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Jamaica Estates street named for Mother Mary Louis

More than 100 community members, students and elected officials gathered Friday for a ceremony to rename a Jamaica Estates street for Mother Mary Louis, a Queens resident who championed women’s rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mother Mary Louis Way is now located in front of The Mary Louis Academy, a Catholic school for girls, at the intersection of Wexford Terrace and Edgerton Boulevard in Jamaica Estates.

Louis “was a woman of such vision, faith, courage and strength that she opened up schools, a college and two hospitals at a time when women did not do any of these things,” said Rita Piro, the academy’s coordinator of special events, who has worked for the past two years to rename the street.

Born in 1852 in Flushing, Louis was elected superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1892, a title she held for the next 40 years. Under her guidance, the order grew from 300 to 1,100 nuns. The Sisters of St. Joseph is still the largest congregation of Roman Catholic nuns in the Brooklyn Diocese.

Louis also oversaw the opening of St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Rockaway as well as 32 elementary and secondary schools.

Louis began negotiations to open an all−girls academy in Jamaica Estates in 1932, but died before the school could become a reality. The Sisters of St. Joseph took up her plans and named the institution in her honor.

“This woman got out there, and she felt education was the best way to prepare anyone for a future,” said Piro, also the chairwoman of the academy’s foreign language department. “She didn’t think girls should be limited to a home and traditional jobs as clerks and secretaries.”

City Councilman James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows) hosted Friday’s ceremony, which was held after Piro and other members of The Mary Louis Academy community worked for two years to push for the renaming. They had to obtain written approval from all the street’s residents and get the green light from Community Board 8 and the City Council. The Council approved the street renaming on Dec. 18, 2008.

“Mother Mary Louis’ inspiration, life and unparalleled record of service and accomplishment will forever inspire young women who aspire to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives,” Gennaro said. “… May the young women of this academy and all the residents of our community be grateful for and inspired by her dedicated and consecrated life.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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