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DeSales High School: The Early Years

January 15th, 2021

By John Marks, Curator of Collections & Exhibits

In support of our current exhibit, An Educated Citizenry: Education in Geneva, I wanted to write a blog about DeSales High School. As with most research, the information I sought was sparse and scattered. We have commencement programs, yearbooks beginning in the 1930s, and reunion booklets, but little information on the founding of the high school. If there’s a printed history out there, perhaps from one of the school’s anniversaries, we’d love to have a copy.

The Geneva newspapers at nyshistoricnewspapers.org weren’t much help. Although the school began in September 1912, in the St. Francis DeSales Grammar School building, it wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper. After a few futile searches, I learned that DeSales was referred to in print as St. Francis High School, but didn’t find any articles until the 1920s.

Looking at the DeSales yearbook shelf, I initially overlooked a folder tucked among the books.  It contained the first two soft-bound yearbooks, 1916 and 1919. The second book provided the best history of the school’s founding.

Older White Man In Priest's Collar

Father William McDonald

The two parochial schools, St. Francis DeSales and St. Stephen’s, ended at the eighth grade. A small percentage of those graduates continued on to high school or college. Locally, there was no option for Catholic students to advance and also continue “religious instruction and moral training.” Father William McDonald, St. Francis Church’s priest, was instrumental in creating the high school.

There were two departments in the new school: commercial and academic. Commercial students graduated after the 10th grade equipped with business skills. The school received its New York State Regents charter in 1913, and the first academic class graduated in 1916. There were 78 students the first year; that number rose to 170 by 1918.

Two Story School Building With Spire

St. Francis DeSales Grammar School

The high school used the second floor of St. Francis DeSales Grammar School. There were five classrooms and a large study hall. “The rooms are all bright and cheerful, well lighted, heated, ventilated and equipped with laboratory apparatus, maps, charts, and reference books adapted to the school work.” DeSales moved to Pulteney Street in 1929.

Although there were only two yearbooks for the first six years of the school, they included photos and histories of each graduating class. The 1919 yearbook reported that the commercial Class of 1916 had eight graduates, evenly divided between men and women. They were employed as stenographers, bookkeepers, and typists at two garages, a laundry, two railroads, and larger companies like American Can, and Goulds in Seneca Falls.

Four Nuns In Habits

Sister M. Caroina Mahoney, Class of 1917; Sister Anna DeSales’ Smead, Class of 1916; Sister M. Callista Mahoney, Class of 1916; and Sister Rose Angela Noonan, Class of 1916

There was also a report of the first three academic classes. Twelve went to college, seven took the commercial course, four women became Sisters of St. Joseph, three were teachers, and three were studying nursing.

There is much more to the early story of DeSales High School, but I will save it for another blog and possibly a video.

The exhibit, An Educated Citizenry: Education in Geneva, is on display through Spring 2021.

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