In 1907 or 1908 the Religious of Jesus and Mary purchased part of the farm formerly owned by David Little, and a few years later purchased the Charles A. Upham place, and even later two hundred acres of land adjoining. The History of Goffstown shows these properties as being in the Southside Village Portion of School District [Map shown here].
–No. 77. Lot No. 8 in the 5th range, first settled by Joseph Little; he was succeeded by his son, John, grandson, Caleb, and great-grandson, Daniel; place now known as Villa Augustina. There was another house on the premises as early as 1774 owned by Thomas Stevens.
–No. 78. Alexander Gilchrist in 1829 sold part of lot No. 9 in 5th range, known as the Ferson place, to David Hawse, and in 1833 Hawse sold to Amos H. Merrill; Merrill’s heirs sold to Alonzo F. Carr, and he to Charles A. Upham about 1860, who owned the same until his decease. Mr. Upham built the barn on the premises; now owned by Catholic Sisters.
According to Elizabeth Dubrulle in “Goffstown Reborn, Transformation of a New England Town,”led by Mere (Mother) St. Honore, of the Academie Notre Dame” [not sure who this is, but probably a mother superior of the RJM religious order. St. Augustine’s School for boys and girls, East Spruce Street in Manchester NH, was also taught bythis order of Sisters of Jesus and Mary. The History of Hillsborough County NH, 1885 notes that the number of pupils then was five hundred]. In 1907 the sisters renovated the Daniel Little farmhouse in Goffstown NH and in 1908 opened it as a convent.
Wikipedia states that “the school was a gift from Msgr. Augustin Chevalier, a pastor at Saint Augustin church in Manchester, New Hampshire, and after whom the school was named.” The history section of the Villa Augustina web site states, “The school was the gift and the dream of Msgr. Augustin Chevalier, pastor of St. Augustin’s Church in Manchester, for whom it was named.” I could find no evidence of Monsignor Chevalier making any such ‘gift’ but it would not be a stretch to believe that the school was rather named after the Saint Augustin Parish where this same religious order of nuns had a school and a presence, and after whom the pastor probably received his middle name. [Editor’s note: Joseph-Augustin Chevalier (1867-1927) was a Roman Catholic priest who founded the parish of St. Augustine in Manchester, NH.]
As early as 1909 the newspapers were proclaiming that a Catholic boarding school for girls was going to be built in Goffstown, New Hampshire. The Boston Herald headline read, “FIRST FRENCH SCHOOL. Girls’ Boarding Institution to Be Started at Goffstown, N.H. On the site of the beautiful village Augustina, in the outskirts of this town, there will soon be established the first French boarding school for girls in New England, if the plans now being made are carried out. The school will be conducted by the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, a French Roman Catholic order. The order opened the first French parochial school in Manchester in 1881, and also has schools in Fall River, Woonsocket, Providence and New York City, but none is a permanent boarding school like the one contemplated here. The Villa Augustina occupies a tract of 125 acres of land through which flows a brook of the clearest water. It is here that the sisters of the order come to spend their annual vacations.” [Boston Herald (Boston MA), page 7, Saturday, July 31, 1909]
In 1916 construction began on the school and boarding house [the cornerstone of the building has this date], and two years later on September 15, 1918 the new school opened, for girls grades 1-12. The History of Goffstown NH 1733-1920 narrative, by George Plummer Hadley, describes the original building as follows: “Villa Augustina, located upon the southerly side of the Mast Road on the western part of the farm formerly owned by David Little….A magnificent brick building with stone trimmings, four stories in height, 164 feet long by 55 in width, facing the Mast Road with a projection to the rear, 30 by 75 feet….From the upper story of the building there is a commanding view of the country to the north and west which is very attractive. This magnificent structure, finely finished and furnished, erected at a cost of $125,000.”
An early 1918 publication, “Couvent de Jésus-Marie “Villa Augustina” found at the French Institute at Assumption College in Worcester MA, states [English translation here] that the Villa was built with the approval of the “provincial house in Sillery Quebec….and under the benevolent authorization of Monsignor G.A. Guertin,” [referring to Bishop of Manchester, Georges-Albert Guertin (1869-1931)] but there is no mention of a gift or how the school was named.
