History of St. Katharine Drexel School

 152+ Years of Catholic Education in Beaver Dam

Catholic Schools hold a long and rich history in Beaver Dam.  In 2012, we celebrated our sesquicentennial.  We share highlights of the last 152 years of Catholic education.

March 1841

Thomas and Ann Mackie and their son-in-law Joseph Goetschius travel from Fox Lake and set up housekeeping in Beaver Dam.

June 1842

The first religious services are held in the Mackie cabin.  All this occurs before Wisconsin becomes a state on May 29, 1848.


1854 Fr. Kundy celebrates Mass monthly in private homes in Beaver Dam.


St. Peter Parish and School


St. Peter Church is built.


1862 A new church is built; the old church is remodeled and renamed St. Mary School.  September 10:  St. Mary School opens, a mere 21 years after the first settlers arrived in Beaver Dam.  St. Mary’s is a coed school, teaching students in both English and German.  Both vocal and instrumental music are part of the curriculum offered by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Tuition was charged per scholar per month.


1866 A new school is built; numbers keep increasing.


An entirely new parish plant is needed.  School is dismissed June 9; the cornerstone is laid July 3, and on September 11 school opens with 331 students while work continues. (Sounds just like our experience during school year 2011-2012.  Some things never change!) 1931 St. Pete’s Band is formed.  Music plays an important role throughout our history.


1953 Another addition is needed; we are growing like crazy.


St. Michael Parish and School


1857 A small group of Polish settlers moves into the area.


1874 Bishop Heise gives the group permission to organize a parish; and by 1875, they build and bless a new church.


1885 Rev. Q. Zielinski, St. Mike’s Pastor, builds the “Little Red School on the Hill” for “training the mind and heart of the young people to become faithful and fervent Catholics and loyal citizens.”


The cornerstone for the new school is laid, and school opens in 1951.  For the first 20 years, it is staffed by lay teachers.  Later the Sisters of St. Joseph from Stevens Point (the Third Order of St. Francis) teach in St. Mike’s.


Due to declining enrollment, St. Mike’s closes and families are encouraged to enroll in CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes or the two other Catholic Schools in town (Pete’s and Pat’s).


St. Patrick Parish and School


Pete’s and Pat’s start together, but Irish families want English services.  In 1860 the congregation builds a small church on the NW corner of West Third and West Streets.  On March 17, 1863, it is dedicated to St. Patrick.


1868 The parish purchases property on Maple Avenue.  The plan is always to have a school, but for the first 90 years the parish remains school-less.


1949 June—construction on a school finally begins.  Classes begin in 1950; and by 1952, more space is needed so additional classrooms are added. The School Sisters of St. Francis staff the school.  (The sisters played an important role in all three of the schools.  Each of the parishes had a convent filled with sisters serving the parish in many and varied roles.  We owe a great deal to their dedicated service, talent, energy and time.)


1981 Time waits for no one, and changes continue.  By the mid 1970’s, many Catholic schools are closing due to declining enrollments.  Beaver Dam is not immune.  The education mission of the church is taken seriously in Beaver Dam. Because Catholic education is valued, the three parishes enter into discussions that lead to a consolidation.  The Unified Catholic Parish Schools of Beaver Dam (UCPS) is born.  If not the first in the Archdiocese, it certainly is one of the earliest.


Even more change is on the horizon.  The three parishes come together to form a single parish with the name St. Katharine Drexel.  The school follows on the heels of the parishes’ merger returning once again to its parish school roots.  St. Katharine Drexel is a great patron for our parish and school.  She started many schools for Blacks and Native Americans.  Our parish and school with its Polish, Irish, German, and now Hispanic heritages is richly blessed as a result of these ethnic flavors.  St. Katharine Drexel is a great role model for us.


Summer building project adds new conference rooms, office space and bathrooms.  Fall brings all students together under one roof as construction continues.


We celebrate 150 years of continuous Catholic Education in Beaver Dam.


We have an enrollment of 237 students God’s Little Miracles Pre School (3 year olds) through grade 8.


160 years and going! The parish school continues to grow.  After the renovation of the church building, which was completed in 2020, the school and church are now connected.  Access is now even easier for the students.  God's Little Miracles Pre-School is extended to 5 days per week.   

In a nutshell, this is a very brief overview of how we traversed the span of 160 years.  Our ancestors worked hard.  God was a priority in their lives.  They moved into an area; they prayed; they built a church and then a school; those got too small and they added on or built again.  They gave their sons and daughters to religious vocations (priests and sisters).  They were dedicated, hardworking, forward thinking, strong of character and faith, men, women and children.  We need to be equally so to ensure the next 160 years.

 Let's continue to grow in God's love, Ms. Tina Ellefson, Principal/Administrator