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Sacred Heart


Fargo, Dakota Territory was chartered as an official city in 1875. The town named by the Northern Pacific Railroad offered its first school in 1872 when a cabin located in Island Park served a handful of students taught by a fifteen-year-old girl. As time passed, the public schools in Fargo reflected the town’s growth. By 1882 Fargo built its first permanent public high school. That same year welcomed a religious order that would cement parochial educational opportunities in the southern Red River Valley.

The Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as The Presentation Sisters, began in Ireland in 1775. The sisters were dedicated, among other religious pursuits, to education. Within four days of their 1882 arrival, the Presentation Sisters began their first school.

But the Presentation Sisters’ school that would have the most lasting impact was the Sacred Heart Academy begun in 1889 and formally opened on this date. The brick structure stood on Fargo’s north Broadway Street where its mission was to train teachers and secretaries, offer scientific and classical studies, and provide eight elementary grades.

Also in 1889 an outstanding young priest, the Right Reverend John Shanley was consecrated as the first Catholic Bishop in North Dakota. The New York Native had received a religious education, much of it from frontier priests in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his family had moved when he was five years old. Shanley quickly proved himself a formidable and wise student and even received training in the prestigious College of Propaganda in Rome. He was ordained a priest there at the age of 22, below the age requirement. His ill health and grand ability granted him dispensation for the early ordination. Father Shanley returned to Minnesota where he served at the St. Paul Cathedral and the archdiocese.

When he arrived in Jamestown, North Dakota and established St. John’s Academy, he oversaw the construction of St. John’s Cathedral there. Shanley moved to Fargo two years later and the Diocese of Fargo was inaugurated. When Bishop Shanley died in 1909, the city lost a powerful civic and religious leader.

The Sacred Heart Academy played host to a graduating class for the last time in 1950. The following year a new Catholic High School was built next to the historic academy building. It was named for the influential first Bishop – and Shanley High School still serves as the region’s largest parochial high school.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark


Lounsberry, Clement A. "Founding of the Catholic Church in North Dakota". Early History of North Dakota. "Bishop John Shanley".