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Educating Girls for Life at Marian Middle School in St. Louis

Posted on September 22, 2023, by Barbara Roche SL

Marian Middle School students (wearing dark blue uniforms) spend time with graduates (wearing their current high school uniforms).
Marian Middle School students (wearing dark blue uniforms) spend time with graduates (wearing their current high school uniforms).
Photo courtesy of Barbara Roche SL

Coming to Marian as a student, you learn that it’s an investment in yourself. Marian extends their love to you in middle school, high school, college and even beyond. Marian is a family that’s never going to let you go.

Carly Rae, Marian alumna

In December 1998 Nancy Wittwer SL read about Loyola Academy, a middle school for boys opening in St. Louis in the fall of 1999, and was moved to ask, “What about the girls?” The answer to that question blossomed, growing into Marian Middle School. (See this video of Nancy talking about her dream.)

Under the initial leadership of Nancy and Ursuline Sister Madonna O’Hara, seven congregations of women religious came together and committed to opening a middle school for girls in St. Louis. After more than a year and a half of planning, including finding funding and a location, hiring staff and recruiting students, Marian Middle School opened in the summer of 2000 with 14 students in grades 5 and 6.

“At Marian, we celebrate our first women of vision, our foundresses, who envisioned equitable education for young girls with limited means, but high potential. Their faith laid the foundation for our Marian Girls who are making history today!” shares Mary Elizabeth Grimes, president of Marian Middle School.

Marian is an all-girl, family-focused and faith-based school committed to breaking the cycle of poverty through providing a life-altering education for girls. Students are challenged academically and receive enrichment programming during their middle school years. The Graduate Support Program follows them through high school and college so they can develop the critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership and life skills needed to succeed.

A Marian Middle School graduate is pictured in the middle of an embrace from a family member on each side of her as she holds a bouquet of flowers.
A proud family celebrates on graduation day.
Photo courtesy of Marian Middle School

Throughout their entire time at Marian Middle School and after they graduate and go on to high school and college, Marian provides social-emotional counseling, licensed therapy and wrap-around support to ensure every young girl has the tools and resources she needs to succeed and overcome the trauma that she may face.

Three middle schoolers with safety googles collaborate on a science project together.
Students collaborate on a science project at Marian Middle School.
Photo courtesy of Marian Middle School

With all that our girls face in life — poverty, trauma, violence and more — we know there is a light within them powerful enough to overcome any obstacle. From the moment a child becomes a Marian Girl, she is encircled with love and unyielding support from all corners. Perhaps for the first time in her life, she feels truly celebrated.

Mary Elizabeth Grimes
president, Marian Middle School

Marian has grown in numbers and in programming since first opening its doors. Located in the Tower Grove South neighborhood of St. Louis since 2006, in the building that once housed Holy Family School, Marian’s enrollment is small by design, averaging 70 students in grades 5 through 8. In this setting, students receive individualized attention to meet their academic needs. As a result, students who come to Marian one or two years behind academically are on or above grade level by 8th grade.

Marian provides financial support to students who attend tuition-based high schools, and graduate support staff members help students and families negotiate scholarship and financial aid applications for both high school and college. Whether it’s help getting books, connecting students to internship and career opportunities or receiving care packages before exams, Marian’s graduate support staff are always there for the girls. As they say at Marian, “Once a Marian Girl, always a Marian Girl!” As NaKaila, a Marian alumna says, “The Graduate Support Team at Marian was vital to my success in high school. No matter what I needed, they were able to provide: dual enrollment classes, ACT fees, college application fees, and the prestigious and highly competitive Washington University College Preparatory Program. Marian stood alongside my family and me through this entire journey.”

Two girls look intently at a computer screen as they are working on a robotics project.

Marian Girls excel at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

In 2023, Marian once again achieved platinum level at the local robotics competition in St. Louis, the highest level of performance. The annual event hosts 34 competing middle schools. Marian’s team is the most decorated, reaching the platinum level for five consecutive years.

Marian Girls are truly making a difference. They are accomplished young women equipped to make informed decisions and create enduring positive change.

To learn more about Marian Middle School, check out marianmiddleschool.org.

Barbara Roche SL is one of the founders of Marian Middle School. In addition, from 2013 to 2021 she served as academic associate, overseeing recruiting and admitting new students, coordinating volunteers and connecting students and families with summer programs.

Marian Middle School founding congregations

Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province
Sisters of Loretto/Loretto Community
Sisters of the Most Precious Blood
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union

A group of 12 women half sitting half standing wearing nice colorful clothing, pink and purple corsages and holding an award.
Founders of Marian Middle school include, standing, from left: Barbara Roche SL; Carol Reeb SSND; Nancy Wittwer SL; Joan Filla CSJ; Janet Kuciejczyk CSJ; Patricia Harris; Madonna O’Hara OSU; Monica Marie Laws OSF Seated: Maureen Bannister DC; Marie Sherman; Nadine Flott CPPS; Aurelia Weil. Not pictured: Marian McAvoy SL
Photo courtesy of Barbara Roche SL

To read all the articles in the Fall 2023 issue of Loretto Magazine, click here.


Barbara Roche SL

Barbara, a Sister of Loretto, is academic associate at Marian Middle School in St. Louis. Prior to this, she served as president of Nerinx Hall High School for 27 years and advocated for a variety of social justice issues. Barbara enjoys cooking, gardening and reading mysteries.
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