Villa Augustina’s chapel served the Catholic population of Goffstown until 1955 when the Catholic Parish of St. Lawrence was established. The Rev. Lorenzo Lacasse was appointed the first pastor of that parish.
The Villa Augustina originally served more than one purpose. The religious order who founded it’s mission was largely focused on education, and so this facility was part of that fulfillment. The girls who attended the school were also potential novitiates, to follow in the RJM order, and to keep that order growing. At the time the school was built, the area surrounding Goffstown had a large influx of Roman Catholic French-Canadian immigrants who were seeking schools that offered at least some studies in their native language. The school advertised in newspapers throughout New England, attracting students beyond the confines of greater Goffstown.
The Justice de Bieedford (Biddeford ME) on Friday August 2, 1918 announced: “VILLA
AUGUSTINA NOUVEAU PENSIONNAT DES DAMES DE JESUS-MARIE GOFFSTOWN NH” [“New Residential Villa Augustina of the Sisters of Jesus & Mary Goffstown NH”] seeking instructors and students. Some of the advertising mentioned that the courses would be taught “languages francaises et anglaises obligatoiries” [in both French and English]. Dubrulle’s book on Goffstown, page 148, (noted above) mentions that classes offered in French included “religion, the history of France and Canada, art, gym and a series of home arts.” The English portion covered “literature, Latin, history, mathematics and sciences.”
The above 1918 newspaper notice goes on to state: “SANTE Un soin tout particulier est donne aux eleves pour conserver et accroitre leur sante. System de ventilation parfait, exercices physiques, promenades au grand air, nourriture saine et abondante, soins d’un medecin attache a l’institution.” [HEALTH Special care is given to students to maintain and increase their health . System perfect ventilation, exercise, walks in the fresh air, healthy and abundant food, care of a doctor attached to the institution.] Indeed, an undated pamphlet probably printed between 1918 and 1930 shows the school uniform and gym suit that was required at Villa Augustina.
As the Villa was at first a boarding school, the girls were also provided with a list of items that they should bring with them for the school year. The early uniform dresses for the school were ordered from the Brown Sisters, 1532 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. The Brown Sisters advertised in the June 24, 1919 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer:” DRESSMAKERS on onepiece dresses and sailor suits, new machines, pleasant workroom.”
A cemetery was early established within the property, especially for those of the religious order who had served at the school.
The Villa Augustina thrived. In 1962, through the efforts of student parents, the ‘Rosary Hall‘ building was constructed. That facility was built to accommodate additional classroom space and a location for plays and school functions, and over the years, according to the history on the school’s web site, it has been used for a “gymnasium and cafeteria, band concerts, drama productions, school-wide masses, dances, science fairs, sporting events, Memorial Day ceremonies, and the annual Penny Sale.”
In 1968 it was decided to cease the high school portion of the school (grades 9-12), as there were already other Catholic schools that filled the need. In addition during this year, the school went co-ed and boys were allowed to attend.
In the 1970s the boarding school format ceased, creating a day school, and there being a great need for a Catholic kindergarten, one was established here. In 1985 a pre-kindergarten was added, along with morning and after school care, along with Camp Thevenet (a summer sporting and recreational camp, sleepaway and day, formed in 1997).
In 1989, the Villa’s first School Board was created to oversee the operation and future development of the school. It was a time when the Church was encouraging religious communities to collaborate with the laity for the continuation and development of its works. In 2007 upon hearing that the school might close, St. Claudine Villa Academy was created with its name, honoring Claudine Thévenet, the 19th century French nun who founded the RJM religious order. In June 2008 the purchase of the school by a group of parents and concerned individuals was completed.
In June of this year (2014), the WMUR9-ABC TV web site reported that the Villa Augustina School had announced that it would cease operation on June 30, 2014, which it did. The administration stated that enrollment was down and the school does not have enough money to keep operating. The Villa Augustina school was only four years away from celebrating its 100th anniversary.
In August, the Villa Augustina Facebook page had the following message: School Records from 1999-2014 will be housed at the DOE in Concord NH. If you graduated or left the Villa BEFORE 1999 you may email or call us if you would like your records. 603-497-2361 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Editor’s note: my personal thanks to Leslie Choquette, Director of the French Institute, Assumption College in Worcester MA, and to Sr. Janice Farnham, RJM, Province Historian for assisting me very quickly when I had history questions.]