September 6, 1949, marked the first day of school for St. Joseph students; a realization of the parish’s goal to offer a neighborhood Catholic school for families. Six years earlier, the first congregation of the Church of St. Joseph began meeting in a building known as “the war time church” located in the West St. Paul Tavern at 1021 Charlton Street.
After receiving an official blessing by Archbishop Murray, “Sloppy Joes” tavern served as our church for two years before the growing parish community necessitated a move to a larger facility. Parish leadership selected and purchased the current site in 1946 and construction soon began on the new church building. It wasn’t long before members of the congregation expressed interest in the establishment of a parish school.
By 1948, the parish Board of Directors voted to begin construction of St. Joseph’s School. The groundbreaking ceremony, held in August of that year, included Father James Foran, original pastor of the Church of St. Joseph, as well as priests from area churches and invited guests. According to a newspaper account of the event, parishioners were invited to speak into a “tape recording machine” during the ceremony to preserve their thoughts about the momentous occasion for the parish’s historical record.
In June of 1949, six Sisters of St. Joseph of Crookston, arrived to staff the school. During the school’s first year, close to 300 pupils were taught by the sisters, under the direction of our first principal, Sister Marie Ephrem. The sisters lived in a nearby convent, which was completed around the same time as the school building.
In a revealing sign of the times, a notice in a parish bulletin from early 1949 requested that all parishioners interested in enrolling their children in the new parish school register as soon as possible because “the supply of steel is short…we must order classroom desks and chairs now if we expect to get them by September.”
These were also the days before the traditional shopping trip to Donald’s Uniform Store. Along with the description of the school uniform that had been selected for students, was listed the name of a local dry goods store where the pattern for the uniform, along with fabric and thread, could be purchased.
Within months of the school’s opening, beloved St. Joseph’s traditions were established including a school carnival, complete with the crowning of royalty and an annual book fair which featured readings and skits performed by students dressed as characters from their favorite storybooks.
The number of school families continued to grow from slightly over 100 at the time of the school’s opening to over 1,000 families just twenty years later. As a result, St. Joseph’s School started to suffer from some growing pains. Even though eight additional classrooms and office space were added to the campus in the late 1950’s, it was just a few short years later that another addition which included six more classrooms, a gym, a locker room and an auditorium was planned. During March 1962, Father Foran presided over the groundbreaking for this latest building project, referring to it as a “snow breaking” due to the wintry weather.
Although enrollment suffered a slight decline in the 1970’s, the number of students began to rise in the 1980’s and waiting lists returned in the mid to late 1990’s. Most recently the demographics have declined and space is currently available in most grades.
Many of today’s current K-8 students, now numbering in the mid-300's, are the children and grandchildren of former students. With the addition of a preschool for ages 3-5, more families are being welcomed into St. Joseph’s School community.
Today, St. Joseph’s School is staffed by a lay faculty and administration. However, the tradition of dedication and service, established years ago by the Sisters of St. Joseph, continues. Over 85% of the faculty hold advanced degrees and many have taught at St. Joseph’s for more than twenty years.
St. Joseph’s School celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2009. Along with commemorating a long tradition of excellence, the school community also celebrated new space for the kindergarten and new preschool.