St. Catherine School opened in 1941, just months before the United States entered World War II. Despite the trauma of the times, St. Catherine’s found a firm foothold among Catholic families in Seattle’s north end. Sisters of Providence staffed the school for thirty-five years.
The Sisters of Providence accepted administration of the new St. Catherine School at the request of the Reverend Matthew S. Beglin, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in north Seattle. His request came in June 1941, and the necessary approval of the bishop, provincial council, and general council was quickly obtained. On August 28, six sisters took possession of the house that had been purchased and renovated by the parish to serve as their convent. They were warmly welcomed by the pastor and some of the women of the parish.
St. Catherine School opened September 8, 1941, with 150 students enrolled. The new brick building featured four classrooms and an office on the main floor, with kitchen, assembly room, and bathrooms in the basement. (Built in 1931 as part of the original church complex, the basement previously served as the parish hall.) Sister Matthew Mary was the first Principal/Superior and taught the combined seventh and eighth grades; she was joined on the faculty by Sisters Miriam Kathleen, first and second grades; Elizabeth of Jesus, third and fourth grades; Denise of Providence, fifth and sixth grades; and Rosaleen, music. Sister Elizabeth Mary served as the convent cook. One of the highlights of the first year of school was the production of “Old Ironsides,” an operetta in two acts. Nineteen students graduated that first year.
The United States’ entry into World War II made the first years difficult, but St. Catherine School flourished with the support of the parish community. In keeping with the patriotic spirit of the times, the sisters planted a victory garden in the convent yard and raised chickens in the garage, while students participated in air-raid drills and victory bond contests. Plans to add another story to the school building were delayed by wartime restrictions on materials, but construction began as soon as permission was received from the War Production Board.
When classes resumed in September 1945, the new floor provided five classrooms, a music room, and practice studios. The convent was also enlarged to provide for the additional sisters assigned to the school. By 1952, enrollment had climbed to more than 500 students, and two additional classrooms were built behind the main school.
In 1961 the parish had finished building a new church and the original church building was remodeled and enlarged to become the current gymnasium. Sports, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and square dancing were popular activities during the 1950′s and the early 1960′s. The 1960′s saw a decline in the school’s enrollment due to several factors. These factors included the building of Interstate 5, and the establishment of three new parishes in the north end of Seattle in the 1950′s.
In the spring of 1966, the sisters’ outdated residence was demolished in preparation for construction of a modern convent at the same location. During construction, the sisters lived at Providence Hospital, Seattle, and commuted by car to the school. They happily moved into the new convent on December 22, 1966.
Pre-school was first offered at St. Catherine during the seventies. With the emergence of changes in the Church calling for shared responsibility, the first education board convened in 1972. In the early 1970s, several of the sisters who taught at St. Catherine School chose to live in apartments or small groups rather than in the convent. As the number in the convent and on the faculty declined, it was decided that the Sisters of Providence would withdraw from the convent on September 1, 1975, freeing it for other uses by the parish. One sister continued to teach at the school for the 1975-1976 school year, after which the long and mutually beneficial relationship between the Sisters of Providence and St. Catherine School came to an end.
The 1990′s saw the addition of a Learning Specialist to the faculty, the inception of the Multi- Arts Program, and the addition of an extended care program for before and after-school care. Efforts in 1999 include computerizing the 10,000-volume library and bringing the computer lab to realization. The school’s current enrollment hovers near 200 students for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
We celebrate over sixty years of academic excellence and Christian formation here at St. Catherine. With the commitment and support of our parents, teachers, administration, and parishioners, St. Catherine School will continue to develop competence, conscience, and compassion in its students for many years to come.
A special thank you to Providence Archives for many of the early photos and history of our school. Providence Archives, Seattle, maintain the early records, historical documents, and photographs for St. Catherine School and other schools operated by the Sisters of Providence. To learn more, visit their website: Providence Archives, Seattle.