1930’s The IHM Community Faces The Depression Years

The Establishment of Villa Maria Academy 

The Great Depression was here. Falls Church was not spared as the shadow of the Depression fell across the country. Debts mounted and school enrollment dropped to as low as seventy. The IHM Community was faced with growing financial concerns with the large convent demanding repairs and renovations which could not be met with the tuition still at $1 a month (Tuition increased to $2 a month in 1937). Because it was not able to offer sports programs and extracurricular activities, Villa Maria High School could no longer compete with other area high schools and closed. The Sisters had to turn to their Motherhouse to provide even the necessities of existence. That time is recalled in their Annals: “For a while it seemed that the best thing to do would be to close this Southern mission which was weighing heavily on the already overburdened finances of the Community. But the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are not easily daunted, and having labored in this section of Virginia, they knew the great and fertile field for Catholic education which lay here if they could only struggle through these difficult years.”


In 1930 Mother Mary Selesia, from the original 1923 band of IHM Sisters to come to St. James, was appointed Superior. To help meet expenses and make some of the most pressing repairs, Mother Selesia made the decision to take a few boarders on at the convent. With one boarder at first, soon followed by several more, Villa Maria Academy, a boarding school for girls from kindergarten to eighth grade was established. This decision proved to be the turning point in the IHM Sisters’ struggle to maintain their mission at St James Parish.