Saint Basil Academy Prepares Legacy Book as Tribute to SBA History
Jenkintown, PA – Four months have passed since the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great in Jenkintown had to announce the unfortunate news of Saint Basil Academy’s closing at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. While the community has been stunned and saddened, we also realize that it is important to remember and celebrate all of the good that has come from the Academy’s existence from 1931 to the present.
Thousands of young women have graduated Saint Basil Academy between the first graduation in 1934 and the graduation of 2020, and the one to come in 2021. Each Saint Basil Academy student experienced her own story and journey, while simultaneously forging a strong sense of community and friendships, many of which continue well past graduation.
When the Academy opened her doors as a convent high school in 1931, classes were held in the newly built Sisters of Saint Basil the Great convent building. The first graduating class had ten graduates. With the Academy accepting resident students from 1933, the increasing student population led to the construction of another building with dormitories, auditorium, chapel, and library. The establishment of this new high school was especially dear to the Philadelphia area Ukrainian community. The construction and dedication of the Grotto of Our Lady of Pochaiv on the Sister’s property in 1935 started a beloved tradition for the entire Ukrainian community in Pennsylvania and nearby states– the Mother’s Day Pilgrimage. Saint Basil Academy students have taken part in the Pilgrimage, now held in October, even to this day.
After the Second World War, in 1948, when other Catholic high schools became overcrowded, Saint Basil Academy opened her doors to day students. Further need for growth sparked the construction of our current building, which opened in 1968. The facilities growth did not stop with the new building’s opening. Within this new property, by 1986, a beautiful chapel was constructed from the former Home Economics classrooms, with fourteen icons depicting women saints. A fundraising campaign allowed for the creation of the “Field of Dreams” in 2000, allowing for the development of a strong track and field program. Technological needs have encouraged constant growth and reformulation of the physical plant, to accommodate state-of-the-art computer education labs, smart boards in classrooms, and now a multi-use media room, as well as a strong wi-fi to allow “bring your own device” for students. A new update has been the creation of the Learning Commons area from the Library, which has allowed more up-to-date use of the space. Our gratitude goes out to the grant donors and individual donors who have enabled these, as well as other, improvements.
The growth of the school, of course, should not be thought of entirely in terms of physical plant. The physical aspects have grown out of a demand to meet student needs. The growing student population was an indication of the respect that the Academy had established from the strong academic program preparing students for their future academic and career journeys, the commitment to living the Gospel through our Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Rite, and the dedication to activities including athletics, music, art, drama, and clubs/organizations.
For a number of years, the earliest Saint Basil Academy students were the young women who were preparing to enter the convent of the Sisters of Saint Basil. As the student population of the Academy grew, a great part of the student body were young ladies of Ukrainian descent. After World War II, this included girls from families that had recently arrived in the United States after fleeing the Soviet invasion of Ukraine. Saint Basil’s continued to be a very important high school choice for students from Ukrainian parishes and those with even partial Ukrainian descent for many years. These last few years, the school started seeing a new glimmer of interest from our Ukrainian community.
Leaving a history of almost 90 years also leaves generations of students with special memories of their days at Saint Basil Academy. From the days of living on campus, to attending classes not far away from the fields of grazing cows, we have come to appreciate the “Sisterhood” each student can find among her classmates, and the beloved symbols of the saddle shoe and the Ukrainian emblem of the “Tryzub (Trident)” often seen on the students’ sports gear.
The unfortunate reality of the financial situation and the constantly decreasing enrollment for many reasons, from the changing climate of school choices to the results of the pandemic, are bringing the story of Saint Basil Academy to an end. But, the stories that we as individuals, from teachers, staff and administration, to students, alumnae, and families, will remain with us, as they have been ingrained into our life journeys and our memories.
And so, as a tribute to these communal memories, Saint Basil Academy will be publishing a Legacy Book, to take us on the journey from 1931 to 2021. If you would like to include your memories or wishes among those tributes, please contact us at the email below to request information about submission of your memories/greetings:
Submitted by: Lesia Penkalskyj