A Roman Catholic School on the Frontier
This was the site of St. Catherine Convent and Academy. When it
opened in 1858, it was one of two Roman Catholic schools in
Arkansas. Opportunities for a classical education were rare in
Arkansas and the school founded by the Sisters of Mercy flourished.
Bringing Education to Arkansas
In 1845, the first and at that time only Catholic school in
Arkansas closed, the discouraged Sisters of Loretto fleeing
Arkansas Post and the frontier. Four years later, Bishop
Andrew Byrne founded a school for boys near Fort Smith
Shortly afterward, he traveled to his homeland, Ireland, to
recruit teachers for a school for young women. To Byrne's
dismay, he found that tales of the lawless frontier had
preceded him. Finally, the local Bishop relented, allowing
four Sisters of Mercy to accompany Byrne to the New
"We should praise and bless the
hand that wounds us."
St. Catherine Academy
Bishop Byrne purchased the Henry Biscoe estate just outside
of Helena. The Sisters of Mercy arrived in January 1858, and
established a convent and school in Biscoe's former home
Planters and businessmen of all religions sent their
daughters to St. Catherine Academy, eager to take advantage
of the fine education the Sisters offered.
Catherine Academy prospered until the Union army
occupied Helena in 1862. Many planters left, or sent their
families away. Others found their finances reduced. The
school had few students, and therefore little income. St.
Catherine Academy struggled for several years, finally
closing in 1868.
Sacred Heart Academy
In 1879, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky.
purchased the St. Catherine property and reopened the
school as Sacred Heart Academy. A decade later it was one
of the finest boarding schools for girls in Arkansas. Sacred
Heart Academy was an important part of Helena for ninety
years. Lack of funds and teachers forced it to close in 1968.
Five years later it was razed.
Top right: Founded in 1831 by Catherine McAuley, above,
Sisters of Mercy were charged with "the relief of
the suffering and the instruction of the ignorant."
Bottom right: St. Catherine Academy occupied the building topped by the cupola in the postcard to the left. Sacred Heart Academy opened in the same building in
1879. Classrooms, dormitories and other additions were constructed between 1880 and 1895. In 1917, the building was faced with brick.