“You don’t just go through VI, VI goes through you.” – Father William Charles

Vincentian Institute (VI) was a result of the vision of its founder, St Vincent de Paul’s pastor, Father William Charles and made possible by the generosity of Mr. James Charles Farrell and his wife, Margaret Ruth Brady Farrell.  However, it was the spirit and tradition lived out by the school’s students and faculty that truly left its impact even after the last graduation ceremony.  A spirit that revolved around a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Catholic faith, and a tradition that included Lourdes Feast Day novenas, annual May crownings and frequent visits at the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The Chapel was laid as a cornerstone for VI and was fondly referred to by its students and faculty as simply “The Grotto.”  Its history is inextricably linked to the school that proudly housed it.

VI initially offered kindergarten through 5th grade and was taught by the Sisters of Mercy and several lay teachers.  Through the years, the Grotto served many of these young students as a holy place for special Masses or their first sacrament of Reconciliation.  Our Lady proved to be a faithful companion to these students during their time at Vincentian Institute.

Every year since its inception, VI added another grade until K-12 education was offered, and the first Vincentian Institute high school class graduated in 1925.  Over time VI became known for its emphasis on excellence in all areas of school life, in addition to its high academic standards.  Athletic achievement as well as quality published work in The Blue Banner, The Vincentian and Crossroads were also indicators of VI’s success.  However, no matter where the students ventured, the Grotto still proved to be a home anchor for visits before and after games, or as a source of inspiration.

As the needs increased, the school expanded by buying up the estate of George and Theodora Hawley in 1934.  This new property became the location for the St Vincent Child Culture Division, where kindergarten and elementary students would learn beneath rays of sunshine in “glass” buildings.

Two years later, several Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross joined the faculty.  With their addition, majority of the high school classes were segregated with the Brothers teaching the boys and the Sisters of Mercy instructing the girls on separate floors, starting a tradition that would last for over 35 years.  Father Patrick Peyton, CSC had his first assignment as the Chaplain to the Holy Cross Brothers at VI.  While there, Fr Peyton’s enthusiasm and love for the Blessed Mother spread to everyone he was in contact with.  VI students volunteered to help Fr Peyton  continue the Family Rosary Crusade he had begun, by typing, filling, and addressing  thousands of letters encouraging families to say their daily Rosary together.

Students could recall seeing Fr Peyton at the back of the Lourdes Grotto praying his Rosary, and through his example, some students would also retreat to the Grotto to pray the Rosary together, and for quiet reflection and prayer.  Many of the students would attend and lector for the daily Mass that was held before classes would start, and then make a visit after the school day ended.  Although Vincentian Institute High School was closed in 1977, thousands of graduates still have a special place in their hearts for the Grotto–many of them choosing to get married, baptize their children or hold funeral and memorial Masses there.

Years later, the Grotto continues to shine as a rare and beautiful tribute to the Blessed Mother.  Inertia –or simply inaction– has left the little chapel in need of immediate preservation.  Restoring this spiritual retreat that has so much history would allow for new generations to be inspired by its beauty and godliness, and keep the spiritual centerpiece of Vincentian Institute’s legacy alive.

A series of interviews of VI alumni on their experiences with the VI Grotto:

 

 

 

Any VI alumni out there?  Feel free to comment about your own memories of VI, particularly memories of the Grotto, below.

Any Crossroads yearbook pictures, student artwork or written work from The Vincentian about the Grotto or the beauty of the faith?  Please share by emailing an image to Albanygrotto@gmail.com  Thank you!

 

 

Vincentian A Tribute: The First 65 Years. Albany: St Vincent de Paul Parish, 1982. Print.

Tyrrell, William G. A Century of Spiritual Service: Church of Saint Vincent de Paul. Albany: Church of St Vincent de Paul, 1985. Print.