St. Joseph Catholic School Was the First Unit of the Public School System
In 1872, having not yet recovered from the devastation brought on by the Civil War and without any educational provisions in place for children, Macon city leaders began talks to establish a system of public schools. While waiting on their approved charter, the newly organized Board of Education began searching the city for a temporary yet suitable place to gather for school purposes. Rev. L.X. Basin, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church offered the Board several rooms located in the church basement for public school use while the Board looked to secure their own location. Along with the offer to use the basement facilities was a request asking the Board to retain two religious Sisters as teachers in the public school teaching body. When the charter had been granted to the Macon Public School System, the Board of Education, in good faith offered Sister Mary Bernard and Sister Mary Gertrude teaching positions in the Public School System. The Sisters obtained the required certification and began teaching at the “Fourth Street School” under principle J. Roberts. Thus, the “Fourth Street School” later known as St. Joseph’s Catholic School was recognized as the first unit of the public school system in Macon. All Catholic children, regardless of school ward, were permitted to attend the Sisters' school until 1902.
Enrollment in Fourth Street School Was Open to All Children in Macon
Shortly after the Board of Education secured reasonable school accommodations, modifications were made allowing all Catholic children of Macon the opportunity to attend the Fourth Street School, regardless of their school ward. The school continued to operate under the public school system at the Fourth Street location until 1895 and then until 1902 at Poplar Street where the current Catholic rectory now stands. While there was increased enrollment at the Fourth Street School, there were no arrangements for an increase in teaching staff. With other public schools in the city not exhibiting an increased student census, pressure was put on the Board of Education to end the agreement with the Fourth Street School; but not before the Pastor and the Sisters took the initiative to withdraw the school before being asked. In June 1902, the Superior of the Sisters of Mercy along with Rev. Joseph Winkelreid withdrew the Fourth Street School from the Board of Education. In September of that same year, St. Joseph’s Parochial School was organized under the guidance and instruction of four Sisters of Mercy with two classrooms in the priest’s house and two classrooms in the basement of the church.
St. Joseph Catholic School Secures New Location in 1925
In 1925, plans were drawn up by local architect Frank Happ to convert the priest’s home into a school but were later discarded in favor of moving the school to a building and street adjacent to the church. In February of 1926, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church paid $35,000.00 cash to the heirs of the Crutchfield estate for the sale of the stately Crutchfield family home located on High Street. The home, whose sale was handled through Murphey, Taylor & Ellis, was said to be one of the best in the city due to its elevated location with 150 feet of frontage that ran all the way from High Street to Washington Avenue. After months of extensive renovations, the school opened in its new location on September 1st, 1926.
Exponential Growth Commanded Expansion for St. Joseph Catholic School
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the small school flourished and the number of students enrolled at St. Joseph’s Catholic School continued to rise dramatically. With the student body at maximum capacity (200 students) and to accommodate the ever growing Catholic population, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church began raising funds to build a new school in 1951. The new school was to be built on the same High Street parcel and would have capacity for 400 students. In 1952, the old stately Crutchfield home was torn down, making way for a one-story brick structure that according to the Macon Telegraph “was regarded as one of the most significant advancements in the affairs of the church since the church building itself was constructed at the beginning of the century.” On October 4th, 1953 Father Carmine Benati accepted the school building’s keys from the contractors marking the formal opening of the new school. A contemporary building, complementary to the church, now housed a large auditorium, an industrial kitchen that could serve up to 500 people, a first aid clinic and administrative offices. The school enrolled students in Kindergarten through seventh grade and until the 8th grade was added in 1958, girls leaving St. Joseph’s had to enter Mount de Sales and the boys enrolled in public high school.
145 Years of St. Joseph Catholic School Tradition Continue Today
While the story of St. Joseph’s Catholic School begins with a vast and authentic heritage, its legacy is built upon 145 years of rich history and traditions that continue today. The mission oriented spirit of the Sisters of Mercy is evident in every nail, beam, and angle of the school. St. Joseph’s Catholic School is a living resource for students that provides an exceptional foundation for educating, nurturing and encouraging the mind, body and spirit , creating lifelong learners and stewards of the faith.
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posted 09/18/2017 in