The first St. Joseph School was established in 1879 near the corner of what is now Deer and Locust Streets.
In May of that year, Father Strub wrote a letter to Sister Marie of Jesus Bajard, the Reverend Mother of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in Paris, France.Their order was founded in France during the early 1800s. These women devoted their lives to the service of God through education in colleges, elementary and secondary schools, and to the care of the sick and the poor in orphanages, hospitals, and dispensaries.
Due to many hardships the people at that time faced–fires, floods, droughts, and typhoid epidemics–in 1896, the school had to be closed. It had remained closed for two years.
St. Joseph School was reopened in 1898 by Father Laengst. He recruited a small number of students and one lay teacher named Catherine Herbert since there were no nuns left. With lumber from the old school at Deer and Locust he erected St. Joseph’s Hall on the church grounds. Here a school was reopened with about 20 students. Father Laengst also had a convent built and then applied to the Motherhouse of the School Sisters of Notre Dame for some nuns to come here to teach. His request was granted.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame originated in Germany in the 1830s. Their mission was similar to that of the St. Joseph Sisters; to establish schools and orphanages and to minister to hospitals, retreat centers, and shelters addressing the urgent needs of women, youth, and those who were poor.
The arrival of Father Peter Zell in 1908 signaled a lot of changes and improvements. He cleared off the parish debt, had the school enlarged, and had electricity installed in the rectory, the church, and the convent, as well as running water. A large parish hall was built under his direction, but it was destroyed by fire in 1924.
One of the School Sisters of Notre Dame’s lasting contributions was the impetus they gave to starting the bazaar in 1912. It’s said they went to Father Zell and asked him about creating fancy needlework that could be sold off their convent porch to raise money for school supplies. The effort was so successful, it was expanded the following year to include the crafting of dolls and wooden objects.
When Father Zell left St. Joseph in 1924, he was replaced by Father Joseph Pobleschek. It was under Father Pobleschek’s direction that the third church was built. To match the third church, Father Pobleschek had the old school torn down. A new two-story brick building took its place. That was done in 1926 and was known as Spiritan Hall. St. Joseph School only went to the 8th grade back then but the 9th grade was added in 1926. There were 207 students at that time. Another grade was added each year, and by 1930 St. Joseph went to the 12th grade.That same year a new nun’s house was built. When they left around 1980, it became a business office for the church.
Father Lachowsky began his duties here in 1934. During his tenure, he had the grade school enlarged, the church painted and decorated, and he laid the groundwork for a new St. Joseph High School building to be constructed. Father Anthony Lechner was pastor when the high school opened on September 30, 1951. Bishop Albert Fletcher dedicated it.
Father Sylvester Dellert took over for Father Lechner. He was instrumental in the building of the first St. Joseph School gymnasium. The first St. Joseph gym was ready for basketball in 1958. Prior to that, games had been played in a gym in the Liberty community and in Conway’s National Guard Armory at Caldwell and Locust Streets. Practices were often conducted in the lower level of Spiritan Hall. On occasion, some games were played at the old gym on the UCA campus.
In 1970 the parish was informed that because of the shortage of nuns the School Sisters of Notre Dame would not be able to staff the entire school anymore. Because it was felt there wasn’t the money to hire a lay staff for the high school it might be in danger of closing. After contacting many different orders of nuns, the parish council and school board enticed the Sisters of St. Joseph from Fall River, Massachusetts to take over the junior high and high school. These new St. Joseph sisters were known as the Sisters of St. Joseph du Puy.
The Sisters of St. Joseph du Puy left around 1980. The Elementary grades retained the School Sisters of Notre Dame through the end of the 1980-81 academic year.
The St. Joseph Endowment and Charitable Trust was formed in 1976. It recognized the need for a non-secular, non-profit organization to provide financial aid and support to the school.
The school was bursting at the seams. A proposed expansion plan of the high school had stalled. The neighboring Ellen Smith Elementary School on Harkrider Street closed. Many prayers were answered when the Friends of St. Joseph purchased that property for our school. A fund-raising campaign called “Building Bridges” was begun to pay off that debt. The Primary School was dedicated by Bishop J. Peter Sartain at the start of the 2000-2001 school year. It housed Kindergarten and 1st grade students in its two years of operation and then expanded up to 3rd grade.
The parish and school were administered by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost Fathers) until 2010. In June 2010 the parish and school came under the administration of the Diocese of Little Rock.