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St. John’s Orphanage and Free School

On September 8, 1897, the Presentation Sisters opened St. John’s Orphanage and Free School in Fargo. The building used to house St. Joseph’s Convent and Academy, but the convent shifted that year to the Sacred Heart Academy, making room for the new orphan school.

The school held strong for almost ten years until it was destroyed in a fire on January 19th, 1907. The sisters moved the children to the basement of St. Mary’s Cathedral, with their classes held at the Sacred Heart Academy.


The Hancock Brothers of Fargo got to work on designing a new building at the old site.   J.H. Powers constructed it, and by Christmas of that year, a new building that could hold up to 100 students stood at 808 7th Ave N, Fargo. It took $40,000 dollars to build, or the equivalent of over $900,000 now. On this date in 1908, the new St. John’s Orphanage and Free School held a public reception and opened its doors for 87 children.


    Throughout the 1930s, the number of students at St. John’s steadily shrank. By the 1940s there were only 60 children. This trend may seem like a good thing, but what the Sisters noticed is that while the number of actual orphans declined, they were housing a larger number of emotionally disturbed children.


    In 1958, the Fargo Fire Marshall said that St. John’s license should not be renewed until a new and safer facility was constructed. The Sisters took this as an opportunity to create a more modern facility that could help both orphans and emotionally troubled children. They created Villa Nazareth in 1961, signaling the end of St. John’s. This organization continues to help people in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas