Published in the February 5, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — Nazareth Academy on Cordis Street will close its doors at the end of the current school year and join with the new Academy at Penguin Hall in Wenham, which is set to launch with an incoming class in the fall of 2016.

Both Nazareth Academy and the fledgling Academy at Penguin Hall are independent, all-girls college preparatory high schools. Both also describe themselves as “rooted in the Catholic tradition.”

Without the official blessing of the archdiocese or a religious order, a school cannot describe itself as a “Catholic school.” The Academy at Penguin Hall has reportedly approached the archdiocese, but no decision has been made by the Church.

According to Dean Tsouvalas, director of Advancement and Communication for the Academy at Penguin Hall, representatives of Nazareth Academy reached out to the Academy at Penguin Hall, initiating the discussions that ultimately led to the two schools joining together under the Academy at Penguin Hall banner.

Nazareth Academy was formed after Our Lady of Nazareth Academy, owned by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, closed at the end of the 2009 school year after 61 years of educating young women at its 14 Winship Dr. campus. The school was subsequently reincarnated by a group of former OLN parents and backers as “Nazareth Academy” and has since operated independently in space leased from the town in the old Hurd School on Cordis Street.

Repeated phone calls yesterday to Nazareth Academy seeking comment for this story were not returned.

Tsouvalas said that the more representatives of the two schools talked, the more they realized that their missions were quite similar and that by joining forces they would be able to continue to offer students the kind of education that educators at both schools feel strongly about.

The Academy at Penguin Hall anticipates about 100 students when the school opens in September, Tsouvalas said. He noted that after Nazareth Academy graduates its seniors in the spring the students in the remaining grades will number fewer than 50. Those students, Tsouvalas said, “will be part of the pioneering class at the Academy at Penguin Hall.” He said that the remainder of the student body will come for over 40 communities in the region.

Faculty and staff at Nazareth Academy will also be given the opportunity to make the move.

“We have invited all Nazareth Academy faculty and staff to apply to the Academy at Penguin Hall,” Tsouvalas said.

The new Academy at Penguin Hall is a nonprofit, independent secondary school located on a 50-acre campus at 36 Essex St. in Wenham.

The property has a rich history.

The original manor house was built by Ruby Boyer Miller in 1929 as a summer house in Wenham specifically to accommodate her relationship with famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer Richard Byrd. Miller named it “Penguin Hall” as a nod to Byrd’s South Pole voyages.

The property also had a previous connection to the Catholic Church. After Miller’s death, it was sold to the Archdiocese of Boston and used as a novitiate for the Sisters of Notre Dame. Later, Penguin Hall served as a retirement home for the sisters.

From 1975 to 1987, property served as a conference center for Commercial Union Insurance. Since 1987, it was the home of an advertising agency, Mullen Communications. Earlier this week, a group of benefactors from the North Shore purchased the property for a reported $10.3 million.

One of those benefactors, Molly Martins, will serve as the first president of the Academy at Penguin Hall. Martins brings her extensive experience as a higher-education business professional to help launch and oversee the administration of the new all-girls school.

“We are thrilled to offer a unique educational opportunity to young women that has not been available until now,” Martins said. “Our students will thrive within a joyful, creative and supportive community that nurtures and supports them.”

According to administrators, the curriculum of the school will be focused on critical thinking and project-based learning that will inspire students and staff to develop life changing learning experiences and ambitious goals of their own.

The innovative student-centered curriculum at The Academy at Penguin Hall will focus on six core areas of development: Academics, Arts, Athletics, Community, Spiritual Life and Service. Students at The Academy will be able to select from a variety of signature programs ranging from entrepreneurship to computer science that encourage them to discover and delve more deeply into their interests.

The building that Nazareth Academy now leases from the town was once the Hurd School, built in 1899 as a public elementary school for by students in the North Ward.