Saint Mary’s Catholic School celebrates Founder’s Day — 75 years strong — and adds the virtual Diamond Dash to the celebration now through Nov. 14.

Saint Mary’s Catholic School celebrates Founder’s Day — 75 years strong — and adds the virtual Diamond Dash to the celebration now through Nov. 14.

Today is founder’s day at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Rome as it celebrates 75 years – the diamond anniversary.
Included is something new — #75yearsrunningstrong, a virtual race – a 7.5 kilometers, of course. The Diamond Dash starts today and ends on Nov. 14.  How it works:
  • Participants do the race any way they choose – walk, run, paddle, pedal, skip… and anywhere they choose – trail, treadmill, river, mountain, etc.
  • Supporters are asked to #moveforStMarys and anyone can participate – from anywhere.
  • Registration starts at $25.50 for current St Mary’s students, $30.50 for SMS alumni and just $35.50 for SMS friends.
  • Several weekly challenges will be incorporated as well.
  • Organizers also will be challenging alumni classes, friends from the St. Mary’s Catholic Church parish and current students to be pacesetters.
  • The race ends Nov. 14 with the reverse raffle pull and a silent auction.

What to know about the Diamond Dash. Click here.

For more, click Saint Mary’s.


From our Aug. 10 story on St. Mary’s diamond jubilee: 

Original St. Mary’s Catholic School on East First Street in Rome.
Saint Mary’s Catholic School today on East Seventh Street and Cooper Drive off Turner McCall in East Rome..


By Natalie Simms

As students return to Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Rome this Wednesday, they will be marking the 75th year the private school has been educating students from across Northwest Georgia. Born from the mission and vision of parishioners from Saint Mary’s Catholic Church and staffed by Dominican nuns, Saint Mary’s opened on Sept. 17, 1945 and continues its tradition of Christian values highlighted by the motto “Courage, Wisdom and the Love of God.”

In 1945, Catholic families desired to fill a void in education in Rome by starting a Catholic school to educate their children.  The first school was in the Lumpkin Estate, also known as “Terrace Hill,” overlooking the river on East First Street, in the general vicinity of the Hampton Inn and Suites on Turner McCall.

Christa Jackson

“From the very beginning, however, the school has welcomed non-Catholic students who sought out Saint Mary’s for the strong academics and the loving, nurturing but disciplined atmosphere for which Catholic schools have long been known,” says Christa Jackson, director of Admissions and Development at SMS, who’s been with the school for 25 years.

“The Dominican nuns lived on the upper level of the home, and the children’s classrooms were on the main level.  The basement was used for cooking their school lunches,” says Jackson. “In 1945, there were 51 students enrolled in grades 1-8. I have been told that there were four large rooms on the main level, one for grades 1 and 2, one for grades 3 and 4, one for grades 5 and 6, and one for grades 7 and 8.

“There was a big porch that went all the way around the front of the house and big marble landings on the front steps.  We still have those marble slabs today and have converted them to benches in front of our present school.  So, we have a little bit of the original school with us to remind us of our heritage.”

As the school grew to nearly 180 students, more classroom space was needed, so SMS moved into a new building in 1961 at its current location off Cooper Drive and East Seventh Street. “It was a very modern building for its time. There was a classroom for every grade and space for offices, a small library and a brand, new kitchen and large cafeteria, which was also used as an auditorium,” says Jackson.

The Dominican Nuns were reassigned to areas of greater need in 1970 and a new order of nuns, The Daughters of Charity, came to serve St. Mary’s from 1971-1993.

“People have such fond memories of when the nuns were here,” Jackson says. “I have always heard stories of how the sisters would dress up in costumes and decorate the convent next door to the school for Halloween. I can just imagine how much the children enjoyed trick or treating there.”

Since 1993, Saint Mary’s has been staffed by lay teachers and staff.

In 1980, the look of Saint Mary’s School changed again with the addition of a new building, housing a gymnasium, in addition to a library, two classrooms and a music room. Kindergarten also was added in 1980, and after-school care was introduced in 1985.

The 1960 St. Mary’s Catholic School built at current location on Cooper Dr.

“As the new century began, we spent a great deal of our building and grounds budget on trying to repair our flat roof that was always leaking,” Jackson remembers. “Every time it rained, we always laughed and said we had Lake Saint Mary’s above our heads.”

Under the leadership of another visionary group of Saint Mary’s families, a capital campaign began to raise the money to build a new school.  In 2001, the new building was built on the same site, around the existing school.

“Once the new building was complete, we had a special prayer service to say goodbye to the old building that was full of so many special memories,” Jackson says, “Then the next day, we all gathered again to watch as the big machines came to tear down the old school. We took the rock from the 1961 building to line the courtyard of the new school and the steps to the playground so we would always have a part of that building with us, too.”

Present and Future

In recent years, Saint Mary’s has added Pre-K 3, Pre-K 4, and has expanded enrichment classes so that every student experiences Spanish, computer, music, library, physical education and art.

“There is also a lovely little chapel now, designed by a group of Saint Mary’s grandmothers,” she says. “A beautiful stained-glass window created by a Saint Mary’s parishioner invokes a sacred feeling as you enter the chapel door.”

Jackson estimates some 1,500-plus students have graduated through eighth grade in the last 75 years with a total of more than 5,000 coming through the school at some point in their education. This year, because of COVID-19, enrollment is down around 205.

“We recently developed a new website and welcome new families and students to explore the wonderful possibilities of a Saint Mary’s education. We are the right size to enable proper social distancing and have the resources to offer in-person instruction safely,” says Jackson.

To protect students and staff, SMS has made many adjustments to not only return to school but to stay in school.  Some new protocols include all students having their temperatures taken each morning; entering through different spots to provide social distancing; and all students will be wearing masks.

Although much has changed over the years and will continue to change in the future, Saint Mary’s will continue to keep Christ at the center with a legacy of faith to guide.

“No matter what era you were a student at SMS, the same sweet spirit has always been a part of what makes our school special. We say a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to the people who gave us our school seventy-five years ago, and we also look forward with great excitement to see what the future holds for Saint Mary’s,” says Jackson.

Celebrating 75 years

“We have looked forward for two years to celebrating our 75th anniversary of Saint Mary’s Catholic School.  As you can imagine, our plans look very different now than those we had been previously discussing due to COVID,” says Jackson.

The first Mass of the school year will be celebrated on Founder’s Day, Sept. 17.  In addition, the school’s PTO is working on a surprise event to launch on Sept. 17 that will last through November.

“There are plans to launch new 75th anniversary ‘bling’ including T-shirts, water bottles and more. We hope to have a special activity for our students on the 17th of each month to celebrate our Founder’s Day on Sept. 17.  We are optimistic that more activities will be added as we progress successfully through the school year,” she says.

“Our minds are busy as we make preparations for our 75th anniversary but what an unlikely year this will be to know how to plan anything…it seems that every day brings new changes and information about this virus that has paralyzed our world.

“But then we think back at what our founders were facing in the days before they opened the new school, they had worked so hard to establish.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died of a stroke, but had a virus of which there was no cure or vaccine.  His successor, President Truman, was faced with a war that was killing thousands upon thousands of our young men.  On Aug. 6, 1945, exactly 75 years ago, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

“I can only imagine the fear and uncertainty that gripped the hearts of the men and women who were hoping to open a new Catholic school in Rome, Ga.  Times were hard and they were frightening.  But with their hope fixed on God, they took a step of faith, and thanks be to God…here we are today, 75 years later, a living testimony to what their faith accomplished.”



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