History of IWA
It was Mother’s Day – May 8, 1927 – when seven Irish-born Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament first arrived in Cleveland: Sister Mary Columba Byrnes, Sister Mary Thecla Sullivan, Sister Mary Baptist Fitzgibbon, Sister Mary Brendan Fitzgibbon, Sister Mary Thomas O’Herlihy, Sister Mary Gabriel O’Regan and Sister Mary Raphael O’Connell.
They had joined an order with its earliest roots in France, where Jeanne Chézard de Matel founded the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in 1625. After expanding throughout France, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word followed God’s call across the ocean to Texas, later expanding their mission work into Mexico and Nebraska before settling in Cleveland. Bishop Joseph T. Schrembs of the Diocese of Cleveland welcomed the seven Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in 1927, and soon helped them purchase a tract of 10 acres in Parma Heights, formerly the Carl Miller family farm. There they built their home, welcomed new members, and set to work serving the needs of local parishes, schools and the Greater Cleveland community.
Tragedy struck this young congregation on January 26, 1935, when a fire destroyed the Sisters’ home. The local community rallied around the Sisters, forming the Incarnate Word Guild as a means for lay people to support their mission. With the Guild’s support, the Sisters began to rebuild immediately, this time with the goal of creating a school on their Parma Heights property.
Just eight short months after the fire, on September 11, 1935, Incarnate Word Academy opened its doors to 33 eager young students and its arrival was the culmination of many years of effort and setback by the group of devoted women who made it possible. That spirit of determination and selflessness they embodied has guided the education of students at Incarnate Word Academy students for over 85 years. We live by the motto “To Learn, Love and Serve.”
In those early years, enrollment at Incarnate Word Academy steadily grew as the community witnessed the Sisters’ commitment to the principles of academic excellence, faith, service to others, and formation in the values of Jesus, the Incarnate Word. In the late 1930s, an anonymous donor contributed the funds to have the Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine built on the Sisters’ property, a landmark that attracted large crowds for Sunday-afternoon pilgrimages.
The building that today houses Incarnate Word Academy and the Sisters’ home was constructed in 1952 and expanded in 1960 when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. The affectionately named “Red Barn”, a remnant of the property’s farming past which had been renovated to house school events, athletics and meetings, was razed in 1967 and replaced with St. Joseph Hall.
Changes came for the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, as well. By 1979, they could no longer keep their growing school fully staffed by Sisters alone, so they hired Incarnate Word Academy’s first lay teacher, Mrs. Catherine Abraham. Many more lay teachers gradually followed.
As the community grew, IWA’s reputation as a place of excellence brought parents from an ever-widening radius to enroll their children.
Incarnate Word Academy set a standard of continuously enriching its curriculum early on, whether in academics, extracurricular activities, faith formation or and service opportunities. Foreign languages, advanced math programs, choir, orchestra, and involvement in academic competitions, science fairs and more. An Extended Day program was introduced to serve working parents with before and after school care for their children.
The 2000s brought significant growth and opportunities for the school community, celebrating the past while embracing the future of IWA. In 2006, the Learning Garden, a place to learn, love and serve, was established and dedicated. In 2013, IWA was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, one of just 50 schools to receive the honor that year. The IWA Kinder Prep Program, a preschool program for 4 and 5 year old students, was established in 2014 and includes both half-day and full-day options for our littlest Warriors. The Preparatory Academy was formally established for students in Grades 6-8 in 2017 on the second floor of the building, creating an academic experience that prepares our students for high school and beyond. In 2019, IWA was named a Purple Star Designated School through the State of Ohio for the support we give to military families and veterans. 2019 also saw the naming of IWA’s first lay President, Mr. Mike Wisnor, who succeeded Sr. Rosemarie Burke, SIW.
In 2021, Incarnate Word Academy partnered with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word to renovate and update St. Joseph Hall, a shared spaced that hosts CYO tournaments, the Sisters’ Reverse Raffle, school events and more. A new roof was added, sport court replaced the old tile flooring, new paint was added throughout, the meeting room was redesigned and named the Sisters Hospitality Room, and sound-absorbing panels were added to the gym to aid the sound quality for the performing arts. The lobby also saw a facelift, as the statue of St. Joseph was elevated, new panel walls that include the logos of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Incarnate Word Academy were installed, and comfortable seating was added for the comfort of our families and guests. The St. Joseph Hall project was completed in the summer of 2022.
In 2022, the Sisters generously gave the school space on the second floor of the building that will soon house the new IWA Library and Writing Lab and will additionally hold new technology spaces, including a clean and dirty lab. We continue to look for new and innovative ways to support our students and to provide them with the most state-of-the-art spaces and learning environments. We are eager to continue on the legacy of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, educating students to Learn, Love and Serve.