Sisters of Providence look on at the groundbreaking for the new St. Michael School building on 10th and Boundary March, 12, 1950
St. Michael School has a remarkable tradition. Begun in August 1881 when five Catholic sisters were given a “temporary” convent-school in a shack on Ninth Street in Olympia, it has grown into a modern building on Tenth Street near Boundary. The original building was called Providence St. Amable, which became Providence Academy and later St. Michael School.
In 1881 when the school opened, enrollment consisted of 35 girls, most of them Protestant and three of them boarders from outlying villages. By year’s end there were 85 students. In those days the committed faculty had to refuel the wood and coal heaters in the middle of the night.
The demolition of the “shack” and construction of the new Providence Academy in 1883 was supervised by Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence. Today a statue commemorating Mother Joseph’s contributions to Washington State stands in the State Capitol in Olympia.
By 1889 a few boys in knickerbockers had joined the school and enrollment was up to 90. Tuition, kept as low as possible because the sisters wanted the poor to be in their school, was $1 per month for the primary grades and $2 per month for high school.
The sisters joined others from St. Peter Hospital to form one Providence community in Olympia and the hospital became one of the school’s most generous benefactors. During the 1912-13 school year the sisters were joined by the school’s first lay teachers.
In 1914, paving of downtown Olympia streets was going on and Providence Academy added an annex containing an auditorium, dormitory, chapel, library, and science laboratory. Another classroom was built in 1918 with wood from the old Catholic church.
When the school again ran out of room in 1919, third and fourth graders attended class in the basement of St. Michael Church, which was next door on what in now Capitol Way. In 1926 the church purchased the school for $11,000 and closed the boarding and high schools.
An arson fire destroyed much of the original building in 1940 but the school remained open during repairs with classrooms in the rectory and parish hall. The building of the existing school began in January 1949 at an estimated cost of $300,000. The old building withstood the April 1949 earthquake that brought down the facades of many downtown buildings, but later inspection showed damage considerable enough to cause the city to condemn the second and third floors. Parishioners gave time and money to bring the school back to working order, but construction of the new building was slowed.
On March 12, 1950 ground was broken for a new school on Tenth Street near Boundary by Father Michael O’Dwyer, representing Archbishop Connolly. The last day of classes in the original building on Capitol Way was in June 1951. During that summer desks were refinished, books and personal belongings were moved, and the sisters began living at the new convent. In September 1951, 343 students were registered.
In 1956 green and gold were chosen as the school team colors and in 1981 the eighth graders won the state basketball championship.
Today, after over 130 years, St. Michael School is rich both in tradition and dedication to Catholic principles. The staff, parents, friends, and alumni are taking the school confidently into a second hundred years as full and blessed as the first one hundred have been.