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A history of St. Ann's School

The original St. Ann's Catholic School in Wadena.

Soon after the completion of their beautiful new church in 1895 talk began among parishioners of the establishment of a Catholic school which was to be housed in the basement of the new church. It was thought that one teacher would be necessary. Later as the school grew it was thought that the Sisters of Charity would be placed in charge.

In 1902, it was reported that Omier & Thori, well known St. Paul architects, had been engaged to draw plans for the new Catholic School building. About that same time Fred E. Gores and Nick Wagner, local businessmen, were circulating a subscription paper to raise funds for the new building. Gores said it was proposed to erect a building at a cost of about $6,000 with the hope that about $4,000 would be pledged.

It seems that things moved along faster than anticipated and fund raising met with great success as the Pioneer Journal of July 11, 1902, announced that the contract for building the new school was awarded to William King, a local contractor, his bid being $7,090, with the stipulation that the building be completed by Nov.1, 1902, and to be built of Staples brick. It was to be two stories high with a basement, and well quipped with all modern conveniences needed for a school house. The building was to be built on the lots south of St. Ann's church.

This school would be for grades one through eight and the thought was that a considerable number of students would be drawn from the public school, thus relieving the over crowded conditions in that school. It was stated that the public school without the above, would in another year have to consider the matter of building another building. This would of course mean a raise in taxes and did help in the fund raising in that many of the Protestant business people also contributed to the project.

Later that year it was reported that $3,000 had been raised and that the subscription list was then to be circulated in the country and that it was thought that $4,000 could be raised with ease.

In June 1902, Catholic Day was announced in the Pioneer Journal with meals being served at the church at noon and in the evening. That evening, St. Joseph's Dramatic Club presented three farce comedies at Burch's hall drawing large crowds. The gross receipts for the day amounted to about $250 dollars.

In the Pioneer Journal of Jan. 30, 1903, it was announced that the recently completed school dedicated by the Catholic congregation would be opened for pupils next Monday morning. "It is expected that between 75 and 80 pupils will be enrolled. The school will be in charge of the St. Benedictine Sisters, headquartered at St. Joseph, Minnesota and four of the sisters arrived in this city yesterday over the Great Northern. Two of them will teach cooking and music and two others will be employed with general school work."

This project was carried out during the watch of the Rev. J. G. Steigler, who then left Wadena late in 1903 to accept a charge at the church in Pierz, Minn.

In 1916, under the Rev. Francis Lenger, a very substantial building addition was planned to take care of expanding enrollment, as noted in the Pioneer Journal.

"D. E. Palmer of Clear Lake, Minn., was awarded the contract Monday evening for the construction of the addition to St. Ann's Parochial School, his bid being $16,561. The heating contract went to J. L. Judge, of the Twin Cities for $3,400 and the plumbing contract will be let later.

"The plans contemplate several big changes in the old building to make it to conform to the more modern idea of public school construction and when the entire job is finished Wadena can boast of one of the best schools of that character in the state. The structure will be an imposing looking affair of Staples brick with trimming to match that of the old building. It will have a south frontage instead of east as at present and will be full two stories throughout. A better idea of the increase in size can be gained from the fact that the dimensions of the old building are 32 x 52 while the new will be 52 x 95. The plans contemplate several big changes in the old structure which embody all the modern conveniences.

"The basement will have a gymnasium 50 x 37 with a fifteen foot ceiling in addition to the usual toilet rooms and other equipment. The heating plant will occupy a 32 x 32 addition to the basement and located in the northwest corner. The heating plant to serve both the school house and the church. Later it may be connected with the Parish house.

"The first and second floors are almost identical in arrangement. The present entrance will be closed up and the resulting class rooms will be 30 x 27. The new plan provides for a spacious entrance on the north and south sides. Under the new arrangement large cloak rooms have been provided for, something that is entirely lacking in the present building.

"The roof on the old structure will be removed and the walls raised sufficiently to conform to the height of the addition, and a flat roof substituted covering the entire building. The building must be ready for occupancy by Sept. 1."

This building brings back fond memories to me as we lived just down the block. Our neighbor boy was a good Catholic boy, so we gained entry to the school on many Saturdays to play basketball in the gymnasium.

I recall someone saying one time that they wondered why so many of the kids coming over from the Catholic school for their freshman year at the public school were flat footed, but that this person attributed it to the fact that the gymnasium floor was concrete. I really don't know if this had any basis in fact.

There was always a spirited rivalry between their boys basketball team and a team from the public school. They were cat lickers and the public school pup lickers. Their school produced many fine basketball players. In the earlier days, the Schiller boys, Phil and Paul, the Prettyman boys, Bill and Dick and the Browne boys, Bill, Don and Jack. I am sure there were more later but I don't recall them.

Eventually due to declining enrollment, from a high of one time at about 300, the classes were cut back to just six grades. Eventually the Benedictine Sisters no longer ran the school with lay people taking over and with an addition built on to the east side of the school in the 1950s. The demise came in 2010 when the church announced the school would be closed, and so it was on June 2, 2010. The enrollment for this last year was about 40 in the six grades.

Unfortunately in 2008 the older building was condemned and ordered demolished. The only way of not doing this would have been to do many very costly changes to bring it up to state code. With decreasing enrollment it was determined by the Powers That Be that the school be closed. Today it houses students from WDC Elementary after high school students were displaced by the tornado.

It is planned with the demolition of the old building that the new addition on the east side will be used as a Youth Ministry building.

The Rev. Don Wagner, parish priest, graciously gave permission to photograph both the old and new portions of the school, and these are available for viewing at the Wadena County Historical Society.