Students will take their final, final exams at Catherine McAuley High School on Friday. When they return to the same school in the fall, they’ll be attending The Maine Girls’ Academy.

The state’s only all-girls high school is changing its name at the request of the Sisters of Mercy, the religious organization that founded McAuley in 1969 but will sever ties when the private school drops its affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church in July.

After a six-week naming process that yielded more than 400 suggestions, Head of School Kathryn Barr announced the new name at an awards ceremony Thursday.

“Everyone was anxious to hear what it was,” said 16-year-old Maddy Beaulieu of Yarmouth, president of next year’s senior class.

A member of the naming committee, Beaulieu said “Coastal Maine Academy” and “Atlantic Academy” were some of the suggestions that stood out to her, but she’s pleased with the end result and said other students were, too.

“It really accentuates what we stand for,” she said. “We’re the only private school for girls in Maine, and it makes that stand out.”

The school announced in October that it would become independent, freeing its board of trustees from having to report to the Sisters of Mercy’s Northeastern Community in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

The Sisters of Mercy told the school this spring that it could no longer use the name of the Irish nun who started the religious organization.

Leslie Tremberth, a 1996 graduate and co-chairwoman of the school’s alumnae association, said the name change was the “final piece” needed to mark the next stage in the school’s history.

“The new name, Maine Girls’ Academy, makes explicit what has always been true of the school: that its doors are open to girls from across the state, from all backgrounds and faiths,” she said. “I expect that the new name will encourage even more students and families to explore the school and get to know it as a place for girls to learn, grow and develop into young women of character and confidence.”

Enrollment at McAuley has been dwindling, dropping from around 200 students a decade ago to 120 now. Tuition at the school is $15,500 for the 2015-16 school year.

Nuns, who once lived on the Stevens Avenue campus, no longer teach at the school, and their former convent is scheduled for redevelopment into senior housing.

Although the school will continue traditions such as morning prayers and religion classes, Barr has said that she hoped becoming non-sectarian would “open the doors to other girls.”

And the new name could help with that.

“I think it really opens us to a great new future,” Barr said Thursday. “We know who we are, and we know why we’re here. We’re here for the girls of Maine.”

The school solicited input on the name from faculty, alumnae and community members. Several of their suggestions recognized former principal Sister Edward Mary Kelleher, who retired in 2010 after 30 years at the school, but she declined the honor.


“I feel the new name should reflect the school’s future, not its past,” Kelleher said in a news release from the school. “The Maine Girls’ Academy is a very good selection that reflects the devotion the school has always had to helping girls find and fulfill their potential.”

Other suggestions included the words Evergreen and Baxter Woods, referring to the nearby cemetery and forest, as well as the names of notable women from Maine and around the world, said Ericka Sanborn, the school’s director of marketing.

Among the less serious entries were “No Boys Allowed High School” and “Schooly McSchoolface,” a play on Boaty McBoatface, the winning entry in an online poll to rename a British research ship that was ultimately disregarded.

Catherine Cornell, a rising junior from Portland, said she suggested “Lionheart Academy,” a reference to the school’s mascot, the lion, and to the character of its student body.

“I think it showed how courageous we are as young women,” she said, although she liked the final selection, made by the school’s board of trustees.

Now the school must change anything inscribed with the McAuley name, including the sports teams’ uniforms and the stone sign that stands on the corner of Stevens Avenue and Walton Street.

The graduating seniors thought of one themselves. Their class gift was $3,000 to update the website.

Barr said that gesture shows “they’re already embracing the change.” Younger students, she said, were talking Thursday about taking a picture on the first day of school next year to document the founding classes of The Maine Girls’ Academy, which she thinks might get shortened to MGA.

It’s not the first time the school has changed its name. Catherine McAuley was the name chosen by the Sisters of Mercy when Cathedral High School and St. Joseph’s Academy, two all-girls schools in Portland, merged.

McAuley, born in Dublin in 1778, felt a calling to help the poor and built a house and school for homeless women. Although reluctant to form a religious order, she was advised to do so to ensure that her work continued and founded the Sisters of Mercy, which now has more than 9,000 congregations worldwide.

“I can’t lie. It’s sad to say goodbye to the name Catherine McAuley High School and the history of Catherine McAuley High School,” said Jamie Schwellenbach of Westbrook, whose daughter will be a junior in the fall. “But I think Maine Girls’ Academy is exactly what it is. It’s a wonderful academic school and an amazing community. I think we’ll go forth with the new name and still be the same amazing school underneath.”


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