History of Bethany Home & School


On September 29, 1899, the Rt. Rev. Boyd Vincent, Bishop of Southern Ohio, blessed the property known until 1958 as Bethany Home. Bethany Home is as old as the Community of the Transfiguration, which celebrated its centennial in 1998. Mother Eva had originally planned to name the foundation the Community of St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany. She liked the symbolism of Mary who represented the life of prayer and Martha who represented the life of active works of mercy. Discovering that there was already a Community with a very similar name, she chose the name, Community of the Transfiguration. To her, this event included the same symbolism.

The seed of Bethany Home was planted in the summer of 1897 when Miss Eva Matthews, later known as Mother Eva Mary, rented the old Allen homestead on Congress and Fountain Avenue in Glendale to be used as a kind of "fresh air camp" for families to give them relief from the hot city. Beatrice Henderson, later known as Sister Beatrice Martha, was placed in charge, with two friends to help her, as well as the mothers who came. Beatrice was then 20 years old.

At that time Miss Matthews and Miss Henderson were living on Freeman Street in downtown Cincinnati, near St. Luke's Church where Eva's brother, the Rev. Paul Matthews, was in charge. It was called Bethany Mission House. They helped with the work in the parish--Mother's Meetings, Sewing Schools, Sunday Schools, visiting people in their homes, and what would now be called social service work. It was for these families that the summer home was provided. Nearly 200 people benefited that summer from a "whiff of fresh air". Other women, including Beatrice's mother and sister, lived there also, for varying periods of time, and assisted with the work, but only these two had the vision of forming a Religious Community.

At the end of the summer there were several children, mostly babies, who they realized could not be taken back to the impossible conditions in the city. Eva rented a house next door to provide a home for these children. Beatrice, whose father had been a physician, was very good at taking care of sick babies.

It was in the spring of 1898 that Eva, with the help of her brother, Mortimer Matthews, purchased the property which became Bethany Home, and eventually, Bethany School. They moved to the new location on July 3, 1898. The place was in deplorable condition, and they had to camp out that summer while the house, a fine old farmhouse, was made ready for its new occupants. The people of Glendale were very generous, providing milk and provisions and ice, hammocks and furnishings. By September, the house was ready, and was blessed by Bishop Vincent on September 29, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. That was always known as Bethany Home's birthday, and the tradition has continued in Bethany School.

It was on August 6, 1898, that Eva Lee Matthews and Beatrice Henderson made their first temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as Sisters of the Transfiguration. They would wait five years to make life vows after they could be reasonably sure that the Community would continue.

Bethany Home opened with five babies. The annual reports for the first few years report the number of children received, the number of deaths, and the number returned to their parents. In September, 1900 there were twenty-four children in the Home. That year the person who had been helping with the babies left and it was decided to close the nursery and not to take any more children under two years old to have more space for the older children. Because of loss of school days during epidemics, and to provide greater time for the children's religious education, it was decided that Bethany Home should have its own school rather than the public school. Two school rooms were built. Besides the regular curriculum as required by the State, the girls who showed ability received training in music and art. Professor Sterling, of the Metropolitan College of Music, provided a scholarship for Voice and one for Piano. In 1901 a new building was built to house both children, lay helpers and Sisters. It was attached to the original farmhouse, and was dedicated by the Bishop on May 28, 1902. At that time they received children from many places, including several from Alaska. Later, when Bethany Home became a Community Chest recipient, they had to restrict admissions to local children.

The Home received much help, in money and in contributions of clothing, from individual donors and from church groups. The women of the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches did a great deal of sewing for the children, including a group called the Bethany Home Aid Society.

One of the first priorities when preparing the original building for occupancy was the provision of a Chapel. The former ballroom of the old farmhouse was used for this. This room was enlarged in 1905, but it was still very crowded, for there were now 62 children in the Home. The stairway leading to Mother Eva's apartment was just outside the chapel and older Sisters, reminiscing about that period, said that many of the children sat outside on the stairway. A fund for a new chapel was started in 1906 with the gift of one dollar from a child, followed by a $25 gift from a friend. The fund grew slowly. The Sisters say that the fund grew by means of small gifts. The annual report of 1911 records a Christmas gift of $55 from the children to the chapel fund. The windows and many of the furnishings have been given as memorials. The artwork of singing cherubs over the west door of our current chapel is a memorial to Mrs. Henderson, Sister Beatrice's mother, who taught the children singing in the earliest days of Bethany Home.

