School of St. Elizabeth Enters It’s 99th Year
The School of Saint Elizabeth opened on November 18, 1916, thanks to the vision of Monsignor William I. McKean, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the time, and the generosity of James Cox Brady, and his wife, Victoria Mary Pery Brady.
Born in Belfast, Ireland, McKean was a popular and able administrator whose pastorate was marked by extensive improvements to the parish. He quickly set his sights on starting a parochial school on parish property and struck up a timely friendship with a wealthy couple, the Bradys.
Brady, a Yale graduate and a prominent, wealthy businessman, had amassed a fortune from his father, Anthony N. Brady. The elder Brady, a business partner of Thomas Edison, was among the railroad tycoons during the Gilded Age who turned profits from railway transactions into Wall Street fortunes in gas and electric companies, mining enterprises and the tobacco industry.
The three Brady children were often brought to Bernardsville on day trips by a tutor. On one of those days the tutor met Fr. McKean outside the church, the pair struck up a conversation and soon discovered that Mrs. Brady had grown up in a castle in Ireland near a seminary where Fr. McKean had studied.
Pleased to learn that she and the priest shared roots in Ireland, Mrs. Brady invited Fr. McKean to the couple’s Gladstone estate. Soon, Fr. McKean began preparing the Brady children for the sacraments. The Bradys wanted to give something back to thank the priest for teaching their children. When they learned that Fr. McKean wanted to transport a hall from town to church property for a parochial school, Brady insisted that a new building and convent be constructed at his expense.
The cost of the project, $100,000, was donated by James Cox Brady as a gift from the Brady children in memory of their mother, Elizabeth Jane Hamilton Brady, Brady’s first wife who was killed in a railroad accident in 1912. The school is named for her patron saint, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. Brady also established an endowment in 1916, which continues to offset the expenses of running the school today.
The original school building was expanded in 1958 to add 10 new classrooms, a kindergarten room, music room, teacher’s lounge, larger cafeteria, and nurse and administrative offices. The expansion was funded by parishioners and organized by a Building Fund Committee formed by Monsignor John Torney, who served as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from 1952 until 1985. A second school expansion completed in 2001 added a new library, science and computer labs, locker rooms and gymnasium.