Located in the heart of the historic
district of Wilmington, North Carolina, St. Mary School lays
claim to a rich and unique past. In 1869, Bishop James
Gibbons requested assistance from the Sisters of Our Lady of
in Charleston, South Carolina to open a Catholic school in
Wilmington. Under the title of the Academy of the
Incarnation, the school began in a house at 202 Nun Street
with an enrollment of thirty-six students. With several
donations and tuition money from the Academy, the Sisters
added a parochial school for poor girls of the parish called
St. Peter's Parochial School for Girls. In January 1871, The
Peden House, located at the corner of Fourth and Ann Streets
near the site of the present St. Mary Lower School building,
housed St. Peter's. The Academy was later closed.
but concurrently on the other side of Ann Street, Amy Morris
Bradley with a monetary award from the philanthropist Mary
Tileston Hemenway of Boston began construction of the
handsome structure that would become the first school in
Wilmington to offer free education. Plans for the Tileston
School were drawn by John A Fox, Esquire, noted designer of
the Boston Museum.
Meanwhile in 1876 to provide Catholic education for boys,
work began on a separate school building situated on the
site now occupied by St. Mary Church at Fifth and Ann
Streets, it was formally opened October 1, 1878 with an
enrollment of fifty boys. Eventually over the course of time
the boys and girls schools were merged into St. Mary School.
was common in southern schools, the Catholic Schools in
Wilmington were segregated. The St. Thomas School was home
to the African American Catholic children. In the 1960's
prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Diocese of
Raleigh merged segregated Catholic Schools. St. Thomas
School was combined with St. Mary School. The Sisters of the
Franciscan Handmaids of Mary joined the faculty at St. Mary
and taught for several years with the Sisters of Mercy.
Construction of a new church began in 1908 on the site of
the old boys' school. Built on the plan of a Latin cross in
the Spanish Baroque style, the church is constructed of
brick and tile with no steel, wood or nails in the
structure. With its twin steeples and domed roof, St. Mary
Church graces the lovely skyline of downtown Wilmington
The Sisters of Mercy continued to serve the students of St.
Mary School until 1991. From its humble beginnings with
thirty-six students in 1869 as the state's first Catholic
school, St. Mary School is now part of a parish compound
that includes the church, the rectory, a convent, the Lower
School building, the Tileston Building, gymnasium, and
grounds - the equivalent of a city block. The school serves
about 200 students in Grades Kindergarten through Eighth.
One addition to the St. Mary Parish buildings constitutes an
interesting story in itself - the Tileston School.
After its construction in 1871, the Tileston School on Ann
Street continued its own storied history. After Amy Morris
Bradley's retirement in 1891, Tileston School, which had
undergone five additions over the century continued to
educate Wilmington's youth serving as a public elementary
middle, and high school. The city of Wilmington abandoned
the building in the 1980's. Unattended, it quickly fell into
deterioration. Eventually, in 1988 under the direction of
Monsignor Thomas Hadden. St. Mary Parish purchased the
complex for $17000. Renovations began; today the Tileston
School houses the Parish Offices and Meeting Rooms, St. Mary
Outreach Ministry, the Dental and Health Clinics, and the
After-School program. The building is once again a living
part of the neighborhood filled with the bustle of school
children and the ministry of an active Catholic Parish.
Joining the St. Mary Parish on September 8, 1982 were the
Sisters of the Society of St. Ursula. This order contributed
to the parish and school with work in the areas of education
and especially in the development of social ministry.
2000, St. Mary underwent a notable change with its merger
with the historic St. Thomas Preschool.
The historic Tileston School building is currently home to
the St. Mary Middle School. Further restoration and use of
this building are underway to facilitate the needs of the
growing PreK-8 school, the St. Mary Parish and the
With the start of the 2009/2010 school
year, St. Mary celebrates 140 years of distinguished
tradition in Catholic education.