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Saint Frances Academy
*On this date in 1828, we celebrate Saint Frances Academy. This secondary institute is an independent Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland.
It is the first and oldest continually operating Black Catholic educational facility in the United States. In the early 1800s, various Protestant organizations in Baltimore, such as Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church's Free African School, Daniel Coker's Bethel Charity School, St. James Protestant Episcopal Day School, and William Lively's Union Seminary, created schools for black students. While providing a valuable service, they could not meet the demands of Baltimore's growing free black population. (There were no free public schools for children of color in Baltimore until 1866.)
Mother Mary Lange recognized the need for education for African American children and opened a school for them in her home in the Fells Point area of the city. Early years Its original name, the Oblate School for Colored Girls, opened for its first year at 5 St. Mary's Court in Baltimore's Seton Hill neighborhood, northwest of downtown, near St. Mary's Seminary and College, the first Catholic seminary in America, founded 1791. Its mission was to teach "children of color to read the Bible," which, since it included teaching slaves, was then illegal. The following year in 1829, the school taught out of 610 George Street and then 48 Richmond Street (now West Read Street), a few blocks away. The school graduated its first class with ceremonies in 1832.
By 1853, the school changed from the Oblate School for Colored Girls to the Saint Frances School for Colored Girls, named after St. Frances of Rome, and later shortened and elevated to the Saint Frances Academy. In 1871, the school moved to its current location in inner East Baltimore at 501 East Chase Street in the Johnston Square neighborhood. The high school began admitting boys in the 1970s. The school now offers a traditional, co-educational, college-preparatory curriculum for students in grades nine through twelve. An honors program is available to select students; all students complete a community service component.
The Maryland State Department of Education approves the school independently owned and operated by the Oblates. The Commission accredits it on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools regional agency. The student population is still predominantly African American. In 2012, Camille Cosby, an alumna of a school in Washington run by the Oblates, and her husband Bill Cosby donated to assist St. Frances Academy in building a community center in East Baltimore. The community center was initially named after her and her husband, but his name was removed after the revelation of multiple sexual offenses.
St. Frances' football program has become the subject of controversy within Maryland in the late 2010s. After former Gilman School coach Biff Poggi took over as head coach, he began aggressively recruiting talented players from inside and outside Maryland, to a greater degree than other private schools in the state did. Within a few seasons, St. Frances became unbeatable over their traditional opponents in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (M.I.A.A.), regularly defeating them by wide margins.
Before 2018 those teams told St. Frances they would no longer play them, citing safety concerns as many of St. Frances' recruits were well outside the typical height and weight range for high school players and more in line with college football teams. Some St. Frances supporters believe the opponents' real motives are racial since there had been no complaints when predominantly white teams like Gilman had been similarly successful in earlier seasons. The team won the M.I.A.A. championship before the season started since all those opponents had to forfeit their games, but scheduled intrasquad scrimmages, opponents from as far away as Canada, and road trips to the South for the players' benefit.
Poggi departed the program in July 2021, but the team continued winning, finishing the following season in the top 5 of MaxPreps' 10 national rankings.