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Mary Help of Christians Academy
It was an unlikely beginning. In 1921 the beautiful 16.33 acre Muhs estate on Belmont Avenue in North Haledon was up for sale. The property had three buildings; a mansion called the "white house," a house for the workers, and a bungalow. Still protecting the future of his home and property, Mr. Muhs had serious reservations about selling to a few young Sisters and 42 rowdy orphans. Would they destroy his property? God has His ways, though, when it comes to helping those who care for his beloved youngsters -- especially those deprived of parents and other necessities of life. There was a miraculous change of heart on the owner's part, and the Muhs estate was sold to the Salesian Sisters with his blessing.
Until 1924, the girls made a daily trek to the bus stop, for a ride to St. Michael's School in Paterson. That year the Harris House, originally the house for the Muhs estate workers, was converted to classrooms and became the first school house. Mary Help of Christians School opened its doors with Sr. Mary Pash, who had come from England, as the first principal for the 76 resident and five day students. Steadily, the educative work for young girls blossomed. More Sisters and students made it imperative to think of expansion.
Don Bosco Hall was constructed in 1929. This two-story building provided room for more than 70 resident students. The good news spread and elementary grade enrollment increased. In 1933 the brand new St. Joseph's Chapel was erected, providing adequate space for the growing family to worship together. Auxilium Hall, built at the end of the 1930's, provided the necessary rooms, equipment, and lab needed for a duly accredited high school… the Sisters' next dream for the oldest of the now 83 resident and 35 day students.
The onset of World War II slowed down the process of obtaining the necessary approvals for a secondary school. The Sisters already had an affiliation with the Catholic University of America, to benefit the young Sisters in their studies. In 1939 this affiliation was extended to the orphans and eighth grade graduates, that they might pursue either a general or classical secondary education in North Haledon. By 1943 there were 33 girls in this program. The Sisters actively sought state accreditation, particularly for the sake of the graduates interested in further studies in nursing. In June of 1944 the New Jersey State Board of Education placed "Our Lady Help of Christians Boarding and Day Academy" on the list of approved private secondary schools. Those seven high school students who began as freshmen in 1940 were honored to be the first graduating class of the newly accredited high school. The school's name, corrected on the state records in August 1945, remained "Mary Help of Christians Academy."
Before long another building found its place, nestled on the estate's hillside. In 1952 Mazzarello Hall provided for a new library, typing and music rooms, a cafeteria, and a large lower level for lockers and athletic facilities. The next decade saw a sequence of shifts and adaptations in the usage of the campus buildings as the administration worked to meet the demands of a more varied curriculum and increased student activities for a growing population. Among these changes, Don Bosco Hall became the new gym and auditorium, while the upstairs remained a dormitory.
Beginning in 1961 and for about four years thereafter, forty girls and a number of Sisters arrived from Cuba where they and the Catholic faith were no longer welcome. To make room for them and the ever-growing high school, Mazzarello Hall was divided into more classrooms and the lower elementary school was phased out. Everyone soon realized that this was still not enough space as the high school population peaked at 408 in 1963-64. In 1967 the seventh and eighth grade classes closed to allow more classroom space for the high school.
June 13, 1965 saw yet another accomplishment: the blessing of Sacred Heart Hall. This split-level building housed a new gymnasium and stage, a cafeteria, music facilities, business classrooms, and a new locker section, all overlooking a leveled sports field.
In 1976 the old St. Joseph's Chapel was leveled to make room for a new spacious air-conditioned structure, still named in honor of the same benevolent saint. This beautiful chapel, situated at the heart of the campus, was built as a tribute to the courage and daring of the early missionary Sisters who planted the apostolic works of the Salesian Sisters in the USA.
The Academy earned its accreditation from the Middle States Association for Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1977. It was a proud moment for everyone when the visitors' report stated that if each "had a daughter of high school age, he/she would love to send her to Mary Help of Christians Academy."
As the 1970's drew to a close Don Bosco Hall, which had served by turns over the decades as classroom space, a gym, a dormitory, and finally a chapel, became a carpeted, tiered, acoustic auditorium/lecture hall, complete with a 235 seating capacity. 1979 marked the closing of Mary Help's resident student program. For the next eight years the only residents were a handful of "prep students" - young women discerning a religious vocation while completing their high school studies. By the time that program ended in 1988, the Academy was strictly a day high school.
In 1986, the Muir's original "white house" was razed for safety reasons. The new structure provided a residence for the Sisters, administrative offices, and meeting rooms for the many activities that made up the school's daily life.
The 1990's brought more internal changes. The dormitory on the second floor of Don Bosco Hall was reconfigured to provide a computer center, classroom, alumni office, and yearbook room. The art room in Auxilium Hall was given a new enclosure and a display area.
Three state-of-the-art science labs were built in 2001 in the existing wings of Auxilium and Mazzarello Halls. This renovation moved the Academy light years ahead with a far-reaching science curriculum designed with a view to education and industry several years down the road in terms of equipment use and college expectations of high school graduates. Brand new theology, culinary arts and fashion classrooms were established. Three computer labs were upgraded, two of which were outfitted with personal computers and one with iMAC's for the graphic arts. The modernization of the buildings (dropped ceilings, new lighting, restoration of the original wood flooring, a new fire safety system) provided a brightened and more student-friendly atmosphere to all the classrooms.
The last five years have brought great technological growth for the support of the academic programs. The Academy has fixed and portable interactive whiteboards; carts with laptop computers in the science labs, a newly updated digitally-catalogued library with ample computer stations for research and academic support; a modern TV production studio, a multimedia presentation system in the Lecture Hall and a campus-wide wired and wireless network.
Significant, as well, were the many changes which added to the quality and safety of the program: the installation of security cameras on all outside doors throughout the vast campus; the addition of two academic guidance offices in Don Bosco Hall and a personal guidance office in Sacred Heart Hall; the purchase of a mini-bus for school sports and beyond-the-classroom day trips for upper elective classes.
From the orphanage elementary school and the first years of the high school in the 1940's, the current Academy has matured a comprehensive college-prep program with advanced placement course, college-credit opportunities and specialized internships. Currently, it is in the full swing of preparations for its fourth Middle State Evaluation, examining its timely mission and projecting further improvements for the good of the young women who study here. Mary Help of Christians Academy's growth is a tribute to the Salesian Sisters, lay faculty and staff, parents and students of the past 65 years. Like their predecessors, the current student body and faculty are still looking forward envisioning new developments yet to come!
Mary Help of Christians Academy
659 Belmont Avenue, North Haledon NJ 07508 | Phone 973.790.6200
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