In 1854 Franklin Pierce was President of the United States, Clement and Henry Studebaker were completing their second year of building wagons in South Bend, and Notre Dame founder Father Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., was making plans for the land he recently purchased that would one day become Saint Joseph Grade School. The plot of land, located in what was then called the town of Lowell, was purchased from Samuel Cottrell for the sum of $250, and the deed stated that the property was to be used "For the benefit of the Catholic School of St. Joseph's County, Indiana.”
So it was, one year after the founding of Saint Joseph Parish, Sisters of the Holy Cross taught boys and girls in Fr. Sorin's 22 x 40 foot structure that served as both St. Alexis Church and School. In 1867, the boarding and day school became the Academy of the Assumption and, in 1880, began night classes to provide education for boys who worked during the day. The sisters funded the school by teaching music lessons, growing produce, and fund-raising activities such as variety shows for the local community featuring their students.
In 1886, a two-story structure was built to replace the old St. Alexis chapel/school (on the corner of Hill and LaSalle Streets) at a cost of $5000. This building would serve the needs of Saint Joseph well under the direction of the Holy Cross Sisters and see student enrollment grow tremendously during the turn of the century. Saint Joseph parish virtually blossomed into an ethnically diverse community, and once again suffered growing pains as a result. After forty years the 1886 structure was no longer adequate for the high demand of a quality Catholic education.
A new era in Saint Joseph's history began in 1926 with the dedication of the beautiful, gothic building on the corner of Hill and Colfax Streets. The cornerstone having been blessed on May 24, 1925, Bishop John Noll dedicated the school on January 10, 1926, proclaiming it to be the best school in the diocese. The school boasted a real gymnasium - the first Catholic school to have one - and contained 15 classrooms and a 600-seat auditorium to support the enrollment for that time of 535 students in grades 1 through 9.
As Saint Joseph School approached the new millennium, it was quite apparent growth was again overtaking the existing facilities. Through the generosity of parishioners, alumni and friends, a substantial renovation was completed in 1999. The former gym has become a beautiful library, as well as computer, science, and art/music rooms. The former auditorium was transformed into Fanelli Hall, which is used as a gymnasium, parish social hall and cafeteria. The McCartney Administrative Annex has enabled relocation of school offices and faculty support areas, thus making more room for classrooms and keeping teacher-student ratios lower.
In 2004, Saint Joseph Church and School launched the Ensuring Our Future of Faith Capital Campaign. This campaign raised over $2 million for the needs of Saint Joseph Church and School and resulted in the installation of a modern and efficient system of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning in our school classrooms, as well as new energy-saving classroom lighting. The campaign represented our continuing commitment to provide an environment most conducive to learning.
In 2012, Saint Joseph Church and School launched the Living Our Faith, Building Our Future Campaign. This campaign raised over $5 million for the purchase and renovation of the Ackles Parish Life Center, providing space to open our new parish preschool; minor improvements to the church; upgraded outdoor green/play space; as well as a school addition with a full-size gymnasium, offices, and new classrooms for art, music, and science. The preschool opened in 2013. The new school addition opens in August 2016.
Saint Joseph School has come a long way since 1854. What has not changed is its reputation. Providing the best education possible and utilizing the latest technologies, Saint Joseph School will continue to be "the best" for generations to come.