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The History of St. Joseph’s School - Yorkville

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, several charitable institutions chose locations in Yorkville for their houses and asylums as part of a trend to move north of the crowded sections of New York City.  Father Joseph Helmpraecht, a Redemptorist from the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer on Third Street, founded St. Joseph’s orphan asylum to support and educate orphans and destitute and neglected children of German origins who were Roman Catholic.

A school was organized, and shortly thereafter the education of the children was entrusted to the School Sisters of Notre Dame who staffed the asylum where classes were conducted.  The original school building was on the corner of 89th Street and York Avenue and was given the name St. Joseph to honor the foster father of Jesus. The school, which was built adjacent to the church, was called “the little red school house.”  It opened its doors on December 3, 1880 with a staff of five sisters and it was under the leadership of Sister M. Lazarina.

As the student population grew, it became apparent that the school building was inadequate.  The community sought the assistance of an architect named Frank Burkhard, a parishioner and a graduate of the school. He designed and supervised the construction of the present four-story building in 1925.  His goal was to build “a school as perfect in construction, spaciousness and design, as is humanly possible.”  He succeeded.  Well-equipped with many classrooms, a large auditorium, a stage, and ample office space, the school was regarded as “one of most substantial and artistic in the Metropolis.”  The Romanesque style of the school was specifically chosen to be in harmony with the church building next door, a harmony that went beyond its facade.  The school day began at 8:00 A.M., with students in fourth through eighth grades attending daily Mass, where they sang Gregorian Chant.

St. Joseph’s School - Yorkville became known for its excellence, and the children consistently maintained a high level of academic achievement. Through all the development and change over the years, the mission of the school has remained constant.  It is dedicated to the education of a diverse student body within the framework of Catholic values.  It inspires lifelong learning through its strong academic program, encourages service through the teachings of Jesus Christ, and promotes a faith-filled family community.  St. Joseph’s has served German, Irish, Italian, and more recently Hispanic, African-American, and Asian children by providing them with an opportunity to receive a stimulating and challenging academic program in a safe, nurturing and supportive environment.  Educators, staff members, administrators, and clergy have always worked together to build a community of faith where children learn how to succeed academically and personally through the love of Jesus Christ.  These qualities, which have characterized the school for well over a century, will not fail it in the coming years.