HISTORY OF EDUCATION IN PASCO COUNTY
St. Joseph Elementary School
This page was last revised on March 22, 2018.
The Great Freeze of 1894-95 created major financial problems for the residents of the community. Around the turn of the century, the county assumed the financial burden of the school, although the school continued under the direction of the Benedictine Sisters.
In 1918 the county purchased one acre and built a one room frame schoolhouse. A second room was added in 1924.
The Benedictine Sisters of Holy Name Convent continued teaching until Governor Sidney J. Catts learned in 1918 that nuns were teaching at the San Antonio public school and wrote a letter to the Pasco County schools superintendent demanding that no Catholics should be teaching in any public school in the county.
Subsequently, Miss Marie Liles, Mrs. Esther Lathers Apple, Mrs. J. H. Dunne, and Miss Norma Govreau taught in the school.
In September 1921 the Sisters resumed teaching at the school. From 1921 to closing, St. Joseph was the only public school in Florida staffed by nuns.
In August 1922 Sister Bernadette was appointed to teach at St. Joseph, school no. 15.
In 1924, J. W. Sanders, County Superintendent of Schools, passed along the order that the sisters could no longer teach in public schools in their religious habits.
On Sept. 4, 1936, the Dade City Banner reported that Sister M. Catherine and Sister Irma Meulter were appointed to the St. Joseph School.
A reader of this web page writes, “Back in 65-66 my brother and I were the only Protestants at the school. Sister Cecilia gave us various chores to do while she taught catechism in the cafeteria/theater/auditorium building across the way. I don’t know if my mom was the only Protestant when she attended, but it’s very likely that she was.”
Sister Mildred Gelis taught at St. Joseph for thirty-one years and was the principal when the school closed June 30, 1981. The 1973-74 school district personnel directory shows Sister Mildred Gelis as the Principal. She is among those who attended the dedication of the St. Joseph historical marker in 2006 and she is in this picture.
On June 13, 1973, the school board for the first time declined to approve the appointment of a nun to teach at the St. Joseph school. The board directed Sister Mildred Gelis to seek a lay teacher. The school was scheduled to switch to a mandatory attendance zone on July 9. In past years the school’s enrollment had been on a voluntary basis.
The building formerly occupied by St. Joseph Elementary School later became the Sacred Heart Early Childhood Center. It was demolished in June 2017.
[Some of the preceding information is from McCormick.]
From The Historic Places of Pasco County
The Jubilee Chapel was constructed in 1888 on a five-acre parcel of land on the grounds of the present-day Sacred Heart Catholic Church. It was in use for four years as a church and continued for 26 more as a school.
The community of St. Joseph was founded in 1883 as a settlement for German Catholics by the brothers Andrew, Bernard, and Charles Barthle, who named it after the town from which they had emigrated, St. Joseph, Minnesota. After five years of growth, it was large enough for a church of its own so residents would no longer need to travel to San Antonio for religious services.
In July of 1888, Father Gerard Pilz, the Benedictine pastor of Saint Anthony of Padua parish in San Antonio, gave his approval for the new venture. Pilz dedicated the small frame building on October 1, 1888, and celebrated the first Mass that day, naming the parish for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Judge Edmund F. Dunne, the multilingual founder of the Catholic Colony of San Antonio, gave a speech in German at the dedication ceremony.
Almost from its inception, the Jubilee Chapel was also used as a schoolhouse in those pioneer days. The children of the St. Joseph area had Bernard Barthle as their first teacher. When the church building was erected in 1892, this structure was discontinued as a chapel but remained in use as a school.
The Benedictine Sisters of Holy Name Convent arrived in San Antonio on February 28, 1889, and began teaching at the St. Joseph school in September of that year. They continued to do so until the anti-Catholic Sidney Catts became governor of Florida in 1917, and made good on his threat to remove the nuns from the public school payroll. Sister Anna Marie Maertens, O.S.B., recalled the circumstances of her removal from the St. Joseph faculty: "When Sidney J. Catts became governor in 1917, the Sisters were not permitted to continue teaching in the two public schools, St. Anthony and St. Joseph. A trustee of St. Joseph School came to the door of Holy Name Convent and asked to see 'Miss Maertens.' That was the only name he would use for Sister Anna Marie Maertens, then teacher of St. Joseph. His purpose was to tell her that Sisters would not be allowed to teach in the public schools. The Sisters accepted the fact." After Catts left office in 1921, the Sisters resumed teaching at St. Joseph School.
