history-traditions.building2Our School’s history, which now spans over three centuries, provides a strong foundation upon which the School continues to grow.

Founded by the German settlers of Wilmette, St. Joseph Church began in 1843 in a little log cabin chapel just north of Lake Avenue and Ridge Road. The parish flourished and the first St. Joseph Parish School was organized in the mid 1850’s by lay teachers.  The School, joined the Church, as the center of Wilmette’s growing social and community scene.

In September of 1877, the Sisters of St. Francis came from Milwaukee to staff the School and remained in dedicated service to the School until 1981. 

Building of the current School building began in 1934 under the leadership of Msgr. John Neumann, who was then pastor of the Church.  The construction project included the building of the Church and even a convent attached to the School and was funded by Parishioners.  This was no simple effort as America was in the midst of the Great Depression.    President Roosevelt even sent a letter commending the people of St. Joseph’s for their foresight and courage, as these were the only public buildings constructed in the Midwest that year.

The School flourished in the post-war era as the “baby boom” meant a strong student population and the School’s reputation for the strong academic and spiritual development of children brought many new families to the School and Parish.  In 1986, the School, like many public schools in the area, was forced to shutter its doors, temporarily, as a result of the massive demographic shifts and declining population of children occurring with the end of the “baby boom.”  The School remained closed for a decade.  

Many Parish families continued to remember the School fondly and the vacated school building served as a constant reminder. In 1996, the School re-opened as a result of a parent-driven campaign, first as a preschool.   After a renovation to the School’s building was completed in 1998, the School opened to serve children from preschool through eighth grade.


A School with a history spanning three centuries will certainly have its traditions and St. Joseph School is no exception.

  • Our School’s nickname, the Trailblazers, was selected in a student contest in 1999.  Prior to that, the School had been nicknamed the Generals.
  • For over seven decades, our school’s colors have been green and white.
  • The School has a long tradition of students in upper grades serving as “buddies” for younger grades at School masses and other events.  Buddy pairs are maintained throughout the year to foster a deeper connection focusing on empathy and role modeling. 
  • School parents and students proudly volunteer to plant and maintain the Trailblazer Eden, an educational garden located on the southeast corner of the playground. Students are encouraged to spend time in the garden.
  • The School celebrates Catholic Schools Week every January with a special series of events based on the theme of that week.  A special service day is included in the events.
  • The student choir has participated annually in the community’s holiday tree lighting and a large student and parent delegation has marched in the holiday parade.
  • Parents have organized a science fair for kindergarteners through fourth graders involving student presentations to “judges” (parents with backgrounds in the sciences) and an expert demonstration.
  • The night prior to 8th Grade graduation, our 7th Graders organize and serve a special dinner to honor our graduating class.
  • Students’ artistic talents are frequently demonstrated in exhibits in such locations as the Loyola University Museum of Art and the Wilmette Public Library.

Share your own SJS Tradition 

Who Was St. Joseph? 

who-was-st.-joseph2“He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord’”     -St. Bernardine of Siena

 “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work. Thus, if you wish to be close to Christ, we again today repeat, ‘Go to Joseph’”   – Pope Pius XII


Together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, Joseph is one of the three members of the Holy Family.   His actions demonstrate a strong sense of faith and love of family. 

Joseph was a carpenter by trade and made furniture and farm tools for the people of Nazareth, the town in which he and Mary settled after marrying.   In a dream, an angel told Joseph that Mary was to have a son by the power of Holy Spirit and that he was to be named Jesus.   Just weeks before the birth of the son, Joseph travelled with Mary to Bethlehem to register for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus.    It was there the child was born and named Jesus.  They returned to Nazareth, where Joseph raised and protected Jesus and Mary.  As Jesus grew, he began learning carpentry skills from Joseph. 

Joseph was declared to be the patron saint and protector of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX in 1870.  He is also the patron saint of fathers and workers and the patron of Belgium, Canada, China and Russia, among other countries.  Today, we also pray to St. Joseph to be with loved ones at the time of their death.

Two feast days are celebrated for St. Joseph.  We honor Joseph as the husband of Mary on March 19 and as the worker on May 1.