"It was dying," said Joe McBride, St. Mary's principal. "We tried to do everything we could to save it."
Crews began felling the old tree about 8:30 a.m. Monday, McBride said. They continued after lunch, removing downed branches and chipping wood.
The tree was most likely planted long before the school was built, he said.
From 1915 to 1960, the Sisters of St. Joseph operated the Mount St. Joseph Academy in a home on the property, according to the Georgia Historical Society.
Safety concerns prompted the school to look into the tree's removal more than a year ago, McBride said. Leaves thinned out so much that they knew it was sick, he said.
Mia McBride, a rising fourth-grade pupil at St. Mary, sat atop the tree's 4-foot-wide trunk base Monday in the little shade the playground has left from another magnolia tree.
The school will try to preserve some history, the principal said, by turning the wood into bowls, he said. The mulch chips will be spread on the playground.
Other trees will probably be planted on the playground soon, McBride said.