The Changing Face of Fontbonne Hall: Bay Ridge School Installs New Front Entrance

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The face of Fontbonne Hall Academy is getting a new look, thanks to the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The congregation of nuns, who run the Bay Ridge School, helped to fund the renovations, hoping to change an almost century-long habit of students entering through the back door.

“It’s a little like using the door at the mud room when you have a front door,” Sister Maria Pascuzzi, director of facilities, said.

Sister Pascuzzi said the feature recalls the building’s glamorous past.

The school installed a new glass door, large storefront windows, and a small garden around their statue of St. Joseph. 

“It returns the school to a kind of air of elegance and beauty,” Sister Pascuzzi said.

The building is one of the few Gilded Age mansions left in Brooklyn. 

It was built in the 1880s by American businessman, Diamond Jim Brady, who shared it with a big name in Hollywood. 

“He had Ms. Lillian Russell, a famous actress,” Sister Pascuzzi said. “And the legend, whether it’s true or not, is that she was here in this house and remained using this house until he died.”

The sisters bought the building in 1937 and decided to turn it into the all-girls school that stands there today. 

The renovation is a celebration of the school’s past and as Principal Rocco Gentile explained it, a way to keep this historic building preserved. 

“The roof on the auditorium had slate shingles and those shingles,” Gentile said, “some of them were coming loose and posed a potential risk. If the roof wasn’t fixed, the gymnasium floor could be damaged if there was a leak. So we went ahead and made those investments.”

Now as students return to their classes, they have a new sense of school spirit.

“When I first saw it I thought it was beautiful,” Julie Dicapua, student activities president at Fontbonne Hall Academy, said. “It feels like a school entrance and you just feel like, this is home. It all looks new but the spirit is still there.”