St. Joseph’s principal Marlene Suter (centre) shared a laugh with some of her students during a recent visit from the Star. The school is now 118 years old.

St. Joe’s turns 118

Private school started by pioneer nuns has stood the test of time.

There are only ten schools in B.C. that are a century old, and St. Joseph’s in Nelson is one of the oldest at 118. That’s pretty impressive for a school that started in a nun’s house.

“It’s a legacy, and as the principal I feel a great responsibility to continue the legacy,” principal Marlene Suter told the Star. “People really had to work to keep this place going because it’s not automatically funded, so the community investment is huge.”

During the 50th anniversary of Federation of Independent School Associations, a non-profit society in Victoria, St. Joseph’s was awarded with a plaque to recognize their longevity. They were thrilled.

“It’s kind of overwhelming. This is a school I attended from Grade 4 on and now my son is a student,” said school council chair Jennifer McDonnell.

“To look back at old pictures and feel that connection to history, it’s wonderful.”

Because it’s smaller than some other schools, both Suter and McDonnell believe the students benefit from closer social relationships.

St. Joseph’s started in 1897 at the invitation of Bishop Dottenwill. Sisters Teresa Kieran and Aloysius taught from their homes for the first year, before moving into their first building on Feb. 3, 1900.

The school initially had 84 students. By 1956 the building had to close the high school aspect of their program, but the current building opened in 1978.

McDonnell can’t wait to see how the school continues to grow and evolve.

“What does this school mean to me? It starts with the kids. Every time I step on the playground there’s always someone there to welcome you, and everyone’s taking care of each other.”

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story an incorrect name for the Federation of Independent School Associations.)

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