the kitchen door.
In the mid ‘90s to early 2000s, the sisters invited the principal of our school, Marlene Tennier, to be an overnight guest at the convent whenever she stayed late for a school event. They provided her with a private room on the first floor. This kindness saved her long nighttime drives back home to Maryland with very early morning returns the next school day.
In later years, since the building was not air-conditioned, the sisters would call on school parents and parishioners in the spring and fall to install and remove some heavy AC window units in the bedrooms!
The Sisters of Notre Dame lived and taught here until 2002. Throughout their time at Saint Ann, a number of sisters also served as Directors of Religious Education for the parish, performed hospital ministry, and worked at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Sr. Mary Doreen Strahler, SND was the last teaching resident of the convent. She had served at the school since 1988, and was a much-loved fifth grade teacher, then a classroom aide, and finally a resource teacher.
(Front) Sr. St. Mark Florence, SND; Sr. Doreen Strahler, SND; Sr. Susan Wolf, SND; (Rear) Sr. Josephine; Sr. Johnmarie Hagan, SND; Sr. Julie Boehnlein, SND; Sr. Laurette Florence, SND in convent living room early 1990s.
Sr. Doreen, and several other sisters of Notre Dame who lived in the convent while working on ministries in the DC area, returned to Chardon at the end of the 2002 school year. Since then, the old convent has stood empty.
The parish is now working with the Arlington Diocese and Arlington County to determine the best use for the building. Our Master Planning Committee has obtained engineering and environmental assessments of the building in its current state. With assistance from the diocese, a consultation is underway with the County Zone Administrator’s office about a possible renovation plan for mixed usage, including housing for Catholic teachers, Pre-K classrooms and auxiliary space for church and school use. We hope this space once again becomes an important part of our vibrant community.