JEM of a Christmas at Maria Hall
by Cate Murway
Villa Joseph Marie High School, the award winning Catholic, private, college preparatory school for young women, located at 1180 Holland Road in Holland, PA is a commanding, sprawling complex of stately, meticulously restored original buildings and additions, founded by The Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, S.S.C., in 1932. Mother Maria was born Casimira Kaupas in Lithuania in 1880 and she immigrated to the USA as a teen. In August 1907, she founded the Sisters of St. Casimir, [the patron of Lithuania], an order of Roman Catholic nuns headquartered in Chicago.
This 203-acre working farm in Holland, which was at one time home to the Adrian Cornell [1713-1777] Family of Bucks County [the additional L was added to the Cornel name; as per the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church Records; December 1, 1710], became an East Coast retreat house and school for young women. The estate, called the Maple Lane Farm, was purchased by the S.S.C. Foundress for $40,000.
Currently in progress is the addition of a state-of-the-art, 600-seat auditorium, along with the installation of new classroom spaces in St. Joseph’s Hall, which formerly housed a nursing home.
“Specifically, we are adding 21st-century learning spaces with an emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) education, and an auditorium that will enable us to expand our performing arts offerings,” stated Thomas A. Kardish, President, Villa Joseph Marie.
“The new classrooms being created will have an enormous impact on our students,” confirmed VJM Principal Lauren Carr. “The new classrooms being created will have an enormous impact on our students’ and teachers’ needs, creating additional learning environments with updated technology.”
A little over 400 students in grades 9-12 fill the halls of the renovated school buildings which have retained many historic features. No settling here. The VJM school is a compilation that all can embrace!
Maria Hall looms large in Villa lore. For many Alumnae prior to the 1970’s, Maria Hall was their home away from home. The three story Italianate style mansion with a dramatic elliptical staircase that brings class to the entrance foyer continually welcomes students, families and guests to step back in history to its fascinating Bucks County past. The dining area accented by fluted columns and pilasters along with the tall paneled doorways offer an additional ambiance of elegance to each and every event.
The late VJM alumna/ art teacher, Sister Madeleine Bunevicius, S.S.C. restored the 1861 mansion, room by room, to its original grandeur. A basement fire caused by faulty wiring devastated substantial portions of the estate but this living piece of history was restored and reopened in September 2014. Character exudes throughout, from the fireplaces to the deep sill windows while modern conveniences have been integrated into this special piece of history.
“Villa Joseph Marie is proud to share the 1860 Cornell mansion with the community through our ‘Christmas at Maria Hall’ each year. This award-winning home that was once a part of the Underground Railroad is simply stunning dressed in all her Christmas finery,” shared Jennifer Drayer-McDonald, VJM Director of Institutional Advancement.
With insight and passion, Maria Hall was decked and decorated by the astute Alyse M. Johnson, VJM Advancement Associate, and anyone she was able to entice to assist her!
“Built in 1860, Maria Hall is a magnificent example of mid-19th century architecture. For 86 years, it has been an integral part of the life of Villa Joseph Marie. Initially, it served as classroom space and living quarters for boarding students and the sisters. Now, Maria Hall houses the Office of Institutional Advancement and provides a charming space for meetings, parties, and community gatherings. Christmas is a special time at Maria Hall. It has been my privilege to work with our Development Staff to decorate the house to reflect the joy of the season. This year we have three special trees that capture the personality of our Villa community. The ‘Angel Tree’, reflective of our Angel Fund which provides emergency tuition assistance to Villa students, the whimsical ‘Children’s Tree’ featuring JEMS’ hand-made ornaments, dedicated to the wonder of the Christmas miracle as seen through little ones’ eyes, and our decorated with school colors ‘Villa Tree’ adorned with personalized 2019 Senior Class ornaments.”
On November 29th, the senior class mothers congregated in Maria Hall to hang their daughter’s sentimentally bell shaped ornament on the Villa tree.
“For many years, the clarion call of this bell rallied the Sisters of St. Casimir to their duties: service, activities, meals, and prayer. So, let its chime also be your call to action as the legacy continues through you. Go forth and do good in the world.”
The personalized ornaments will be distributed to the families in January when the tree is undecorated.
Memories were shared, along with a few tears, as each was astonished how quickly the cherished 4 years have been passing at Villa Joseph Marie.
The award-winning, newly restored Maria Hall, dressed in her Christmas finery, was opened for tours and light, festive refreshments on Sunday, December 2nd. Junior Olivia Glunz’s entrancing violin music filled the rooms.
A big thank you was extended to Greg Millevoi who arranged for Santa to pay a visit and the children were all invited to “mail” a letter to the North Pole. You wouldn’t want Santa to forget anything, would ya?
“Maria Hall is such a beautiful building with a rich history. I feel honored to have a tiny part in its story”, shared Mary Beth Walinskas, the VJM Alumnae Relations Coordinator.
Just a short distance away, the hallway in the main school building was filled with the VJM Alumnae Association hosted ‘2018 Villa Vendor Fair’ successfully coordinated by Andrea M. Sorial, VJM ’04.
It effectively showcased both the Villa Alumnae vendors and their wares, helping to make Christmas shopping even more pleasurable…… and a tad easier! The inspiring selections included perfect gift ideas from Thirty-One, Beautycounter, Pepper Pop Paper cards, Avon, Rodan+Fields, LuLaRoe, India Hicks, and Mary Kay and even very helpful products from a health & wellness coach and information from a KellerWilliams Real Estate agent.
All was calm but all was still very bright by 3:00PM. Christmas at Maria Hall was a very successful event!
Maria Hall is available to reserve for special occasions. For more information or to schedule a tour, please contact Alyse Johnson, Advancement Associate, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.357.8810, ext. 217.
“Always more, always better, always with love.”
Villa Joseph Marie
1180 Holland Road
Holland, PA 18966
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