St. Cecilia Academy has officially begun its newest chapter as it welcomed more than 60 seventh- and eighth-grade girls and their parents to the school for the Junior High Orientation on Friday, Aug. 12.
The historic day comes after a year of planning and restructuring to shift grade levels between St. Cecilia and Overbrook School, both of which are owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. St. Cecilia is now a 7-12 all-girls school and Overbrook is a pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade coed school.
“This is a great historical moment on this beautiful day, and I want to thank you for being a part of this exciting new beginning,” Sister Anna Laura, OP, principal of St. Cecilia, told students and their families as they gathered in the gymnasium at the start of the day. “I woke up this morning saying, ‘Lord, you are amazing.’”
Over the summer, Hastings Architecture and The Parent Company led the effort to prepare for the change by renovating a portion of the school to accommodate the seventh and eighth-grade students, which included designating three classrooms for each grade.
“All summer long, we’ve been watching right before our very eyes, building plans and renovations unfold,” Sister Anna Laura said. “The reason that we’ve done all of this, the building renovation and curriculum preparation, is for you, and now here you are. Now all is ready.
“We know this – in God’s providential care,” she continued. “From all eternity, the Lord has known that you would be here as the inaugural junior high students and families of St. Cecilia Academy as we begin our adventure of being a 7-12 all girls high school.”
Before orientation officially kicked off with Sister Anna Laura’s address, as the girls arrived, they were greeted by faculty, staff and student ambassadors who helped them get settled in, giving them packets, goodie bags, and assisting them in finding and setting up their lockers.
Sarah Carson, a sophomore and student ambassador, said she thinks the junior high students will fit in well at the school.
“Tradition is a big part of St. Cecilia, so we’re planning on making some new traditions for the junior high that will be something that they grow to learn and love,” Carson said. “There is just something about St. Cecilia where everyone in the community is so close. It’s like we’re all friends without even knowing each other.”
“It’s a built-in sisterhood,” added Blake Birmingham, sophomore vice president and student ambassador.
New students and parents alike said they were excited for the new journey they were embarking on.
“I’m most excited about the way we have our freedom a little more than most schools. There are no boys, so we can be more comfortable here and really be ourselves, and I think that’s really nice,” said seventh-grader Corinne Cirigliana, who previously attended Overbrook for third through sixth grade. “It’s cool that we’re going to get to spend six years here. It’s going to be really nice to get to know each other even more.”
Cirgliana’s mom, Wendy Cirigliana, said the restructuring of the grades was “long overdue” since, after sixth-grade, boys at Overbrook generally shift over to Montgomery Bell Academy, a 7-12 all-boys private school across the street from the Dominican Campus.
“The ratio is off, so it only makes sense,” Wendy Cirigliana said. “I’m excited (for Corinne to start). Even though its on the same campus (as Overbrook), I find that St. Cecilia just gives them more individuality and freedom to discover who they are and make new friends,” she continued, noting their previous experience with the school since her daughter Ava graduated from St. Cecilia in 2022, and her daughter Imburgia is currently a freshman.
“We’re not Catholic, however, I find that the standard and integrity of God and who he is, is always kept very high and at the same time, the level of academics is at a high standard,” she said. “A Christian education was important for us and the integrity of who God is, is very important for us.”
Eighth grader Rose Samples said she is most excited to get involved with the art program.
“It’s how I express myself,” Samples said. “It’s really exciting (being the first eighth-grade class) because we can show others how we can be an example.”
Samples’ mother, Erianne Roos said in looking for a private school to send her daughter to, St. Cecilia stood out in a big way.
“I was so impressed with the entire St. Cecilia program. They’re so warm and so welcoming and all their programs really impressed me with the attention they give individually to the girls,” Roos said. After being part of a military family that moved every year “this is an opportunity for her to spend five years in an incredible school where they really nurture and foster their education and the girls themselves.
“I really hope that she finds a home and a place where she can grow,” she continued, “and I really just hope that she gets that sense of community and that sense of stability.”
For seventh grader Mimi Pyburn, starting at St. Cecilia means walking in the footsteps of her family as she joins her sisters Amelia, a senior, and Helen, a freshman, as well as her sister Mary Catherine, who graduated in 2019, and her mom, Margaret, who graduated in 1993.
“I’m thrilled to live the legacy,” Pyburn said. “It’s exciting and new, and there is so much that is going to happen. Our class has this great opportunity to make history at such an historical school.”
“It’s extremely nostalgic to watch them go through some of the same traditions that I went through 30 years ago,” said Margaret Pyburn, who currently serves as the Director of Student Affairs at St. Cecilia. “I look forward to her and all her classmates meeting lifelong friends and growing in their faith, their confidence, and becoming a St. Cecilia girl.”
Throughout orientation, the students met the seventh and eighth grade faculty and staff, took yearbook pictures and learned everything about St. Cecilia including intellectual life, student life, athletics, fine arts and practical matters, but not before Sister Dominic Quinn, OP, the new president of St. Cecilia and Overbrook offered up a prayer.
“Heavenly father, we praise you, we bless you and thank you. You have given us this beautiful day to celebrate a new beginning for our students gathered here and a new beginning for St. Cecilia Academy,” Sister Dominic prayed. “Thank you for the many blessings given to these families and to our school. We are so confident, because of all you have done for us in the past, that you will also provide for a bright future for our students at St. Cecilia.”
St. Cecilia began the academic year for all its students on Tuesday, Aug. 16.
With the new structure now official, students are able to enroll as a seventh grader or a ninth-grader.
For more information about St. Cecilia, visit stcecilia.edu.