Academic Excellence In A Setting Of Catholic Christian Values

Our School's History 

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 MercyAcademy of the Incarnation 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.

Separately 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.

As 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 today.

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. 

In 2000, St. Mary underwent a notable change with its merger with the historic St. Thomas Prescho

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 community.

With the start of the 2009/2010 school year, St. Mary celebrates 140 years of distinguished tradition in Catholic education.


217 S. 4th Street, Wilmington, NC 28401  - Phone:  910-762-5491 ext. 40


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