The building itself survived until about 1918 when it was torn down. The lumber was used to construct a home for Paul and Gertrud Neuhofer, and the residence is still in use by later generations of their family.
From Pioneer College by James J. Horgan
At the St. Joseph public school, the sisters not only returned in 1921 but continued to staff and run the institution for more than a half-century. By the 1960s, the situation was prompting inquiries from officials of the Florida Department of Education. Chester W. Taylor Jr., Pasco County superintendent of schools from 1956 to 1972, remembers a contentious visit from a "Tallahassee bureaucrat." "Superintendent Taylor," he said, "I don't think you realize what problems you Catholics are causing by having nuns teaching in the public schools." Taylor responded with a blunt explanation: "I'm a Baptist. And to me St. Joe is the finest, most caring educational institution for young people that we have in this county." There were many protests over the years, but that settled that.
The Nathes, Gudes, Barthles, and other families who sent their children there even mowed the lawns of their public school, packed the P. T. A. meetings, and saw their children enjoy a distinctive reputation. "That little school—if I had my druthers, my own children would have gone there," recalls Taylor. "I could always tell the kids from St. Joe because of their preparedness and their courtesy. They were always the epitome of well brought up children."
Chester Taylor retired as superintendent in 1972 and the sisters lost a staunch defender. When Sr. Donna DeWitt applied for a position at St. Joseph in 1973, she was turned down because of "too many Sisters." Nonetheless, the Benedictines of Holy Name continued to provide teachers until the St. Joseph public school closed its doors upon the opening of San Antonio Elementary School in 1981.
From the St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 1, 1988
By 1888, Saint Joe had grown large enough to establish its own parish. With the permission of the Rev. Gerard Pilz, pastor of St. Anthony Church in nearby San Antonio, the settlers bought five acres from the Plant company and constructed their first wood-frame church about a quarter-mile west of the crossroads of what is now Saint Joe Road (County Road 578) and Curley Road (County Road 577). On Oct. 1, 1888, the new building was dedicated by Father Gerard and named for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Frank Gude said his grandparents were among the second wave of German immigrants who arrived in 1895, not long after the parish had completed construction of its second and larger sanctuary. By that time, the original church building was well-established as the community’s school.
The community was especially attractive to German immigrants because the church and the school conducted their business in German, Gude said. German-speaking Benedictine monks from Saint Leo Abbey served as pastors of the congregation, and German-speaking nuns from Saint Leo’s sister community, Holy Name Priory, taught at the school.
The school and church had to switch to the English language in 1918 when the parish was ordered to do so by Bishop Joseph Curley, head of the Diocese of St. Augustine, then Florida’s only Catholic diocese. Shortly afterward, the school was taken over by the public school system, and the Benedictine sisters were replaced by lay teachers.
However, the Saint Joe school became unique in Florida four years later when the sisters from Holy Priory were rehired by the public school system to run the school. Since nearly all of the children attending the school were Catholic, the sisters began the school day by teaching catechism to the Catholic youngsters in the church’s Parish Hall next door to the school building, the Gudes recalled. The teachers and student body then moved to the school building for the rest of the day.
That arrangement continued until 1980, when the school was abandoned upon construction of the new public San Antonio Elementary School about two miles away. The church school building, which had been rebuilt and expanded many times during its history, was purchased by the parish and is now the site of the church’s day care center.
The Rev. Paul Romfh, the Benedictine monk who became pastor of Sacred Heart Parish 16 years ago, describes the evolution of the old church building - from sanctuary to parochial school to public school to child care center - as representative of the parish’s strength, adaptability and commitment to community service.
