Church of St. John of St. Paul
   St. John's School   

St. John's first school was built in 1889
 St. John's second (and current) school building was built in 1931

In the summer of 1888, just two years after the founding of St. John's, Father Fleming announced his intention of building a school as soon as plans and specifications could be drawn up.  In September 1889, Father Fleming announced that plans for the school had been presented to him by J. C. McCarthy. The contractor agreed to have the building, an eight room brick and terra cotta structure, commanding the highest part of the bluff on Frances (now Fifth) Street near Forest, completed in November. The board of directors arranged to borrow twelve thousand dollars to finance the building. On January 15, 1890, the formal dedication of the school took place. The school received its first pupils in February 1890 and graduated its first class in June of the same year.

As the parish grew in numbers, a new school became necessary to care for the growing student population of the district. Plans were submitted to Father Doyle by the firm of Slifer and Abrahamson, architects, and work was begun in July, 1931. Built with an eye to future expansion, the $135,000 Gothic brick and cut stone building was a worthy companion to the church and parish house.

St. John's school building today
No feature for the comfort and convenience of those whom it was intended to serve seems to have been omitted. In the basement, extending practically two stories high, is a regulation size gymnasium, so constructed that it serves as an auditorium as well. Concrete bleachers are built in such a way as to provide storage space for chairs to be used for the auditorium. Space is provided for a regulation size handball court, locker and shower rooms for boys and girls, a lunchroom, and a Boy Scout room. At one end of the gymnasium is a stage, 31 by 44 feet, provided with footlights and other features necessary for the staging of dramatic productions. A dressing room for players is located at one end. The heating plant in the basement heats both church and school.

The gym today

A school play in the auditorium/gym in 1936
On the first floor are five classrooms; a kindergarten occupying space equal to two ordinary sized classrooms, with a fireplace and a playroom; an office; a nurse’s room and a book room for the distribution of texts.

The kindergarten room today
Seven classrooms are located on the second floor, in addition to a library, Sisters’ quarters consisting of a living room and a dining room, a parish dining room and kitchen. Many of the rooms in the building were so designed with respect to light and ventilation that seventeen classrooms would be available if needed. On January 31, 1932, the new school was formally opened to the public but the formal dedication of the building did not take place until April 17, 1932.

The above description, written in 1936, could just as well have been written today as very little has changed. The handball court is being used for storage but marks from balls are still visible on the walls. The locker and shower rooms have been converted to other uses with the plumbing hidden from view. The heating plant still services both the church and school with updated boilers now burning gas rather than coal. The kindergarten still has its fireplace, along with a built-in playhouse, semicircular play area and its own private bathroom but has been separated into two separate classrooms.

(See Floor Plans of the school.)

It would be difficult to tell by looking at photographs of interior portions of the school whether they were taken now or in the 1930s. Externally the building hasn’t seen many changes either other than for the installation of modern windows and a cell phone antenna farm on the roof. 

The building served as a school for St. John’s until the 1970s when St. John and Sacred Heart schools consolidated and all classes were eventually moved to the Sacred Heart campus. For many years after that local nonprofit organizations were housed in the building until one of the first charter schools moved in during the 1990s. Unfortunately that school ran into legal difficulties with the state of Minnesota and was forced to close. The St. Paul Public Schools then made use of the upper floor for many years while a small Catholic school was located on the main floor until moving out in May 2011.

The St. John’s school building is now (July 2011) ready for it’s next tenant. It has stood the test of time and still has many good years ahead of it. It would make a great community center, nonprofit business incubator or, of course, school. Anyone interested in touring or renting the building should contact St. John’s at 651-771-3690.

The original school opened in February 1890, under the direction of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, an order of teaching nuns who dressed as lay women.  In 1892 the Sisters of St. Joseph, under the direction of Sister Esperance, took charge of the school and ran  it until it was closed in the 1970s.

Sister ?
1890 - 1892
Sister Esperance 1892 - xxxx
Sister Constantia
Sister Ligouri
Sister Evelyn
Sister Innocentia
Sister Seraphica
Sister Patricia
Sister Alphonsus

Sister Athanasia

Sister Juliana
Sister Joseph Marie
Sister Claude
Sister Mary Magdalen
Sister Ste. Marie
Sister Cecile
Sister James Margaret
Sister Mary Daniel xxxx - 1961
Sister Sheila 1961 - 1963
Sister St. Timothy 1963 - 1965
Sister Lawrence 1965 - xxxx
Sister Ellen Joseph xxxx - 197?

(Also see Class Photos)

Above: Pastor James E. Doyle at the crowning of the Virgin Mary Statue in 1941.
Below:  Enlarged view of  Rev. Doyle and some of the school children.
Minnesota Historical Society. Used with permission.

Above: Pastor Edward de Courcy blessing the St. John's car and students' bicycles in 1952.
Below:  Enlarged view  with Father de Courcy on the right.  The man on the left is Mr. Simon Bergeron.  He took care of the school and drove the nuns to and from school for many years.
He worked at St. J ohn's from 1945 until he retired in 1972.  He had the patience of a saint for putting up with many generations of rambunctious school children who didn't really appreciate him at the time.
St. Paul Dispatch & Pioneer Press photo from Minnesota Historical Society. Used with permission.

Boys basketball team in 1959

It Does Exist

The infamous and often mentioned but rarely seen "Permanent Record" really does exist. A number of Permanent Elementary Grade Records dating back to the 1920s and 1930s were recently discovered.  Our teachers weren't kidding when they threatened us with them.  These things really do last forever.