May 2023 had a noteworthy anniversary: the 50th anniversary of the closure of St. Benedict’s High School (SBHS). In 1973, the school ended a 93-year history of secondary education on these monastery grounds. Hundreds of sisters are alums of SBHS, many still here to share memories.
In 1880, Saint Benedict’s Monastery opened St. Benedict’s High School (SBHS) in St. Joseph, Minn., replacing St. Agnes Academy, the original school in St. Cloud, Minn. From 1880–1927, the
school was administered by nine sisters called directresses, among them Sister Dominica Borgerding. In 1913, the College of Saint Benedict (CSB) opened, and the directresses then oversaw both the college and academy until 1927, at which time they switched entirely to the college.
From fall 1927 through spring 1973, the high school operated separately under 11 principals, among them Sisters Mary Anthony Wagner, Idamarie Primus, Linda Kulzer, and Christopher Weber. The longest tenure was held by Sister Adelia Schmidt, first principal, from 1927–1939. Sister Moira Wild was the last principal, serving from 1970–1973.
SBHS never became large, unless one considers a total enrollment of 100–160 large; the average enrollment seldom topped 100 students. This is not surprising since it was a single-sex school with the majority of students residential (called aspirants), preparing to join the Benedictine community. While enrollment was relatively high during the 1960s, often exceeding 100 students annually, the enrollment dropped steadily from 1969–1973, causing major financial and staffing problems.
Minutes of faculty meetings as late as spring 1969 do not mention possibly having to close the school; rather, much discussion centered on ways and means to enrich and expand current course offerings and methods. A curriculum workshop was held for faculty June 2–6, 1969, and topics included area studies, world culture, interdisciplinary teaching, and revision of the Core Program. North Central Association, an accreditation organization, visited the school March 2–4, 1970, giving it high marks for good-to-excellent programs and services.
There are archival detailed reports and correspondence outlining concerns for the future of SBHS, but most of this occurred during the years 1972–1973. Much discussion centered on options to keep SBHS afloat, fiscally and in enrollment. Numerous meetings were held on and off campus among religious and lay supporters, the majority occurring in March and April of 1973. Although SBHS shared programs with Saint John’s Preparatory School, such as extracurriculars, some classes, and social activities, enrollment steadily declined. Resident students were less than half as more commuters registered. Tuition rose almost yearly, and the monastery—owner and operator of SBHS—had to increase its grants as well.
A faculty meeting on March 8, 1973, favored the option of closer relations with the college, gaining more course opportunities as well as financial stability. CSB president Stanley Idzerda stated his support of a closer relationship between college and high school, though he added finances were a problem for CSB as well. Sharing of faculty and space was offered; SBHS faculty feared loss of a separate identity for the high school.
A letter from S. Moira to the monastery council members, dated March 28, 1973, gave this proposal: that SBHS become an integral part of the educational program under the direction of CSB. It was requested that the council accept this proposal or take action to close SBHS at the end of the
1972–73 term. Council minutes from April 2, 1973, state that the council agreed there was too much risk (principally financial) to accept the proposal and decided on closure of SBHS.
A letter sent to the parents of SBHS students, dated April 4, 1973, assured them that, “We will be making inquiries into alternative educational programs for those students who will need to be transferring.” These inquiries were made to Catholic secondary schools in Minnesota, and transfer students were given help navigating their options.
A senior graduate, Maggie West, wrote: “St. Benedict’s High School is a beautiful school. I only wish that more people knew it and had a part in it. I guess it’s too late now.” She was echoed by former students, their parents, and the Benedictine community who mourned the closure.
Carol Berg, OSB
This article was featured on pages 4–5 in the spring 2023 issue of Benedictine Sisters and Friends.