In 1852, the first Catholic Church in Portsmouth, St. Mary, was dedicated. In 1866 property was purchased on State Street to start the first parochial school in Portsmouth. Shortly after the school was established, the Sisters of Mercy from Manchester were invited to staff the school and maintain residence nearby. Tragedy struck in 1871 when St. Mary’s Church burned down. The community rebuilt a church at the same location and dedicated it as the Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1874. The companion school, St. Patrick School, was established in 1888.
Saint Patrick School was aptly named to represent the Irish demographic that permeated the area of Portsmouth at the time. Many immigrants fled to the Portsmouth area during the Irish potato famine. The immigrants funded the parish and school buildings through their dedication and generosity. It was a community built on mutual love and determination.
The Irish priests of Portsmouth demonstrated industriousness and modeled for their parishioners how to be good and generous stewards of the gifts God had bestowed upon them. It was not unheard of for priests to donate large sums of their own money gained from inheritances and reinvest the money donated by the community back to the school for its development.
The Sisters of Mercy were charged with the education and formation for as many as 700 students at a time. The system of teaching adopted by the Sisters in Manchester was that which had been used by the Order in Ireland. The formation of the child’s character took precedence over all subjects in the curriculum. Truth and sincerity were emphasized, and the children were shown the way in which the Christian virtues should be practiced and harmful vices avoided. They were trained in the habits of correct thinking, speaking, and acting, by always comparing their actions and words with the standards of right and wrong.
The Sisters of Mercy remained at Saint Patrick School until 1992 – the last year the sisters taught at the school. They remained dedicated servants to the school and parish communities for over a century before they closed the convent.
From 2006 – 2014, Sister Mary Joan Walsh, was principal of Saint Patrick School. During this time, the school enjoyed a rebirth of spiritual awareness and focus. Academics and faith continued to be interwoven throughout the curriculum and school life. Sister Mary Jo retired at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 school year at the age of 81.
The school began to tackle the challenges of delivering a Catholic education in the 21st century under the guidance of new principal, Mrs. Susan Graham. Many changes have taken place during the 2014-2015 school year, but many traditions remain. The school located its middle school program in the vacant convent that adjoins the school building; giving students in grades 6-8 their own space. The school also began preparation for it’s 2017 re-accreditation and an intensive examination of the curriculum was undertaken in 2014.
The future of Saint Patrick is yet to be written, and trusting in God’s love and providence, the future of the school will continue indefinitely.