The pioneers, anxious as they were to have a priest and church, were equally desirous to transmit their faith to their children, and hence, they opened a Catholic school sometime in the 1860’s.
The school was reported to have a modest start, but parents and pupils were reportedly well satisfied with the opportunities offered. The fundamentals of a sound elementary education, plus a fair knowledge of the essentials in religion, were considered sufficient for the standards of their day. Where and what type of building the first school was cannot be ascertained at this date. Perhaps the little frame church served the dual purpose as a place to worship on Sundays, etc., and as a play of learning during the terms of school. It is known that following the erection of the new stone church in 1868, the old church was converted into a schoolhouse, and thus did service for many years.
The first teachers at the school were lay instructors. Quirinus Leonard was the teacher in 1869. Wil. Hubert Weibeler held that office prior to him. His predecessor in the art of pedagogy was Jacob Bauer, and tradition has it that John Duetshheid yielded the ruler to him after several terms of patient, hard work. The date of the start of that work is lost in hazy history.
In 1877, a new two-story brick school was built. It was about 30 x 50 feet. The lower floor was intended as the dwelling of the teacher and family. The upper floor formed one large classroom. There were six windows, three on either side. The entrance was on the east front and on either side were stairways converging on the second floor. A large round stove for wood was in the center of the classroom. The teacher for 1877 – 78 was Adam Roesch.
A proposal to obtain school sisters was made in 1878. Opposition developed through Roesch, the current teacher, but “in spite of all difficulties, Father braved the protests” and continued his efforts to obtain teaching sisters for the school.
The first Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in Jordan in the month of August, 1879. According to some reports, the sisters lived in a new convent built in 1877, but another source says the three sisters lived on the first floor of the school across from the church.
The second floor was divided into two classrooms. One-third of the floor space was set aside for the lower grades. Sr. M. Tolentina had charge of the lower grades and Sr. M. Simona taught the upper grades.
At the opening of the school term, the number of pupils filled all available space. It is reported that some non-Catholic children were also enrolled.
There is little mention of the school for many years, with the exception that school was dismissed for a period of time in 1883 when there was some extremely cold weather.
Despite the lack of information on the school, it must have thrived, for a new school was constructed in 1908. It is the same school that is used today. The cornerstone for the large building was laid June 24, 1908, after the old school was torn down and the new school was blessed and opened November 26 of that same year.
While construction of the new school was under way, the apartment house behind the priests’ garage was used for classes. The students went in the building on the east side and most of the classrooms were in the upstairs portion of the building. “The walls only went about three-fourths of the way up to the ceiling and we could hear what everyone was saying.” Reminisced Mildred Wolf, who was at that particular school while she was in the fifth grade.
The school’s enrollment must have averaged around 20 students per classroom, according to First Communion records. Records also show that on June 30, 1914, the Rev. Bishop Lawler confirmed 59 boys and 64 girls, which apparently included four classes. The next confirmation class in 1919 shows that 74 boys and 79 girls were confirmed by Rev. Archbishop Austin Dowling on May 18, 1919.
In the 1960’s, the present school was bulging at the seams. Consideration was given to the proposal to build a new school. The property south of the school, the Simones Lumber Company, was purchased as the site for a proposed new building. Agreement was never reached, a new school was not undertaken, and grades seven and eight were dropped in 1968 to have more room for the other six grades. The property was eventually sold to Radermachers for a new Red Owl store.
About this time the St. John’s School Board was begun to enable the parishioners to have a greater voice in the education of their children. Selected from a list of ten nominees were: Dorothy Kipp, Peter Schmitt, Lee Radermacher, Martin Beckman, who was elected chairman and Ralph Stemig.
Through the 1950’s and into the early 1970’s, it is known that there were some changes and projects undertaken at the school and in the convent. In 1952, when 250 students returned to classes, they discovered that all the classrooms and hallways in the school had been treated to new acoustic tile ceilings and fresh coats of paint, with each room a different color. A new classroom was added in the building’s basement, which required that decaying joists and the wood floor be replaced with a concrete base and tile cover. Fluorescent light fixtures had been installed throughout the building and new tiling had also been applied to the basement ceiling. Some new benches had been purchased and an office and lavatory had been installed for the sisters.
In order to expedite the school lunch system the kitchen was further modernized for greater convenience. Included in the program was installation of a garbage disposal unit, together with up-to-date cooking and refrigeration equipment.
In 1969, Ralph Stemig put in the maple floor on the main floor of the school. The Rusco storm windows were installed a year earlier.
Also during this 20 year span some remodeling was done in the convent and a chapel was added, plus the garage for the sister’s car was built. Enrollment at the Catholic school began declining in the 1970’s. Kindergarten was opened in the fall of 1977 to interest new and young families in a Catholic education.
In 1979, the parish celebrated the centenary of the Notre Dame Sisters teaching in St. John’s School. The convent was closed in 1964 when the number of Sisters available for Jordan declined to only two. They then resided in Shakopee and Prior Lake until October of 1981 when the last of the Notre Dame Sisters left Jordan. One Sister returned in 1983 to coordinate CCD and help at school. She left in 1989.
In 1968, 7th and 8th grades were dropped and emphasis was placed on the K-6 program. In the 1980’s the enrollment began to grow. A preschool program, Wee Angels Preschool, was added. The entire school was remodeled in the 1980’s with all new paint, new walls, lights, lowered ceilings, and fire doors. A rededication was held on January 31, 1988, with an all school reunion attended by over 1,000 alumni.
On February 14, 2004, many volunteers assisted the teachers, staff, and parents in moving to the new school in the Education Center. It was an exciting day. The classrooms on the first floor and computer lab and library in the lower level were completed. Bishop Pates dedicated the new building on Sunday, March 7th, 2004, after the 10:00am liturgy.