Our Lady of Victory Catholic School is ending a 111-year era of educating children on its sprawling campus south of downtown Fort Worth, but the nuns who kept the school going are not leaving.
The last day of school for the 70 girls in Kindergarten through 8th grade was May 26, but the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur are having a special celebration for the community from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School, 3320 Hemphill Street.
The day will begin with an invitation-only Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Olson.
”This is a school that we have long nurtured and loved,” said Sister Patricia Ridgley, Regional Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.
Ridgley said several factors led to the difficult decision to close the school, including declining enrollment and other education options such as charter schools and parents with financial hardships.
“We have been tracking these various factors in education, and we haven’t been able to overcome these stresses,” she said.
Ridgley added that the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur is an aging congregation and no longer have the resources to help the school.
But the sisters are not leaving the campus that opened in 1910, and Ridgley said they are exploring other uses for the property in keeping with the school’s mission of educating mind, body and spirit.
The Hemphill corridor is developing, she said, and Ridgley said the sisters are calling on alumni and others to help “dream a big dream.”
“We’re praying and consulting before we make that decision. We’re staying in the neighborhood; we want to be good neighbors,” she said.
Decision to close
Former students who attended Our Lady of Victory said the decision to close is sad, but they understand the challenges the nuns are facing.
Susie Reyes, who went to the school during the 1960s until she attended Nolan Catholic High School, said the sisters created a special environment where she felt comfortable and safe.
“I wasn’t really surprised because you can see that it has happened with other Catholic schools not only in this area but throughout the country. It is very sad that the elementary school has to close,” she said.
Reyes said she has fond memories of her Kindergarten class where she began to learn about numbers and how to read.
“The school was always some place where I felt comfortable. I was never scared to go to school,” she said.
Reyes said she also stays in touch with the sisters of St. Mary of Namur, visiting them and attending Mass with them.
“As I’ve grown older, I appreciate more and more the Catholic education and their (the sisters) high level of giving and service to the community,” she said.
Tradition and history
According to the school’s website, the sisters who came to Fort Worth were teaching at Saint Ignatius Academy in 1908. The academy was next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth. The school was full, and the nuns sought property to build another school to educate children in Fort Worth and beyond.
The sisters negotiated the purchase of 26 acres at the end of the trolley line from downtown.
The Our Lady of Victory College and Academy opened in September of 1910.
In 1953, Our Lady of Victory became Fort Worth’s first fully integrated school. Sister Teresa Webber was responsible for making the decision. Several white students left, but the nuns persevered in educating children.
Ridgley said the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur first came to Texas in 1873 to build schools.
When Our Lady of Victory was built, it cost $160,000 which translates to $4.5 million 100 years later, she said.
“When the sisters saw a need for another school, they would use the collateral from other schools to get the bank loans,” she said.
“These women were so audacious when they decided to start out on the plains of Fort Worth,” she said.
The traditions and history of Our Lady of Victory are also important and meaningful to Mary Martin, who graduated from the 8th grade at the school before she graduated from Nolan High School.
Martin later returned to teach 7th and 8th-grade English and science before switching careers, but she remained involved with the school, serving on boards, and doing other volunteer work.
“I had a close relationship with the sisters. I just felt so loved by the sisters. They just have such a kind, caring nature about them,” she said. “They want to see their students excel and grow up that are cognizant of social justice and working for peace.”
Martin described how several sisters were artists, and she took art and piano lessons in the convent while growing up.
One of her special memories is of the Good Shepherd statue on the playground donated by her great great uncle, John Laneri.
“No matter what happens with the facility, I hope the statue of the Good Shepherd can stay and look out over the property,” Martin said.