History

In 1799 Archbishop Leonard Neale, president of Georgetown College, invited "three pious ladies" to found a school for young women. With little more than faith and determination, they accepted his challenge and opened a school in a simple one-room house. The oldest Catholic girls’ school in the original thirteen United States, it has grown and flourished for over 200 years. 

The Visitation Sisters

To support and guide their school, the three women also founded the first Order of the Visitation Monastery in the United States, and Visitation Sisters have led the school since its earliest days. They are guided by the teachings of Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, the Order's founders. Called Salesian Spirituality, their teachings emphasize common sense, faith, kindness, gentleness, patience, perseverance, hope, and joy and offer a path to a faith-filled life guided by "inspired common sense."

A Cutting-Edge, Well-Rounded Education

A Visitation education has always blended tradition and faith with an innovative yet practical approach to learning. Even in the 19th century, when a lady’s education centered on needlework, music, art, and perhaps French, students also received a solid foundation in math and science. This combination of academic excellence, grounded in Salesian values and faith, endures today. Visitation has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools since 1931.

Concern for Others

Alongside their “Young Ladies Academy,” the early Sisters ran a Saturday school, free to any young girl who wished to learn—including slaves, at a time when public schools were almost non-existent and teaching slaves to read was illegal. This generosity of spirit laid the foundation for the robust culture of Christian service that permeates our campus today. Each year, our students spend thousands of hours helping those in need, something many continue to do long after they graduate.

An Enduring Legacy

In many ways the history of Georgetown Visitation mirrors that of our nation’s capital—both emerged from humble beginnings, survived times of turmoil, and flourished. Students watched as British fires destroyed the city in 1814 and as smoke poured from the Pentagon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the intervening years, Visitation weathered the upheavals of the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the social unrest of the 1960s—all with its vision, values, and mission intact and thriving.

Growing With Faith, Vision, And Purpose

In July 1993, fire destroyed the interior of historic Founders Hall. With an outpouring of generosity from parents, friends, and alumnae, it was rebuilt within two years, better than ever and equipped for the demands of the 21st century. In 1999, the school celebrated its bicentennial with the opening of the Fisher Athletic Center and the Nolan Performing Arts Center. Since then, St. Joseph Hall, the Library, and the Monastery have been renovated and a carefully planned sustainability and greening plan now preserves our 23-acre campus. A bustling, multi-building campus now stands where there was once only a simple one-story schoolhouse, and our students graduate grounded in the faith and vision of our past, yet fully prepared to confront the challenges of the future.

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1799 - The first schoolhouse
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The Visitation Monastery, Chapel, and School in the mid-19th century
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Historic Founders Hall as it appears today

Our Spiritual Founders

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop of Geneva and author of “Introduction to the Devout Life,” is revered for his kindness and clear, concise approach to Catholic doctrine. His teachings are timeless; his words as relevant today as they were over 400 years ago.

St. Francis and a young widow, St. Jane de Chantal (1572-1641), founded the Visitation Order in Annecy, France, in 1610. The two met in 1604 after Jane, hearing St. Francis preach, immediately recognized him as the spiritual director she'd been seeking.  St. Jane was known for her piety, charity, and steadfast faith, and fervently embraced St. Francis' admonition to rely on the "Little Virtues," such as simplicity, kindness, perseverance, and humility, in order to live according to God's will. Today we use the term "Salesian Spirituality" to describe the spiritual legacy of these two saints.