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Catholic school of Otter Tail lake and prairie country marks 125th year

(Editor's note: This is first in a series of history columns from St. Henry's Area Church School, which will celebrate its 125th year June 21-22.)

2008 is a banner year for St. Henry's Area School as they are celebrating 125 years of providing solid Catholic elementary education to the children of the area.

The first school opened its doors to 60 children on Sept. 16, 1883. The frame two-story structure was located on the corner of 3rd St. SW and 3rd Ave. SW. It served as school and residence for the Benedictine Sisters. St. Henry's Catholic School was the 8th Catholic school to be started in the Diocese of St. Cloud. Enrollment increased and more room was needed. So the public school building, which was built in 1875 but never occupied with students, was purchased and moved to the site of the current parish rectory and covered with brick veneer. As enrollment increased, primary classes were held in part of Ferdinand Wagner's Blacksmith Shop on First Avenue. Having classes in two different buildings some distance apart was not desirable, and the overcrowded conditions were certainly not conducive to good teaching or learning. This continued until 1916 when the current building was constructed. The total cost for this project was $35,000.

The new building gave new life to the school and the parish. The classrooms used the four rooms on the main level and the Sisters were housed on the second level. The second level also contained the parish hall. The building included a gym in the basement level. Enrollment increased to 136 students in 1938.

The Sisters continued to live in the school until 1947 when the parish purchased the John Kukowske house across the street and to the north of the school. After long years of living in the school, the Sisters moved into a comfortable home and were able to enjoy better living and some privacy. Quite naturally, St. Henry's could stay proud of its school and what it was doing.

St. Henry's School celebrates June 21-22:

The St. Henry's Church School 125th celebration is June 21-22. Schedule starts at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 21. Mass is at 5 p.m.; with dinner at 6 p.m.; program at 7 p.m.; and tours starting at 8 p.m. Sunday features the "Great Adirondack Chair Auction" with lunch and refreshments, starting at 11:30 a.m.