by Kris Parfitt
– The Capitol Hill Times –
What does the Hebrew Academy of Seattle’s school building have in common with the French Revolution? Religious philosophies not withstanding, the building where the Academy resides now was originally the second home to the Society of the Sacred Heart’s school, called the Forest Ridge Convent.
Contrary to rumored belief, the Convent wasn’t a cloistered group of nuns caretaking wayward, orphaned or pregnant girls. Leaders, activists, school principles and well known writers such as Mary McCarthy, were acknowledged and celebrated graduates of Forest Ridge. Known for its strict and disciplined education, it was also respected by the students who found the nuns and the grounds to be loving, supportive and a beautiful second home.
Two graduates from the class of 1950 were recently reliving memories while they visited the campus. Pauline (Danz) Alexander laughed as she recounted sneaking a cigarette out her window with a bathrobe over her head to hide the smoke but was caught by one of the Sisters whose open window below Pauline’s betrayed her bathrobe screen.
Mary (McDonald) Malony remembered watching the land outside of the window of the first level dining room gyrate during an earthquake. “I remember, while the ground was still rolling, Mother Brown telling us to get down on our knees and pray,” she said.
The concept of the Society of Sacred heart began in the 1790s during the French Revolution. To eliminate debts the assets and administration of the church were taken over by the French government. A counter-revolutionary movement led by exiled fathers began and eventually formed the order of the the Sacré-Coeur, Sacred Heart of Jesus to spread the teachings of Jesus with the motto, “One Heart and One Mind in the Heart of Jesus.”
Sophie Barat, born in late 1779 and fueled by her family’s disciplined and educational upbringing, dedicated her life to the worship of the Sacred Heart and began a school for girls in her early 20s. Later partnering with Blessed Phippine Duchesne of Dauphine, the two women – both intelligent, driven and committed – began to open Sacred Heart schools throughout Europe.
As Seattle began to grow and develop 100 years later, the Bishop O’Dea requested a Sacred Heart school to serve the religious needs of the growing Catholic population and called upon two prominent Mother Superiors in the Western states to make it happen. Through donations and sponsorships a 12-room house was purchased in 1903 at 1013 15th Ave. N. and was transformed into a convent and school.
The school quickly outgrew the house and the church discussed buying neighboring houses to build a larger campus. However, at the time, anti-Catholic sentiment influenced neighbors who petitioned the development. It didn’t help that Bishop O’Dea himself had just finished building a $1 million church and was in extreme financial straits. The banks were wary of any development in Seattle associated with the Catholic Church.
Undeterred, the Sisters of Sacred Heart Convent continued to search for land and acquired the property above Interlaken Park by a roundabout straw dog purchase. The property was most desired because of its location – nicely sequestered away from the sinful and “wicked” influence of a booming pioneer town. Construction began in 1909.
In honor of Sophie Barat, the Society of the Sacred Heart designed the new school after the floor plan of Barat College in Illinois. With a copy of the blue prints and a pair of scissors, a group of Sisters snipped out desired rooms, sizes and chapels and handed architect F.A. Perkins the stack of clippings. He successfully designed a modified neo-classical building that defines the structure as it still stands today.
Also located on Capitol Hill was the Orphanage of the Sacred Heart and the Society decided to name their school Forest Ridge to avoid confusion. Students from Seattle attended the day school while the boarding school was popular with girls from other parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. Tuition in 1910 was $40 per term for day school students, $60 per term for boarders and an additional $50 for private rooms.
Curricular activities included studying the Christian Doctrine along with math, English, French, music and art. The school experienced great growth over the years reaching 160 in 1927 and 340 in 1958. Although it barely sneaked by the great depression with 54 girls, it did survive both world wars and several earthquakes.
But in the early 1960s it became apparent the school had outgrown its Forest Ridge location and needed to expand. The cost of retrofitting the building and remodeling the facilities to meet the modern fire codes was too expensive. In 1971 the school, which now served 385 students, found a new campus on Somerset Hill in Bellevue.
Over the decades, as many private schools became co-ed, Forest Ridge stayed true to its original philosophy that to educated children, women needed to be educated first. The school’s philosophy now focuses on empowering young women and encouraging them to lead. Today over 25 different faiths and traditions are represented at the school, which is still approximately 35 percent Catholic.
After Forest Ridge moved from Interlaken Park in 1971, the Seattle Country Day School inhabited the buildings until 1973 when the campus was purchased by the Seattle Hebrew Academy. Almost 40 years in Interlaken Park, the Seattle Hebrew Academy is an Orthodox kindergarten through 8th grade day school that educates the mind, body and soul of young Jewish children.