By 1927 it was felt that there was enough money to start building. Mother Eva and Sister Beatrice met with Ralph Adams Cram, then the most noted church architect in this country, and told him their dream. The Altar was the gift of a former chaplain whose son had carved it while living in Paris the year after World War I. It had been stored, waiting for the chapel to be built. The chapel was completed and dedicated on June 11, 1929. Mother Eva did not live to see its completion for she died July 6, 1928. She is buried beneath the high altar.

The chapel was the crowning point in the design for Bethany Home Village. In the early 1920's, to be in keeping with modern methods of institutional child care, Mother Eva and Sister Beatrice had decided to change to the cottage system for care of the children, and Bethany Home Village was built. Three dormitory buildings, the refectory and infirmary buildings were completed by St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, 1927. Mother Eva arranged a little ceremony for each cottage. The children who were to occupy the house met Mother Eva and a delegation of Sisters - of course the house mothers were among them - on the porch where the oldest child received in trust a scroll bearing the words - which Mother Eva read with impressive earnestness.

"In the Name of God. Amen.

The Sisters and Associates of the Community of the Transfiguration hereby present to the first group of the Children of Bethany home for their own use and in trust for those who may succeed them this complete Cottage of Bethlehem and all its contents, furnishings and equipment in the hope that they will enrich this gift with many happy customs and good traditions before they pass it over to their successors.

Presented this Saint Nicholas Day, Dec. 6 in the year of our Lord 1927."

Bethel was duly presented to the "second group", and Bethsaida to the "third group".

There were eventually also an infirmary, Bethesda, a refectory with music rooms and library upstairs, BethEva, a large well-equipped school house, St. Faith's, and the children's store run by the Seniors. The buildings were connected with walkways and roads - Irving Ave. and Paul St.

The oldest girls were still housed in alcoves down at the Hope, laundry building, and felt a little abused at the contrast until Sister Constance Anna came home from China on her furlough. Their woeful looks roused her untiring energies and promptly put her rare gifts including her flashing dimple, to the task of raising money for a suitable cottage for them, and in short order she raised enough for the best dormitory building of them all. It is called Beth Anna, the House of Grace. Each girl had her own room with running hot and cold water. Mother Eva never saw Bethanna, the schoolhouse or the chapel but she died happy in the thought that her dear children were adequately housed at last.

For many years Bethany Home had its own high school. At first the older girls were sent to the village high school but they found that the many disadvantages outweighed the advantages. It took the girls out of the routine life and set them apart - made them not quite one with the group at home. It brought different standards and ideals into the Home atmosphere and often a loss of time because of epidemics either in the Home or the village. There were Sisters qualified to be High School teachers and the school, after a few years, received a Grade A standard from the State Board of Education. The high school was always very small, and eventually it was decided that larger classes and more outside contacts would be of greater advantage. In the fall of 1943 the high school girls began to attend the Glendale High School.

In October, 1912, came the first issue of the Bethany Home Chronicle. It was edited by Margaret Beresford, age 14, and Pearl Robinson, age 13. At the beginning it was published monthly during the school year, but later it was less often. The second issue lists a larger staff, including printer. Everything was hand written and apparently duplicated on a hectograph or ditto machine.

Not until 1912 did they use a typewriter, and perhaps a mimeograph. Each issue contained news of the Home and the Sisters, including the monthly Honor Roll. There were articles, stories and poems by the girls and sometimes there was a story by Mother Eva. Sisters went out to China in 1914 and many of the letters home from China and from other branch houses, were copied into the Chronicle. Some later issues have news of Alumnae and also of Associates of the Community. The last few years it was published bimonthly. There was a subscription price of 50 cents, later raised to one dollar. In 1945, the Sisters began publishing the Transfiguration Quarterly and the chronicle became more specifically a school publication. The last issue is dated March and April, 1950.

For a few years (1906-1926) a Home for Boys was operated in conjunction with the Home for Girls, first on the same property and then at a small farm nearby. Sister Clara Elizabeth was put in charge of the boys and was responsible for their teaching and care. When the Community relinquished administration of the Boys' Home, and sold the property to the Episcopal Diocese, it became St. Edmund's Home, and later known as St. Edmund's Camp. In 1995 the property was sold to private developers. The Chapel which had been built by Sr. Clara and the boys was purchased by a group in Glendale and moved to a new site near the village square.

