St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Baltic, Connecticut, was founded in 1869. The pastor of this parish, Rev. J.C. van Laar, saw the need to establish a school for the children of this town. Because he was already acquainted with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, in Tilburg, Holland, he asked Bishop John Zwijsen, Archbishop of Utrecht and founder of the congregation, to send some teaching sisters to his parish. The sisters arrived in Baltic on October 7, 1874, and on October 15 of that year opened St. Joseph School with four hundred students using the old public school building.
Forty-five years later, in 1919, classes were moved to a building owned by the Academy of the Holy Family. On August 27, 1950, Bishop Henry J. O’Brien of Hartford blessed the present building of St. Joseph School. That year the school opened its doors to receive 250 students. In 1959, the parish purchased a former public school building on School Hill Road (which was called “the Annex”) and used it for grades six, seven, and eight. In the late 1960s, due to a lack of funds, the Annex was sold and grades six to eight were eliminated. However, it was not long before the pastor and principal established a new sixth-grade classroom in an area provided by the Academy of the Holy Family. Grades seven and eight were re-established in 1977, and the first graduation in ten years took place in 1978. It should also be noted that in 1970 the sisters staffing the school became part of a new congregation the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, which separated from the original congregation in Holland.
It was at this time that an advisory board was established, consisting of the pastor, the principal, and eight lay members. This group inaugurated an all-day kindergarten program, which proved highly beneficial to both families and St. Joseph School. As enrollment increased, the advisory board proposed a plan to add three classrooms onto the existing building. Planning started in 1982 and the groundbreaking was held in 1983. On March 18, 1984, the new addition was dedicated by the Most Rev. Daniel P. Reilly, Bishop of Norwich.
Over the years, the school has made several changes, remodeling the building and adding programs to benefit students. In the mid-1980s the school began to obtain its first computer equipment, which was made available in each classroom. Eventually, the computers were moved to a section of the library, and then to a separate room on the upper floor of the school.
In 1984, a physical education teacher was hired for all grades. Later, a part-time music teacher and part-time art teacher were added to the staff. In 1986, St. Joseph School received its first Diocesan State Accreditation. A full-time health aide joined the staff, followed by a licensed practical nurse. Presently, the school has its own full-time registered nurse employed by the town of Sprague.
In 1991, the school created its Extended Day Program in an effort to meet the demands of working families. In 1992, a prekindergarten program was added, operating at first on a half-day schedule and later offering a full-day option. In 1994, a playscape was constructed on the playground using funds raised by the parent group. During the 1995-1996 school year, the school was renovated to separate the principal’s and secretary’s offices and add a nurse’s office.
Extracurricular programs include the St. Joseph School Choir (established in 1996), the band program (2003), Sportstacking Club (2006), Drama Club (2011), Sailing Club (2018), and the Cross-Country Team (2018).
In 2016, due to declining enrollment, it was necessary to combine grades one and two and and grades three and four. Each multigrade classroom has a teacher and an aide who work together, with the teacher responsible for all of the lesson plans and grade entries in Rediker and the teacher aide assisting with instruction. Some middle school classes are combined, with alternating curriculum (e.g. life science one year and physical science the following year). Grades seven and eight combine for language, history, and religion classes; grades five and six combine only for language and religion.
In the same year, the school added a foreign language program. Students in grades one through four study Italian, and students in grades five through eight study Spanish. All foreign language classes meet weekly.
In 2018 the computers in the computer lab were replaced, and each staff member was issued a laptop. In 2019, the former kindergarten classroom was renovated to serve as an auxiliary classroom for the lower grades and as the after-school daycare room.
As St. Joseph School moves forward, it continues to minister to its students by providing a strong spiritual, academic, and extracurricular program.