(GENO LUDWIG AND BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
HISTORIC BUILDING: Constructed in 1926, St. Mary’s School helped teach generations of students before closing in 1971, than served a second life as church meeting place…
A sale is pending of St. Mary’s School right by the St. Mary of the Rosary Catholic Church in Chewelah . The historic building has recently been home to many church functions, the Knights of Columbus and a preschool, but the cost of maintaining and heating the building being $8,000 a year, had the parish looking for options.
St. Mary’s of the Rosary had investigated other options for the school, such as renovation or selling it to Catholic Charities for a youth shelter, but, when they didn’t pan out, ultimately decided to sell the nearly 100-year-old building. The parish council had the building appraised and put it up for sale of this past September. The option of restarting a school there was not feasible because of the costs of asbestos mitigation and ADA requirements to bring it up to code.
So, with the sale nearing finalization, parish and members of the public were invited this month to come and take mementos or other things they would like from the school. According to St. Mary’s, the public enjoyed looking through the old books with their original library bindings. Some were former students who shared stories of their families attending St. Mary’s School. A few were lucky enough to find books with their own names in them which they had checked out back in the 1960s.
While many of the While many of the rooms had been cleaned out after the school was closed in 1971, people still found things they considered treasures, items with stories behind them or possessing fond memories. The school’s basement was divided into a kitchen and cafeteria, boiler room, bathrooms, offices and storage. The upper floor had all the classrooms.
The Parish Council set deadlines for clearing out the building and, by October 20th, most everything had been claimed or disposed of. The preschool was relocated to the Aaron Huff Memorial Center on October 8th.
St. Mary of the Rosary parish is hoping to use the money from the sale to build a new, smaller, multi-purpose space for St. Mary’s Preschool, the Knights of Columbus and Youth Group. The parish is hoping the school’s buyer will restore it to its original glory, allowing it to continue to serve future generations.
St. Mary’s School was constructed in 1926 on land donated to the parish by James Monahan, a rancher who at one time owned most of the land that is the eastern half of Chewelah. It was built during the time that Father Joseph Stang was the resident priest and was dedicated that same year by the Very Reverend Father William Mertz, bishop of the Spokane Diocese.
The new brick school replaced the wooden building that had been the original school. That structure had formerly been the first Catholic Church in Chewelah and was located on the northeast corner of Park and King Streets. The building was purchased from local businessman C. H. Montgomery in 1885 and remodeled into a church while Father Aloysious Folchi was the resident priest.
In 1901, a 16-foot addition was built onto this church to accommodate the growth in attendance.
When the present church was completed in 1909, the old building was again remodeled, this time into a school. In 1916, the school was moved to a new location behind the current church where it continued to serve the children of the parish until the brick building was ready for students in 1926. The old frame school was then either torn down or relocated to make room for a new rectory (priest’s residence).
During these early years, the school was staffed first by the Franciscan Sisters (1909-1916) and then by the Benedictine Sisters (1916-1935), who also operated a large farm two miles west of Chewelah along the Old Highway that is still often referred to as The Sisters’ Place. The Benedictines taught in the new school from 1926 to 1936, when the School Sisters of Notre Dame took over the education process. The school remained open until 1969, when the Spokane Diocese decided to close it because of a lack of sisters and teachers.
After it closed, the parish continued to use the building for church dinners and parish functions, and it served as the only bathroom facilities on the church grounds until the church hall was added to St. Mary’s in the 2000s.
In 1981, Father Bernard Berry, St. Mary’s pastor, refurbished the classrooms, putting in drop ceilings and insulation to make the building more efficient. The new St. Mary’s School had five classrooms on the upper floor for students in grades one through eight with two grade levels per classroom. Later, a ninth grade class was added. The bottom floor contained a kitchen, cafeteria, restrooms, athletic locker room, furnace room and storage areas.
The Knights of Columbus, Chewelah Council 2155, the Catholic men’s fraternal organization, has been meeting in the school but will now meet in the church hall. St. Mary’s Youth Ministry and Venture Crew 989 will also meet there once a week.
Many of Chewelah’s past and present local government officials, business owners and residents received their early education at St. Mary’s School, giving them a sound foundation for their future.
Those who went to school there in the years just prior to the school being closed will remember Sister Rosella, Sister Melissa, Sister Loretta, Sister Adalbert and Mrs. Grumbach.
The details of the pending sale cannot be revealed, but the Chewelah Independent will continue to update our readers about the building.