BUILDING OUR FUTURE, SINCE 1902.  

FOUNDED BY SAINT KATHERINE DREXEL

Our long and storied history of providing Catholic education on the Navajo Reservation began with the mission of Saint Katherine Drexel–who was born into a family of power, privilege, and wealth–to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and serve the Indian people. With the help of Franciscan missionaries and local Navajos, we opened our doors on December 3, 1902  with 76 enrolled Navajo students. 

OUR BEGINNINGS: 1898 - 1920

Fathers Juvenal and Anselm with Brother Placid (standing)
1898
FIRST MISSIONARIES TO THE NAVAJO
At the invitation and encouragement of Mother (now Saint) Katherine Drexel, three Franciscan friars (Fathers Juvenal and Anselm pictured with Brother Placid, who's standing) come to St. Michaels from Cincinnati. They begin learning to speak the Navajo language and are the first to write it.
1898
timeline-first-school
December 3, 1902
SCHOOL BEGINS
The school is constructed, and the first school year begins on December 3, 1902. St. Michael Indian School enrolls 76 Navajo students.
December 3, 1902
1907
BOARDING SCHOOL
St. Michael Indian School enrolls 130 pupils, all boarders.
1907
timeline-DREXEL-CHINLE
1909
FIRST EIGHTH GRADE CLASS
(Pictured: Local Navajos and Mother Drexel at Chinle, Arizona). First eighth grade graduation is held at SMIS. Baseball games are held between St. Michael Indian School and boys from the Ft. Defiance School.
1909
1915
ACOMA AND LAGUNA STUDENTS ARRIVE
The first students from Acoma and Laguna arrive at SMIS. The church at Ft. Defiance is erected.
1915
timeline-STUDENTS
1917
DORMITORY ADDITIONS COMPLETED
Europe is engaged in World War I. Dormitory additions for boys are completed.
1917

THE EARLY YEARS: 1921 - 1940

timeline-all-school-pic
1921
CELEBRATING 20 YEARS
By 1921, the school was almost 20 years old, and its enrollment showed a little over 200 boys and girls. Fr. Anselm, OFM, dies on March 8, 1921, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
1921
1923
CHEE DODGE BECOMES NAVAJO TRIBAL CHAIR
The Navajo Tribal Council is established with Chee Dodge as first Chairman. The next year, Congress grants citizenship to all Native Americans, and SMIS sends a Navajo rug to the Pope.
1923
timeline-chapel
1926
BOOMING ENROLLMENT
Enrollment is at capacity with 270 pupils and some students are turned away due to lack of space. The student chapel is built (pictured).
1926
1931
FIRST GYM IS BUILT & BURNS DOWN
In May, construction of the school's gym is completed. It burns down on New Year's Eve. A new gym will be completed in 1933 at a cost of $14,000.
1931
1936
WINDOW ROCK BECOMES CAPITAL & DIOCESE OF GALLUP FORMED
Window Rock is established as the center of the Navajo Tribal government. Three years later, in 1939, The Diocese of Gallup is established, including St. Michaels and Window Rock.
1936

EXPANSION AND END OF AN ERA: 1941 - 1960

timeline-code-talkers
1941
SCHOOL EXPANDS, U.S. ENTERS WWII
Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, and the United States enters WWII. Out of a population of 50,000, more than 3,700 Navajos serve in the war.
By the time the war started, SMIS was an almost completely self-sufficient community. The chapel was finished, a large gymnasium was added, along with a power plant that provided heat, electricity, and water. Enrollment was around 300 students, the maximum number the school could accommodate.
1941
1946
HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES BEGIN
A year of firsts: High school classes begin, and parents are asked to pay $10 per semester for a child to attend SMIS.
1946
timeline-first-high-school-class
1950
FIRST COMMENCEMENT
The high school holds its first commencement with four graduates, and the new high school building is dedicated. In 1951, SMIS enrollment is 350 students with students from 26 different tribes.
1950
timeline-jubilee
1952
JUBILEE
SMIS celebrates the 50th anniversary of the school's founding. 354 students are enrolled. Two years later, the first lay volunteers arrive at the school to teach.
1952
timeline-drexel
MARCH 3, 1955
MOTHER KATHERINE DREXEL PASSES AWAY
On March 3, 1955, Mother Katherine Drexel passes away at the motherhouse in Philadelphia at the age of 96. A Philadelphia newspaper wrote: "One of the most remarkable women in the history of America was called home to God yesterday. She belongs so truly to all America, but especially to the poor and forgotten people of the land...she was indeed a heroine of God."
MARCH 3, 1955
timeline-football
1957
HOMECOMING AT SMIS
At homecoming, the Crusaders football team beats East Fork Mission 7 - 0. Although the priority of the school is academics, the Sisters knew early on that participation in sports allowed the students to gain confidence and self esteem--and taught them the meaning of fair play and sportsmanship.
1957

CHANGING TIMES AT SMIS: 1961 - 1980

timeline-chemistry-lab
1961 - 1970
CHANGING TIMES
The 1960s brought considerable change to SMIS. By this decade, nearly a fourth of the faculty were not members of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. In the spring of 1966, the high school boys dormitory was shut down, which eliminated most of the high schools sports program, and the high school becomes all girls. In 1964, the Franciscan Friars begin work on translating the Mass into Navajo with the Second Vatican Council as a backdrop.
1961 - 1970
1977
75TH ANNIVERSARY
75th anniversary of the founding of St. Michael Indian School.
A
1977
Scroll to Top