IHM Sisters and Villa Maria's History
The IHM Sisters
The Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is a Pontifical Religious Institute, whose members are committed to God and to the Church by the profession of the public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The charism of the sisters is Love, which continues to manifest itself today in the sisters’ joyful service of God and his people; creative Hope, which puts all its confidence in God’s loving Providence; and Fidelity, which inspires fervor in their vocation in Christ and in their mission in the Church.
The Immaculata branch of the Congregation comprises approximately 850 Sisters who currently staff Catholic schools and parishes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Florida and in the South American country of Peru. The sisters also serve the Church in pastoral and other evangelization ministries in other states as well.
The origins of the Congregation can be traced back to a log cabin in Monroe, Michigan. It was there that Reverend Louis Florent Gillet, a Redemptorist missionary, having searched in vain for religious to teach his people, resolved to found a Sisterhood of his own.
On November 10, 1845, Father Gillet welcomed three women, Mary Theresa Maxis, who became Mother M. Theresa, Charlotte Ann Schaaf, (Sister M. Ann), and Therese Renauld, (Sister M. Celestine) to begin a community based on the spirit of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Father Gillet envisioned an educational apostolate conducted by religious women who would give witness to prayerfulness, humility, simplicity, forgetfulness of self, and a deep love and respect for each individual soul.
In 1858, in response to an invitation from St. John Neumann, then Bishop of Philadelphia, the Sisters agreed to staff St. Joseph School in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, which was formerly taught by the Holy Cross Sisters. In 1859, a second mission was undertaken in Reading, Pennsylvania. In a short time many applicants sought to join the Sisters and a Motherhouse was established in what is now St. Peter’s Parish in Reading. The third and final division of the Congregation came in August 1871, when The Most Reverend William O’Hara, Ordinary of the newly formed Diocese of Scranton (1868), asked a number of the Sisters already teaching within the diocesan limits to form a new Motherhouse located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Because of the increased number of Sisters, the Motherhouse in Reading was transferred to West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1872. There it remained until 1966, when the present Motherhouse, Villa Maria House of Studies, was built at Immaculata, Pennsylvania.
The Sisters work in the Congregation’s corporate apostolate of Catholic education as well as in catechetical, pastoral, hospital and prison ministries, parenting programs, counseling, literacy instruction, adult spirituality programs, care of the infirm, retreat work and campus ministry. In their lives and in their work, they strive to continue to offer Praise, Love, and Thanksgiving as they carry out the Gospel mandate of Jesus, the Redeemer, “Go and teach all nations.”
Villa Maria's History
Villa Maria Academy High School, a private Catholic college preparatory school for girls, is located in Malvern, Chester County, in Pennsylvania. Inspired by the charism of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for more than 140 years the school has empowered young women to lead lives of spiritual growth, intellectual inquiry and Christian service by providing an education that blends academic excellence with Christian values.
In 1924 the Sisters acquired the property of William A. Warner Jr. in Green Tree and in 1925 opened the doors of Villa Maria Academy High School. The school remains at this location. Over the years, the 45-acre suburban campus has added several buildings, which house a cafeteria, library, auditorium, gymnasium, Langton Memorial Laboratory, biology laboratory, lecture hall, locker room, offices and classrooms.
Founding and Early Years
The foundation of the academy dates to July, 1872. At that time, the Sisters transferred their mother house, novitiate, and boarding school from Reading to West Chester, PA. Occupying the property formerly owned by the Pennsylvania Military Academy, the school flourished in West Chester until 1914, when Villa Maria moved to Immaculata, PA.
In 1924, the Sisters acquired the property of William A. Warner, Jr. in Green Tree, the school’s current location. This estate was a replica in name and style of Sulgrave, the Washington ancestral home in England. The property included 123 acres, the mansion house, and its adjoining buildings. All were adapted to the purpose of the Academy.
Villa Maria Academy opened at Green Tree on May 5, 1925. Good Counsel Hall, completed in 1933, included dormitory, classroom, and library facilities. In 1935, an Activities Building with auditorium and gymnasium was opened.
Regina Mundi Hall
Regina Mundi Hall, constructed in 1955, housed classrooms, guidance rooms, the Langton Memorial Laboratory, offices, and the cafeteria. An addition to Regina Mundi Hall was necessary in 1959. This new section included classrooms and administrative offices. In 1966, Regina Pacis Hall, which included Regina Pacis Library and the infirmary, was completed. A 1972 expansion added a faculty lounge, biology laboratory, lecture hall, locker room, and more library space.
St. Joseph Hall
In 1979, Villa Maria Lower School was moved to a wing of the House of Studies at Immaculata. At this time, the high school acquired St. Joseph Hall, which had been built in 1965. This acquisition gave the high school nine more classrooms, an art studio, and administrative offices.
In 1985, plans were undertaken to build the Marian Center, an Arts/Athletic complex. The Athletic Center, Phase 1 of the total project, opened December, 1987. Phase 2 was completed May, 1997, and includes an auditorium, music instruction and practice rooms, and an art classroom and studio. New soccer/lacrosse, softball, and hockey fields, an all weather track, and five tennis courts were also constructed.
In 1999, Maria Hall was renovated and now houses administrative offices and a conference room. In the same year, a second computer lab was added to Regina Mundi to enhance computer usage and instruction. An addition to St. Joseph’s Hall was completed in spring, 2002. This expansion provided four technologically up-to-date science laboratories and a third student computer lab as well as additional classroom space. During the summer of 2002, the former science labs in Regina Mundi were converted to classrooms and a new, larger chapel and a guidance suite were constructed. Enhancements to Regina Mundi continued during the summer of 2003. The cafeteria was renovated and a new facade to its entrance constructed, a sprinkler system installed, the remaining old windows replaced, and the electrical system updated.
Maurene Polley Field
In 2015, the school built the Maurene Polley Field, a turf field named for longtime coach, athletic director, and alumna Maurene Moore Polley ’64. The new field enables the field hockey. lacrosse, and soccer teams to play on the best surface, and in weather that would prevent play on a grass field.
In summer 2018, the school united the two halves of the campus and eased traffic flow by constructing a loop driveway that runs from the St. Joseph entrance on Central Avenue, in back of the convent, and to the exit in front of Regina Mundi.
Through all the physical changes, Villa Maria has maintained its focus on nurturing faith, creativity, intellectual curiosity and compassion to ensure that young women achieve more than they ever thought possible.