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A History of Outreach to the Community: Raleigh’s Saint Monica School

Back in February of this year a miracle, of sorts, took place at 15 Tarboro St. in East Raleigh. I am speaking of course, of the official opening of the St. Monica Teen Center. The city-sponsored facility provides a safe haven for neighborhood teenagers for after school activities, recreation and interaction with other teens and adults.

The Center has a computer lab, a homework assistance area, a fitness/dance space and a youth lounge, among other amenities. Under the jurisdiction of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department, the center has a full-time director, and is the first such teen-oriented facility funded by the City of Raleigh. In its three short months of operation, the Teen Center is already having a positive effect on the community.

Located at the corner of Tarboro and E. Edenton streets, the Teen Center is housed in the historic St. Monica School building, which has a long history of serving the youth of the community.

In 1930 Raleigh’s first Roman Catholic bishop, the Most Reverend William Hafey, purchased the old Ferrall estate on New Bern Ave. for $100 and established St. Monica parish and school. His was a noble effort to minister to not only Raleigh’s tiny African-American Catholic community of the time, but to the greater community, as well.

The school opened in the Fall of 1930, and was staffed by five nuns from the Sisters the of Immaculate Heart of Mary order, based in Scranton, PA. The old Ferrall homeplace served as their convent.

Bishop Hafey (seen here in episcopal vestments), is accompanied by Fr. Thomas Griffin, rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral and founder of Cathedral School, at the dedication ceremony of St. Monica School in 1930.

St. Monica School consisted of four large classrooms of equal size, one of which doubled as the school’s chapel. A small office adjoined each of the classrooms. It was modeled after a similar structure erected in Greensboro, also under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Raleigh. At its peak of operation during the 1940s and ’50s, the 4-acre campus included the brick school building, the convent, a “domestic training school,” a rectory, St. Monica Church itself and a small school auditorium.

This is how the old Ferrall homeplace appeared in 1930 when it served as the convent for the Sisters IHM, the teachers who staffed St. Monica School. It stood at the corner of New Bern Ave. and Tarboro St.

Later on, during the civil rights era, St. Monica  School was a proud witness to the early desegregation of schools in Raleigh. In 1953 Bishop Vincent Waters (third bishop of Raleigh, 1945-1975) decreed that racial segregation in Catholic parishes and schools in his diocese should end. The following year St. Monica graduates were allowed admittance to Cathedral High School, making it the first integrated school in North Carolina.

By 1967,  all St. Monica students had been incorporated into Cathedral School, and the diocese subsequently closed St. Monica. The parish itself was decommissioned in 1968. In 1972 the campus property was sold to the City of Raleigh.

In the subsequent decade a private individual purchased the Ferrall house and moved it to another site. A Bojangles restaurant was later built on the vacant lot. The rectory, training school building, the auditorium and church building were demolished one by one until only the school building itself remained. Then in the early 1980s Edenton St. was extended through the property to connect with New Bern Ave. Thus the vivisection was complete.

For many years thereafter the old St. Monica building was occupied by the New Bern Ave. Day Care Center, until it ultimately vacated the premises, as well. Later, through the efforts of local preservationists, the City of Raleigh designated the venerable old building as a Raleigh Historic Landmark in 2008.

The traverse hall of  St. Monica School. I can easily picture Sister Mary Benedicta hustling down the corridor at the first period bell on her way to greet her classroom of eager students.

Editor’s note: Saint Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine, the fourth century Bishop of Hippo, in Africa. She is revered by the Catholic Church as the patron of abuse victims, alcoholics, victims of adultery, disappointing children, widows, married women, and mothers.

Archival photos of St. Monica School courtesy North Carolina State Archives