|Catholic School Offers Girls
More Than Education|
By Mari Perry
|The Institute of Notre Dame has operated
for 158 years
at its location in East Baltimore. The school chose not to move during the 1960s when many others did. (CNS photo by Mari Perry)
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 28, 2005
BALTIMORE - The buckled and worn slate steps on the staircase that rises
through the Institute of Notre Dame are an emotional and physical anchor for
this small, Catholic all-girls high school that has persistently remained in
the same downtown location since 1847.
Almost 80 years old, the dark steps are deeply curved from years of
use, but like the school itself are still sturdy and safe and continue to
"IND is the best-kept secret in East Baltimore," said Terry Grant,
chairman of the school's science department. "We do things the big (public)
schools can't do, and we have students who are willing to go the extra
In the first-edition version of this story, the age of the stairs was incorrect. The stairs are almost 80 years old.
Also, the institute has been operating in the same location since 1847, although its oldest remaining building dates to 1852.
In addition, the religion requirement may have been misinterpreted.
Catholic religious affiliation is not an admissions requirement.
However, all students must take religion courses.
The errors have been corrected in the text.
Among the school's graduates are two of the most powerful women in
Congress. Yet despite its permanence and powerful alumnae, the venerable
Institute of Notre Dame struggles for recognition alongside Baltimore's posh
In fact, the institute is commonly confused with the considerably more
expensive suburban Notre Dame Prep in Towson, known as Notre Dame "in the
valley" to contrast with the institute, known affectionately as Notre Dame
"in the alley." Both are run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
The Institute of Notre Dame has 158 years of consecutive education at its
location, said school President Sister Mary Fitzgerald. Since it was built
10 years after the school's founding, seven additions have been made to the
While many of the city's prep schools, including Notre Dame Prep, moved
out of the city in the 1960s, the Institute of Notre Dame has remained, hard
by some of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods.
"IND made a deliberate choice to remain in the city because we feel there
are already services in the county, and we do have a commitment to the city
of Baltimore," Fitzgerald said. "We feel we're an anchor in the city and
have been for almost 159 years."
The sense of permanence isn't lost on the institute's students. Kristin
Urbanski, a senior, said, "What's really unique is the history. It's so old
... Think of all the generations of girls who have come through here."
|Institute of Notre Dame sophomores Jennifer Sykes, Jordan Driscoll
Christina Webber dye their chemistry class goggles.
(CNS photo by Mari Perry)
Even though it's housed in ancient, interconnected buildings, the
school's technology is anything but old-fashioned. The institute has three
computer labs, as well as computers in the library and at least one computer
in each classroom. The buildings have had Internet access for seven years.
Although the curriculum has changed since the school's inception and the
girls no longer study needlepoint, the atmosphere still emphasizes
traditional values. The 403 girls enrolled in grades nine through 12 radiate
an air of respect for their teachers and each other.
Stephen Mastella, president of the father's club, said the most important
reason his family chose IND was that it felt like home.
"It's a family school," said Mastella, who has two daughters, a recent
graduate and junior. "I liked the fact that everyone knows you, and I think
you get a good feeling. Other schools I visited, they could be kinda stuck
up and they only want this certain type of student to be there."
Arnold Tinch, father of a recent graduate and current sophomore, said his
family chose the institute in part for its lower cost.
"We came to the conclusion that IND provided the best value," Tinch said.
"It is less expensive than other (private) schools" the family researched.
Tinch's children have always gone to private schools.
The Institute of Notre Dame charges $8,250 in tuition this year. Books
and uniforms cost another $800. The school is able to offer scholarships
based on academic performance, financial need or both.
Tuition at Notre Dame Prep is $12,650 plus up to $1,000 for uniforms,
books and fees. Tuition at the Bryn Mawr prep school in Baltimore is $18,975
plus books, fees and uniforms.
Fitzgerald said the reason the institute keeps tuition low because
donations provide $2,000 to subsidize each student. Therefore, more than
$10,000 is actually spent on each girl's education in a year, she said.
The school puts a lot of emphasis on fund raising, Fitzgerald said. But,
"the people who attend here realize we do the best we can with limited
resources, and that's a really important factor."
Paula Sykes, a mother of a recent Institute of Notre Dame graduate and
two current students, said her daughters couldn't have attended the school
without their full scholarships. But that wasn't the only reason they chose
the school in downtown Baltimore.
"When my oldest daughter walked into IND, she said, 'This is it,'" Sykes
said. She said her younger daughters felt the same way.
Located on Aisquith Street on the east side of the city, crime is
sometimes a concern for the school.
As a student checked out early one afternoon in September, she was
directed to wait in the lobby until a fracas involving several uniformed
police officers was settled outside the school.
Sister Hilda Marie Sutherland, who has worked at the school for 57 years,
authoritatively told the girl to wait inside until Sutherland was sure it
For some parents, the school's inner-city location hasn't been a problem.
"Safety hasn't been an issue," Sykes said. "The folks who live around
there are very supportive. They watch over the school."
Sykes said one of the best things about the school is its diversity.
"With IND, diversity is more than a belief," Sykes said. "They really
"My daughters' experiences have certainly not been limited to one ZIP
code, much to the chagrin of my gas tank."
Students come from all over Maryland and as far away as Pennsylvania, but
most are from Baltimore City, one-third of the student body. Some girls
travel as far as 42 miles each way, said Stephanie Fisher-Mills, director of
Most students are Catholic, 70 percent, but religious affiliation is not
a requirement for admission to the school. Most of the non-Catholics are Christian, but
there are Jewish and Muslim students as well.
Fisher-Mills said the school offers "curriculum that students of all
faiths feel comfortable with. IND genuinely reflects its community."
Students come from a variety of backgrounds, racially and academically.
About 10 percent come to the institute from public schools, and the
ethnicities represented include 17 percent black and 2 percent each Hispanic
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and the Democratic leader of the House of
Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., both of whom grew up in Baltimore,
are IND graduates and credit their success in part to their high school
"Attending the Institute of Notre Dame taught me that I could do anything
I dreamed of doing," Mikulski said in a statement. "The sisters were
intelligent, caring and had incredible inner strength.
"They taught me more than geography or mathematics; they taught me to
help those in need of help. They inspired my passion for service."
Carrie Arnold, director of alumnae for the school, said, "As a graduate,
I feel like all our alumnae are notable." The school boasts alumnae working
in "every industry" from a retired Air Force pilot to company executives.
"We may be small," Arnold said, "but the women who come out of here are
2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
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