Jean St. Pierre, a Faculty Emerita in English and Theatre of both Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy, passed away on August 10 in her hometown of Harwich Port, Mass. at the age of 79.
St. Pierre retired in 2004 after a career spanning 41 years. She began teaching English at Abbot Academy in 1963, where she became the Chair in English in 1971. After Abbot’s merger with Phillips Academy, she was one of the few Abbot faculty who remained on staff. In the years after, St. Pierre would go on to lead efforts for gender equality in the classroom.
Mary Fulton, Instructor in English, said in an interview with The Phillipian, “When [St. Pierre] was a kid growing up in Lowell, her family used to go for a Sunday afternoon drive and they often drove by the gates of Abbot and she used to say, ‘someday I would like to be here.’ She never got to go there as a student, but it was her first teaching job in 1963. She had a very successful teaching career and she was part of that minority of women that started teaching here after the school went co-ed.”
After ten years of teaching at Andover, St. Pierre joined the newly formed Co-Educational Committee tasked with analyzing the effectiveness of the merger.
During her years as Chair in English, St. Pierre championed efforts to renovate Bulfinch Hall. She also played a crucial role in instituting a requirement that Uppers must take a full year of English, which remains in place today. St. Pierre also directed an English elective titled “Man and God,” which was renowned for the discussion surrounding the human and the superhuman.
Fulton said, “She made every student feel really valued; everybody’s opinion was important to her. She was also quite an actress. She was quite funny and lively.”
St. Pierre’s love of the theater inspired her to support young Phillips Academy actors. Under her supervision, the school repurposed the lecture halls in George Washington Hall to create Steinbach and Tang Theatres.
Kevin Heelan, Instructor in Theatre, said in an interview with The Phillipian, “Every rehearsal that we did, even the one’s that were fraught with all kinds of tension because they weren’t going well, there were always moments where her warmth and her sensitivity were always in evidence, and she was about the soul.”
St. Pierre, in 1976, developed a student exchange program between Andover’s theater students and students from Manchester, England. St. Pierre accompanied ten students to England to give a series of performances.
Fulton said, “She was just a person who was just very smart, but also very kind and very genuine, and you just remember the good feelings you have about her. She made people very happy, if you had a problem you could talk to her, and she really counseled many people. She was an extraordinarily good department chair because she took care of all the details a department chair has to take care of, but also [was] just so supportive of everybody.”
The outdoor St. Pierre Classroom was dedicated to St. Pierre’s contributions to the community. It was inaugurated in 2013 and stands today outside of Bulfinch Hall. The classroom is formed of granite benches positioned in a circle.
“People thought that it was a very original thing, an outdoor classroom, because she had been a very original person,” said Fulton. “She had dealt a great deal with drama, as well as English, and it only seemed fitting that she would have this beautiful place outside.”
St. Pierre earned a B.A. degree at Wheaton College and later earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University. In 1974, St. Pierre spent a sabbatical year teaching English at School Year Abroad in France.
“[St. Pierre] was a remarkable individual, I think she was the most consequential educator, certainly in my time, that [Phillips Academy] has seen. She was a very kind person, very smart, and more complex, I think, than people realize. She was quintessentially Irish, and she was one of my favorite people I have ever known,” said Heelan.
St. Pierre is survived by her sister, Mary Baroni, her brother-in-law Daniel Baroni, and numerous nephews and godchildren. A memorial will be held in her honor at Cochran Chapel on November 5.