The child care center, he said, emerged as a community need in 1984 after the area’s citrus groves had been devastated by a series of hard freezes. As a result, he said, dozens of farm families in the area have experienced hard times, and many of the women, mothers of young children, have had to seek work off the farm. The church rose to the challenge, he said, and now cares for 80 children from about 60 families.
Last of the Small Schools (1969)This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Apr. 17, 1969.
Saint Joe School, located some six miles west of Dade City, is the last of the small schools surviving in Pasco County.
Trilby, Richland and Hudson elementary schools have already been closed, and Floyd Academy will be phased out when a new elementary school is constructed north of Dade City.
County School Superintendent Chester W. Taylor said the Saint Joe "school has a good program" and says "the parents are perfectly satisfied with the school."
The parents of the children attending the school "have always supported the school," Taylor stated, and noted that parents have in the past volunteered their time to help clean up around the school grounds and various other jobs as they arise.
"The community is proud of the school and it has a good program." Taylor reiterated.
"We still have freedom of choice in this county," Taylor stated, pointing out that children from other communities in East Pasco choose to attend the school. It doesn't make sense to close down the school and put the children in portable classrooms in Dade City." He noted that there are already four portable classrooms at Pasco Elementary School and three at Dade City Grammar School.
"You can't close a school unless you've got somewhere to put the children." Taylor said.
The board of education is currently looking for a new site for a new elementary school north of Dade City to serve students in the Trilby-Lacoochee area and relieve the crowded situation in Dade City.
The proposed school, with a projected enrollment of over 735, will require 20 acres for this plant. Initial enrollment is forecast at 555, in grades ones through six.
The board of education had a projection of 8,823 average daily attendance for the 1969-70 school year, but the average daily attendance has already passed the 10,000 mark for the county and last year was over 9,000.
Earlier this year, in January, the school board held a school plant survey to determine future needs. The survey was held early because of the fast growth in the school population of the county.
Because it is a frame-type building, the Saint Joe school is classified C5, the lowest rating. "All frame buildings are automatically considered "temporary and unsatisfactory," Taylor said, stressing that the ratings were based on the school plant (building) only.
The C5 rating makes the Saint Joe school ineligible for state funds for capital outlay (for building improvement).
"Obviously, we have never been able to meet the recommendations in the school plant survey because the money just hasn't been there," Taylor said.
St. Joseph’s Survival On the Line Again (1973)This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 8, 1973.
DADE CITY — Tiny St. Joseph Elementary School, fighting to exist since the Cabinet Board of Education first recommended that the school be closed in 1959, faces another decision by the Pasco County School Board in two weeks.
While the School Board authorized Ralph Martin, director of the 45-15 program, to distribute 1973-74 school calendars to most of the parents in the county, Dade City area families will have to wait until the St. Joseph question is answered.
The problem comes in designating track attendance areas under the staggered 45-15 program for Pasco Elementary School and Dade City Grammar School.
About 75 children in grades 1-5 attend the three-teacher St. Joseph School outside Dade City. Most of them would attend Pasco Elementary if St. Joseph is closed. A few would attend Dade City Grammar.
Martin presented a plan Tuesday that would keep St. Joseph as an optional attendance school, based on the assumption that the same students attending this year would continue to go to St. Joseph.
But the board, having already eliminated some optional attendance areas between Zephyrhills and Dade City to accommodate 45-15 scheduling, decided that it wanted a uniform policy.
Instead, the board directed Martin to prepare two other plans for presentation Feb. 20 in New Port Richey, one with the elimination of St. Joseph, and one with an established, required attendance area.
Under 45-15, St. Joseph could handle 100 students—a 33 per cent increase in student capacity. Although the Cabinet repeatedly has recommended that St. Joseph be closed, parents of St. Joseph pupils and the Catholic nuns from Saint Leo who teach there, although it is a public school, have urged Pasco to keep the school in operation.
The pupils at St. Joseph have also continually scored higher on achievement tests than other county pupils, a fact that the School Board as found difficult to ignore when the question of St. Joseph arises almost every year.
The board has adopted a policy of not spending money to renovate the little wood frame building. If St. Joseph is kept open, it would have to be air conditioned for the year-round program.