St. Elizabeth's Boarding School

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St. Elizabeth Boarding School
Opened 1888
Closed 1948; however still an active church on site
Demolished 1954
Current Status Demolished
Location Purcell, OK


St. Elizabeth's Academy was in Purcell, Oklahoma, about as far north of Pauls Valley as Bloomfield was to the south. Like Bloomfield, it was a school for Indian girls, and while it wasn't as old as Bloomfield, it also had a colorful history. It was founded by the Order of St. Francis, which sent three nuns from Glen Riddle, PA to the Chickasaw Nation in 1888 to establish a school. The church and school buildings were built by Benedictine priests who lived nearby. Purcell's founder, Robert Love, offered a portion of his pasture for the church and school, and a three-story dormitory style building was erected on the site.

The project would have certainly failed had it not been for the efforts of Benedictine priest Vincent Jolly, who taught at the Sacred Heart Academy in Pottawatomie County. He had heard about the work of Sister Katherine Drexel, a nun from a wealthy Philadelphia family who was using her fortune to fund schools in Indian communities. Father Jolly convinced Sister Katherine of the need for schools for the Indians in Oklahoma, and for the next sixty years St. Elizabeth's was supported by Sister Katherine's fortune. Sister Katherine was an outspoken religious advocate for oppressed Native Americans and African Americans. She financed more than 60 missions and schools throughout the south and southwest, as well as Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Roman Catholic university in the United States. She also founded a religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, composed mainly of Indian and Negro nuns. In 2000 she was canonized and became the second American born saint.

In 1886 a church, St. Elizabeth Church, was built on the grounds; later becoming Our Lady of Victory Church after the schools closing in 1948. Our Lady of Victory Church still stands and is an active Catholic Church. And in 1887 a day school called St. Scholastica Day School; but this was only open until 1890. St. Elizabeth's started as a coeducational school with a carpet used to partition off the one-room church for school, boys on one side and girls on the other. By 1891, over 100 girls and 57 boys were attending St. Elizabeth’s. Ground was broken also in 1891 on the corner of what is now Fourth and Jefferson for the new two-story day school. It was completed in 1892. The school suffered a fire in 1925 in the chemistry lab that destroyed part of the school.

By 1926 it was for girls only. After converting to girls-only, the school offered piano lessons among the classes offered, and the girls were assigned time during each day for practice. Originally, the school went from first through 12th grade, but the last 20 years only first through eighth grade classes were held.

St. Elizabeth’s closed Sept.1, 1948. During it's 60-year lifespan, 24 nuns from the Mother House in Pennsylvania served St. Elizabeth’s. After the convent closed, a two-story section of the building was moved south of the existing church. It was then used as a chapel and piano classroom, along with being a residence for the nuns who remained to staff the day school. The old two-story day school was razed and a new school built in 1959. The day school closed in May 1968 and the building was then used as a parish hall.