St. Joseph School History & Traditions

St. Joseph


Our 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. Today, we serve students age 2, 3, and 4 in half and full day preschool along with our full day kindergarten.


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.

  • 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.

  • Students’ artistic talents are frequently demonstrated in exhibits in such locations as the Loyola University Museum of Art and the Wilmette Public Library.