History & The Visitation Order

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 13 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 Salesian Spirituality, which is based on the teachings and writing of Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, the Order's founders. Salesian Spirituality is often referred to as "inspired common sense," as it emphasizes a path to everyday holiness through the practice of "Little Virtues" like kindness, gentleness, patience, and perseverance.

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. 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 and continue doing so 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 (then called the Academy Building). With generous support 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's Hall, St. Bernard 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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Our Spiritual Co-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. Today we use the term Salesian Spirituality to describe the spiritual legacy of Sts. Francis and Jane.

After hearing St. Francis de Sales preach in 1604, St. Jane de Chantal (1572-1641) 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 in order to live according to God's will.

The Visitation Order

The Sisters of the Visitation are the heart of our school community; by their presence, and with their compassion and prayers, they enrich us all.

The Sisters see their primary ministry as sharing their gentle faith and Salesian heritage with both students and the greater Visitation family. They share Salesian Spirituality, a powerful but simple philosophy that comes from Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.

There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.

Frequently referred to as the "Saint of Common Sense," St. Francis’ spirituality is very down to earth and encourages everyone to use his or her God-given gifts to “Be who you are and be that well.” He was a great proponent of balance, always seeking the middle path and avoiding extremes that create imbalance in one's life. He advocated living a life of gentleness, a virtue that stands strongly against the forces of violence, and practicing "Little Virtues," like kindness, gentleness, optimism, cheerfulness, humility, and thoughtful concern for others. This, he felt, was a way of making life pleasant for all those around us and of reflecting the beauty of Christ’s gospel message: "Learn from me that I am gentle and humble of heart."

St. Jane de Chantal was a woman of tremendous faith who embraced Salesian Spirituality to the fullest. Her best-known expression, “Doing little things with great love makes them truly great,” is a favorite around the Georgetown Visitation campus. It encourages our students (and all our community members) to be present in their daily lives and attentive to their actions and words.

Sts. Francis and Jane established the first Visitation Monastery in Annecy, France, in 1610. From there, the Order grew rapidly; over 80 monasteries were established by the end of Jane's life in 1641.

Doing little things with great love makes them truly great!
St. Jane de Chantal

The gospel values proposed by both these saints encourage us to "Live Jesus." May Jesus live in all we think, say, and do each moment of the day. This is the Salesian path to holiness and wholeness.

Finally, we see in the mystery of the Visitation the beauty of two women, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, reaching out to one another as they reciprocally give and receive the Lord's blessings. This is the model we share with both our students, as they minister to one another, and to our teachers, as they reach out to assist the wholesome growth of the young women in their care.

To learn more about the Georgetown Visitation Monastery, visit

Sr. Mary Berchmans '48 & '50
Monastery Mother Superior
"Visitation is my home."
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Sr. Sylvie Guerron
Sister of the Visitation
"Visi immediately felt like home."

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