Prayer and Blessings Mark the end of our 160th Celebrations

Saint John’s Prep wrapped up a year of celebrating our 160th birthday with a prayer service with Abbot John’ Klassen, OSB ’67.  During the last year we’ve commemorated the start of our school with speakers, special events and concerts. Abbot Klassen, who graduated from Saint John’s Prep in 1967, shared a special blessing with students, faculty and staff.

He encouraged students to continue to find inspiration among each other and on campus and to work to find the positives in all aspects of life and to appreciate the uniqueness of our school.

“It lifts up the gifts inside you, and puts them in the context of a living and breathing community,” Abbott Klassen told students. “We challenge each other to live intentionally and to see God’s gifts that are present in all of us.”

Peggy Roske, archivist for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University will lead a historical conversation on Friday, November 10. She’ll take questions from students and share details about life in the early years of Saint John’s Prep.

During this year of celebrations, students have learned from other guests including:

  • Jack Rinn ’06 who shared how the lessons learned at SJP still impact his life every day.
  • Peggy Roske, archivist for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, who shared details on the establishment of Saint John’s.
  • Abbot John Klassen, OSB ’67 shared how the Benedictine approach to education engages all aspects of a person’s mind, body and spirit.
  • U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger ’51 shared the monks of Saint John’s Abbey taught him to think of others, even when the lessons were hard to learn. He spoke about his career in public service and the 2016 elections.
  • Jack Ulrich ’82, a futurist who studies the latest breakthroughs in technology and society, shared how to think about their futures and technology, while not forgetting their past.
  • The Class of 1958 “Last Man Standing” hosted a concert and lecture help mark this milestone and honor the memory of their classmate, +Don Chvatal ‘58.

The History of Saint John’s Prep

In the early 1850’s, the population of the territory of Minnesota was growing. European immigrants were making their way to a new home in the Unites States of America where land was available and affordable – and where there would be many more opportunities for their families. The early settlers in this part of the territory included a large Catholic population, which created a need for priests. In January of 1856, the Benedictine community in Latrobe, Pennsylvania finalized their decision to sponsor a new monastery in Minnesota, and by April of 1856, five priests and brothers from St. Vincent’s Abbey began the journey west. They arrived in St. Cloud on May 20th and opened the doors to the first school in the area — Saint John’s Preparatory School — on November 10, 1857.

Saint John’s Prep had its beginning in a small log cabin located along the banks of the Mississippi River near the developing city. Five young boys enrolled, and actually moved in with the community of five Benedictines. Fr. Cornelius Wittman, OSB began teaching the boys a liberal arts curriculum including history, English, Latin, Greek, astronomy, rhetoric and mathematics.

Of course in the past 150 years, the school has experienced many changes. In 1864, the campus was moved to its present site — in Collegeville — about 15 miles from the first building’s location. By the 1900’s Saint John’s had become known not only for its high school, but for a commercial department, a college and a seminary all in one location.

The current academic building – St. Bede Hall – was built in 1962. The architects created a distinctive location for the new school building -selecting the hill overlooking Lake Sagatagan. The four floors of the Prep School were designed with energy conservation in mind and built into the hillside with all classrooms facing the woods and lake with a wall of windows in each classroom.

A new boys’ residence hall was also constructed in 1962, adjacent to the new academic building-and keep in mind that Saint John’s Prep was still an all-male school at this point in time. In 1998, a fifth floor wing was added- the Weber Center-a music, fine arts and  community gathering space. And shortly after that in 2000, the Meyers Family Science Center was added, finishing the completion of the fifth floor.

Enrollment has seen changes over the years as well. In the 1960’s the enrollment was predominantly a boarding population. By the late 1970’s just under one-half were day students. Currently, approximately 75% of our students are day students.

Young women enrolled for the first time in 1973, in part because of the closing of the nearby Saint Benedict’s High School for girls. For many years, girls did not have access to a resident hall, but since the early 1990’s a residence hall has been rented from the nearby women’s College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.  Today, our girls’ residence is in Emmaus Hall.

For the past 60 years, international students have been a part of the community as well. At first, these students learned of us through the Benedictine communities located in other countries where they were serving communities. Students from Mexico, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Japan were encouraged to apply to Saint John’s Prep by the monks and priests working in their home countries. In more recent years, students from Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America have also joined the students here in Minnesota-making up about 25% of enrollment of the Upper School. A few come for a one year experience; while the majority complete their high school education and many go on to colleges and universities in the United States.

The Melk Study Abroad Program began in 1968, creating a long tradition of exchange of students between Prep and the Stiftsgymnasium in Melk, Austria.

The Saint John’s Prep Middle School opened in 1997, with twenty-one 7th and 8th grade students in a combined classroom setting. The Middle School concept of an integrated learning style with a challenging curriculum proved to be very popular.  In the fall of 2008, a 22,600 square foot addition was completed.  This space currently houses our award-winning music program and Middle School classrooms.

Based on the success of our middle school program and a high interest from area families, Saint John’s Prep added a 6th grade program in the 2009-2010 school year.  Families appreciate the interdisciplinary method of teaching, as found in our current middle school program. There are currently 24 students in the 6th grade class of 2024.

Saint John’s Prep is the first school in central Minnesota to have been accepted as an IB school. It is also the first and only Catholic and boarding school in Minnesota to offer the IB Diploma Programmé.