In 1958 it was decided to change Bethany Home to Bethany School and to admit day students, boys as well as girls. In the following years various Sisters served as principal or director of instruction. The boarding department continued, using only Bethsaida and Bethanna cottages. The other cottages gradually were converted into classroom buildings. In the next few years the number of boarders decreased, and it became increasingly difficult to find satisfactory cottage parents, and the boarding department was closed. Bethsaida cottage became a classroom building and Bethanna is used by the Sisters as a retreat and guest house.

In 1975 the Rev. James Hindle was Headmaster and School Chaplain. Mr. Richard Wood served as Associate Headmaster and Principal. Dr. Paul Dawson succeeded as Headmaster in 1980. Fr. Hindle continued another year with the title of Rector. After serving in the role for nineteen years, Paul Dawson retired in 1999 and was succeeded by Cheryl Pez, the current Head of School.

The yearbook, begun in 1975, shows a thoroughly racially integrated student body. Administration and faculty lists show many teachers who taught at Bethany for quite a number of years. Lack of adequate transportation kept enrollment small. Numbers began to increase when, for a few years, arrangements were made for Bethany children to ride on the Landmark Baptist School buses which covered a much wider geographical area. Enrollment increased still more when the law permitted private school pupils to use the public school transportation.

The school currently serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade. For a few years there was also a preschool for 3-4 year olds, but this was discontinued for lack of space.

As the school population grew from the 80 girls of Bethany Home to the 265 who are enrolled today, many changes had to be made to accommodate the larger number of students and to modernize the facilities.

St. Faith's School remained the main classroom building, but the three cottages which had housed the children of Bethany Home became classroom space for the lower school. Since the boarding department was discontinued, the fourth cottage, Bethanna, has been used by the Sisters as a guest and retreat house.

The original recreation building for Bethany Home was named Hilaritas Hall, Hilaritas being one of the words in the Sisters' motto. It was a frame building, built by the girls, Sisters, and maintenance staff. It was the scene of many parties for the girls, dramatic productions, and movies about once a month. It was no longer adequate for the needs of Bethany School, and so money was raised for the building of a gymnasium which was completed and in use the school year of 1963-64. There was an attempt to continue the old name but it was usually simply called the Gym. In 1997, that building was enlarged and updated be a multipurpose building, housing not only the physical education classes and the athletic program, but also providing more space for music. Its official name is still Hilaritas Hall.

In 1990 the old laundry, known as the Hope, was remodeled and converted into the school media center, including also a computer lab and a language lab. The former library, above the dining room in Beth Eva, became the art department with a large classroom for grades 1-8 and a smaller facility for the kindergarten art program.

Since 1980, the school instituted broad sweeping changes in program and curriculum. Technology instruction was begun with the beginning of a computer lab, placement of computers in classrooms and the creation of a problem solving and critical thinking laboratory. A reading lab was created to provide an active involvement, creating excitement in reading. As the curriculum was adjusted along the way, the reading lab became a reading/writing lab, responding to the need for the development of sound writing skills for the graduates of the school. As the size of the school grew, there was a broadening of the Christian Education Department and the weekly Chapel services were split with one service being for grades K-4 and the other for grades 5-8. The school day was designed to begin with a devotional in all classrooms and each grade attends two Christian Education classes per week. Sister Mary Elizabeth, herself a Bethany School graduate, was named the Director of the Christian Education Program, serving as an active part of the administrative team.

Extra curricular activities have become an important part of the total program. The boys and girls basketball and volleyball teams play in the CYO League and have done well for many years. Scouting programs for boys and girls have become active at Bethany. The student participants seems to enjoy scouting activities with their school friends. Science enrichment activities have become a regular offering for age-appropriate youngsters. The response has been significant. The music department has also offered singing and dancing group activities complimented by an art activity or two. Students have also benefited from summer reading camps, insect/ computer camps, and specialized tutoring offerings.

Bethany School today is a school with an active parent organization, Bethany Educators and Parents. This organization began its active participation in 1980. Their emphasis on fundraising and friend raising, for the good of the school population, has realized many tangible additions to the school. The student body is involved within and beyond the school day. A commitment to meeting student needs allows matriculation to the fine high school offerings of Cincinnati. Bethany continues to be the school in Cincinnati that offers quality independent education at an affordable cost, a fine academic and co-curricular program, under an umbrella of quality Christian values. The sound historical underpinnings, continuing support of the Sisters of the Community of the Transfiguration, commitment of the teachers and administrators at Bethany, speak to a future that is very bright, bright for the many children in the area who are able to enjoy what the school provides.