At one time, Nashville could boast of having one of the premier Catholic private schools in the country serving minority and poor children of North Nashville. The mere mention of St. Vincent School brings up nostalgic conversations in the African American community of a time when a quality, superior education was second to none compared other academic institutions. Unfortunately, the school is now defunct after serving the African American community for 75 years. But nonetheless, its contribution to the world is immeasurable.
St. Vincent School was one of many schools for African Americans and Indians founded by St. Katherine Drexel at a time when people of color were not allowed in White schools. She founded St. Vincent school in 1932 basically to serve the minority children from North Nashville. And serve the African American community it did. St. Vincent is responsible for producing African American students from Nashville that have made monumental gains in both the local and global arenas. Nashville (as well as the country) is inundated with those who attended or graduated from St. Vincent, including trail makers in all genres of human endeavors.
St. Vincent can boast a history with many prominent African Americans in the city, and the mention of names would only do a disservice to the ones that may be omitted. We are talking about producing competent invaluable workers in all professions, whether they be doctors, dentists, lawyers, educators, architects, firemen, police, entrepreneurs, ad infinitum. There are not many African American families in Nashville who cannot boast of a family member or kin that didn’t attend St. Vincent. Undoubtedly, St. Vincent was seen as one of the prized and admired beacons of the African American community by offering modest tuition and financial assistance. But what set St. Vincent apart from other schools were caring, nurturing, and exceptional teachers who didn’t accept anything less than the best from their students—along with offering a spiritual foundation.
Many of the parents were not Catholic but simply wanted their children to have a superior academic education learning about God as part of the curriculum. They valued the discipline and structure that they knew would be provided to their children. Understanding the importance of education and perseverance was important to African American students, especially during a time when they were told they were inferior by many of their White counterparts. Loving themselves and God plus knowing that no one was better than them played a vital part in their progress and achievement in life.
There were a number of outstanding dynamic women in education who passed through St. Vincent over the years, including the Franciscans and Daughters of Charity. But many former students would testify to the tough love and positive reinforcement of academic excellence demanded by many of the African American female teachers and principals who served as extensions of their own families. Although the environment may have been academically challenging, there was a close-knit connection that made all the students feel loved and respected. Many of the students loved to go back and thank their teachers for helping to make them successful and productive citizens.
The invaluable indoctrination of self worth and being better than the best inculcated by the teachers is the talk among alumni when they come together. You see nothing but smiles and love manifested in their voices when recapturing their experiences while at St. Vincent School. They are profoundly grateful and appreciative for being part of the St. Vincent School experience.
St. Vincent School’s biggest fault was its desire to serve the poor. Eventually, because of trying to carry economically distressed families, they fell upon financial difficulties—even with modest tuition and financial assistance. There was simply not enough tuition revenue coming in to offset operating expenses, even with the Nashville Diocese and St. Vincent Church parishioners subsidizing school expenses for years. Upon closing May 28, 2009, the school was leased to Lead Academy. At the time of their closing, they encompassed grades 1-8.
St. Vincent is planning a reunion for all the students that attended or graduated from the school. You will be hearing more about this auspicious occasion for former students of St. Vincent School to come together and honor their experience. It should be a ‘must attend’ affair for anyone fortunate enough to be a part of the St. Vincent School history.
See the articles on the all-classes reunion for St. Vincent alumni, friends and family; and a biography of St.Vincent de Paul by Cass Teague HERE!