In 1877, the Rev. T. J. Pribyl, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, announced plans for opening St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic school for girls operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester. The school opened with 60 students, grades 1-12, in a building erected on donated property next to Sacred Heart Parish. The academy prospered over the next quarter century, increasing its enrollment to 330 students by 1904. The school featured a strong curriculum with five departments of study that included literary, commercial, music, expression, and art. The music department, with its conservatory, built a statewide reputation.
The academy continued to operate with 12 grades until June 1908, when the high school was temporarily discontinued. The high school was reinstated in 1916, and boys were admitted for the first time. Unfortunately, its operation was short-lived. In 1925 the high school was again discontinued. The reason the high school closed, however, was not from a drop in enrollment. It closed due to too many students!
St. Mary’s became a central school serving the parishes of Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, and St. Hyacinth. The school operated under this premise until 1949. The Sisters of St. Francis sold the academy property to the Diocese of Winona for $1.00 in 1949 with the premise that the school would always maintain a music conservatory.
Despite these occasional setbacks, St. Mary’s School continued to prosper, eventually requiring new and larger facilities. A fund drive for the new school was kicked off in November 1951 with a goal of $325,000, and in 1952 the building at 730 Cedar Avenue began. Almost as soon as the building was finished in July of 1953, serious talk of reinstating the high school began.
A fund drive to build the high school, called “M” day, was held on October 27, 1957, and was an overwhelming success. More than 300 volunteers from the two parishes walked the city streets and solicited funds. Marian High School, which cost $570,000, was opened. Over the next four years the school’s enrollment grew to 950.
The school reached its highest enrollment in history during the 1964-65 year with 1,020 students. In 1968, a shared-time agreement was developed with Owatonna High School that allowed Marian students to take classes such as art, data processing and the foreign languages at the public school.
The 1974-75 school year saw a continuing decline of enrollment, and the difficult decision was made to close the high school. Since then the school’s K-8 program has prospered by adjusting to changing educational needs. An all day kindergarten program was implemented in 1990, well ahead of many other schools. In 1993 a preschool program for children ages 3-5 was added, again well ahead of many other schools that have since added preschool to their program. The Sisters of St. Francis continued to serve in the school until 2001.
In 2008, St. Mary’s initiated a capital campaign to raise $3,000,000 to complete a number of projects that were identified as needs within the school.
The primary focus of the campaign included the addition of two new pre-school rooms, new office space for the administration, and the opportunity to improve upon building security through controlled entrances. To further develop and support the facilitation of religious education, the Religious Education Program’s (REP) offices were relocated to the new addition of St. Mary’s.
Other projects that were completed due to the capital campaign include:
In response to the changing needs of families, St. Mary’s developed an after-school school-aged care (SAC) program in the 2009-2010 school year. In 2011, a morning SAC program was added.
In spring of 2015, St. Isadore’s, a rural Catholic school located 10 miles outside of Owatonna, closed its doors due to declining enrollment. A number of those families enrolled in St. Mary’s.
In July of 2015, it was discovered that the floors in the building were not safe due to the Sheffield Tile construction. All but the preschool moved to the Camp Pillsbury campus for the entire year while the school building on Cedar Avenue was repaired. A $2.3 million dollar capital campaign, "Investing in Our Children" was conducted to raise the necessary funds to finance the repairs, the rent of Pillsbury space, and the build-out of classrooms in Pillsbury Hall. Students and teachers moved back in the Cedar Avenue building for the 2016-2017 school year.
Today, St. Mary’s is a vibrant, active school with 294 students in grades K-8 and an additional 74 students in preschool.