We began as a single classroom built in 1743 when Catholics and Mennonites lived side by side. The people got along so well that for half a century, the tiny school functioned as a Catholic-public educational institution.
From a log-cabin classroom to a two-room frame school to a three-classroom brick structure erected in 1893, the oldest Catholic school site has been developed into a separate modern school which opened in 1954.
Father Theodore Schneider, a Jesuit missionary traveling from Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia’s Willing’s Alley, founded the Bally parish in 1741. Two years later he opened the school in which he personally taught reading, writing and religion.
The community was then Goshenhoppen - - an Indian name for “meeting place” - - later to be Churchville, then Bally, to honor another Jesuit missionary, Father Augustine Bally, who was pastor from 1837 –1882.
The name of the parish was originally St. Paul’s but became Most Blessed Sacrament (its name today) in 1827 to honor its believers’ devotion to the Eucharist.
Regarding the school’s inception, records indicate from the beginning Catholic and non-Catholic children from the vicinity attended it.
But in 1850, ecumenism really flourished when Father Bally erected a brick school building and township officials formally agreed to pay the salary of an “upper grade” teacher (grades 5-8).
A condition was that Father Bally had to approve the credentials of the teacher who had to be “acceptable” to the cleric. In exchange, the pastor was to provide the building and pay the salary of the “lower grade” teacher.
Professor S. A. Baer, superintendent of the Berks County schools from 1875-1881, said of the cooperative school plan,“Both parties acted in good faith and there never was the least friction, at least as long as Father Bally lived.”
It was an era of unprecedented brotherhood among men.
There is some likelihood that Catholic schools may have existed in some form in the dominions or territories of early Spanish and French settlers in North America.
They settled in lands such as Florida, cultivated by Spain, and the Louisiana Territory of France, which were within the present boundaries of the United States. So the Bally claim is restricted to the early settlement within the borders of the 13 original colonies.
In the year 1763 the school employed its first lay teacher.
Names like Fredder, Brietenbach and Gubernator appear in the early baptismal registers as being teachers in the school. The schoolmaster was a very important man and often served in assisting the priest according to historical reports.
In 1993, the Sister of St. Francis left Most Blessed Sacrament School after 109 years of service. Deacon Thomas Murphy was hired as the first lay principal. The school’s name was then changed to Saint Francis Academy in honor of the Sisters of St. Francis. The school continues today under the leadership of Deacon Murphy and a teaching staff he claims “Is the finest and most dedicated I have ever worked with.”