The vibrant history of Ursuline Academy of Wilmington began in 1893 with the relocation of the Ursuline Sisters from Bedford Park in New York City, at the request of the bishop, to occupy a convent and boarding school on the corner of Delaware Avenue and Harrison Street. This courageous and daunting move by the sisters showed not only their faith in God’s plan but their dedication to living in the footsteps of their founder and trailblazer, St. Angela Merici. With the steadfast commitment to and fearless passion for their mission from the bishop, the sisters successfully opened a Kindergarten in 1895 and added a boys department the following year.
Under the leadership of Mother Olympias Gleeson, the school flourished. Recognizing the school’s need for additional space, John J. Raskob purchased the Grant Estate, facing Delaware Avenue, and gifted it to the Ursuline Sisters. With the addition of Kennett Lodge, renovations began, and the sisters and their students moved into their new convent and school in 1924. After the purchase of the Downward Estate, an adjacent property bordering on Franklin Street, further renovations were completed in 1927, ushering in a new year for Ursuline’s 300 students. In 1955, under the leadership of Mother Maguire, the junior school was constructed in response to the demands of a student body that numbered more than 500. The Montessori program was added in 1964, and the Laffey-McHugh Gymnasium was added in 1980. In 2017, construction began to renovate the former Ursuline convent into a new, multi-functional space with classrooms, chapel, library, cafeteria, atrium, Innovation Center, and more. The Anthony N. Fusco Sr. Student Life Center was officially opened in January 2019.
In 1975, Ursuline Academy’s Board of Trustees was formed to assume responsibility for the daily operations of the school. At that time, the Convent and Academy became separate corporations, and for the first time in its history, lay principals were appointed to head the schools. A further reorganization of the school took place in 1988 when the Board of Trustees created the position of President of the Academy; Angela M. Boyle ‘53 was the first to hold this position.
The Alumnae Association of Ursuline Academy was formed in 1911, and Mary Russell, class of 1895, was its first president. Ursuline Academy’s distinguished alumnae now number more than 3,800 women.
For 129 years, Ursuline Academy has served as an academic cornerstone in Wilmington, teaching, inspiring, and developing our students to become leaders both in and out of the classroom. The strength of the Ursuline community, both past and present, and the influence of our academic excellence not only ensure the growth of our legacy for decades to come but also create a comprehensive and collaborative learning environment for our students to thrive in today.