Thursday, October 30, 2014

History of St. Francis Borgia Grade School

Like the city in which it resides, the history of St. Francis Borgia Grade School begins with the 1833 journey of twelve German Catholic families from their native Rhineland towns of Osterkappeln and Belm to a New World filled with great promise. Drawn by the beauty of the Missouri River and its surrounding foothills, it was only natural that the weary group of immigrants would choose to settle along the river's bluffs in what would become known as Washington, MO.

Soon, word of the new community spread and more German families began to arrive. According to the official parish history, "Everything went well and the settlers wanted almost nothing more-only they had no church, no school and no priest." Industrious and full of vision, they set themselves to the task of prucuring all three. By 1838, they had built their first Catholic church, a small olg structure, and had secured the services of their first pastor, Rev. Henry Meinkmann.

Taking advantage of a generous land offer by Lucinda Owens, the town's founder, and her family, a new church was erected in 1846, and the log church was converted to use as a Catholic school. the School Sisters of Notre Dame, upon the urging of Rev. Martin Seisl, S.J., first came to St. Francis Borgia in 1859, where they would continue to serve for more than a century.

Blessed with prosperity and a steady influx of new parishioners, St. Francis Borgia parish thrived over the course of the next few decades. A fund drive was conducted in 1867 to build a majestic new church on the bluff, which, nearly 140 years later, still serves as the center of parish and school live. In 1884, parish leaders decided to move the school to a building of its own, located at Main and Cedar Street, in what is now called the Annex. Dissatisfied with the cramped living conditions of the school sisters they so cherished, the parish erected a new combination convent and school building at Second and Cedar in 1890. In 1917, the sisters moved into a home purchased for them by the parish, and the school building at Second and Cedar was remodeled and expanded. The current elementary school building was built in 1934 to house the four-year high school program, which had been established the previous year. In response to continued growth of the school and parish, an addition to the high school was built in 1952.

The neighboring parish of Our Lady of Lourdes was established by the Archdiocese in 1959 to alleviate the overcrowding at St. Francis Borgia elementary and high schools, both of which continued to prosper. By 1978, the parish faced the prospect once again of remodeling and expanding. High enrollment had steadily increased to the point of overcrowding, while elementary students were housed in two very old buildings in dire need of updates and renovations.

As has been the case throughout the parish's history, the community responded generously to the fund drive for high school expansion. The response was so positive, in fact, that the drive was broadened in scope to not just add on to the existing high school, but rather to build a new regional high school to serve a wider area. With the enthusiastic blessing and support of Archbishop John L. May, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School was built at the corner of High and Ninth Streets and opened in 1982. The grade school moved into the building at 225 Cedar Street, its current location, that same year.

The move to more spacious quarters enabled St. Francis Borgia Grade School to expand its scope as well. A half-day session of kindergarten was added in 1992. By 1994, the program added an afternoon session, as well as an extended care program to accommodate full-day students. In response to a growing number of two-income families, an onsite After-Care program was added in 1995, followed by a Before-Care program in 1998. In 1997, a Middle School program to meet the unique needs of students in 6th through 8th grades was established within the existing school, characterized by block scheduling, similar to that used by both local high schools. The preschool program was initiated in 1999 and house din the Parish Center across the street from the main school building-- the first time the historic building had housed students since the regional high school was built in 1982. Middle School students moved into the upper floor of the Parish Center in 2003.

Much has changed of the 160-year history of St. Francis Borgia school and parish. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, who once filled the convent to capacity, are no longer on the faculty. Technology beyond the wildest imagination of those twelve families who settled here so long ago has become not just a luxury, but a necessity in education. SFB has, like the Catholic Church of which it is a part, weathered its share of hardships-the fires, the floods, the influenza epidemics-to emerge even stronger. The legacy of the parish founders lies in more than its edifices of bricks and mortar-majestic though they are; it lies in the vision, dedication and commitment of each and every generation of its parishioners. While each generation has faced its own unique set of challenges, the fire of the Holy Spirit has bonded and strengthened them all.

That vision and spirit thrives to this day, as is evidenced by a simple walk around the campus, where many projects have been completed or are in progress, thanks to a successful 2002 capital campaign, "Faith of Our Founders." The halls of the circa 1890's Parish Center building, which teetered on the edge of obsolenscence for 17 years after the high school moved out from across the street, are alive again with the laughter of children from the preschool and remodeled Middle School. the former convent building, once home to as many as 30 school sisters at one time, survived both the decline in vocations and a 1998 fire that nearly destroyed it. Fully renovated and equipped with the latest technology, it now serves as home to parish offices, meeting rooms, and a youth center and has been renamed, quite aptly, Notre Dame Hall. the original school building, built in 1884, has survived fires, epidemics, and talk of the wrecking ball to become the most extensive and comprehensive historic restoration project undertaken not only in parish history, but in Washington's as well. In addition to the beauty of its historic architecture, all buildings on the campus are part of a state-of-the-art communications network. When the Annex and other capital improvements are fully completed, each and every one of the buildings will be handicapped-accessible. At the center of it all is the magnificent church itself, built in 1867, where the parish has been brought together in Eucharistic Celebration for the pas 160 years.

The faculty, staff, students, and parents of St. Francis Borgia Grade School are aware of the history that surrounds them, and proud to be part of a legacy which began with a handful of families and a vision back when what is now a prospering exurban city was an open frontier of hope and promise.

Copyright by St. Francis Borgia