By David Perritano

The late scientist Dr. Carl Sagan once said, “you have to know the past to understand the present.”

The school’s name at the portico entrance at 628 remains today.

That’s the drive that’s kept the story of Academy of the Holy Names – in all its iterations – alive, and it’s been a passion project for Holy Names Archives Coordinator Mary Ellen Scally Conboy ’61, and Dick Kernan, a former 39-year IT employee of Albany Medical Center.

What do the pair have in common? An address in downtown Albany which both hold in esteem.

For those who need a brief refresher, in 1884, five Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM), newly-arrived from Canada, opened their academy on Hamilton Street in Albany, moving a year later to 628 Madison Ave – the school’s home for the next eight decades.

A baby-boom later, the Sisters opened a second high school—this one at 1075 New Scotland Road, where it currently resides. As for 628, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Nearly 140 years later, the Gothic building at 628 Madison remains intact, from its granite edifice sprinkled with stained glass windows to the opulent portico near the main entrance. Even vestiges of the original chapel remain inside – the area is currently used for office space – and dormitory-style lockers can be found throughout the building, along with much of the original artwork. Since AHN moved out in 1968, 628 has been home to several operational departments of the Albany Med Health System, including communications and marketing, development, and information technology.

Many of the current offices of 628 Madison include original stained-glass windows, including this piece donated by the Harmonic Circle more than 100 years ago.

Enter Dick Kernan. Immediately awestruck by 628’s historical significance upon his arrival, he took it upon himself to meticulously research and keep his fellow employees aware of the hallowed ground in which they were working. “I wanted them to understand the significance of the history of where they were coming to work every day,” Kernan says.

It is with that in mind, on a cold day in February 2024, Conboy paid 628 a visit. She’d been there before, but this visit was different. For the first time, she met Kernan, and the pair exchanged stories of music rehearsals in what are now communications offices, and horse drawn carriages where hybrid cars are now parked.

“It’s a thrill for me to connect my research knowledge with the actual building,” Conboy says. “It is still an impressive building, and thankfully, Albany Med has valued that work by caring for so much of its important historical elements. I’m truly grateful for this shared experience and to know Albany Med is such a good steward of our history.”

Conboy did not show up empty handed. She presented Kernan, and Albany Med Vice President of Communications and Marketing Matt Markham with a framed photo montage outlining the historical timeline of 628.

“My colleagues and I make a living telling stories, and the story of where we work is one of our favorites,” Markham says. “Our building has always existed to advance a mission. Whether forming faith-filled women or supporting the delivery of health care, AHN and Albany Med both seek to transform lives and build a better world. That commitment keeps our two organizations inextricably linked. Every story we tell from 628 Madison rests on the foundation Holy Names built.”

Employees and guests are greeted by vaulted ceilings lined with artwork.