St. Andrews, part of a nationwide rediscovery of classical learning, was founded in the summer of 1996, by a small group of educators and professionals living in Helena, Montana. Believing that education should produce students able to learn on their own, St. Andrew School seeks to produce citizens immersed in the Trivium: skilled writers, thoughtful thinkers, and accomplished speakers. Further, we believe that the traditions and teachings preserved and handed down to us through the Catholic Church should inform our learning; these traditions and teachings are good, true and timeless, and as relevant today as ever for the formation of a good and wholesome character.
The idea for a Classical and Catholic School in Helena arose in the Winter of 1995, and initial organizational meetings for St. Andrew School were held in Spring 1996 at the Colonial Inn in Helena (first meeting was on Jan 19, and a second was held on Feb 20).These meetings were both to inform and to assess interest in the local community.The bylaws for the Board of Directors were drawn up, and on February 20, 1996, St. Andrew School became an incorporated entity.The initial Board of Directors for the new school were Philip B. and Teresa Rose, and Steve Nistler. From the beginning, the school was conceived as a private endeavor, by Catholics, who would remain financially responsible for the enterprise. A group of the founders met with the then-bishop of Helena, Bishop Alexander Brunett, in the Spring, to inform him of the plan, and to seek his blessing.Though never involved in the planning of the school, Bishop Brunett was always interested and supportive of the school as it grew in the community.
The school opened its doors that Fall, in space rented from the First Christian Church, 311 Power Street, in Helena, to 53 new students. These students were Fourth to Ninth Grade students.Teresa Rose was the School’s first principle, and joining her were three other full-time teachers—Don Larsen, George Gredyk, Jane Hauck, plus two part-time teachers Donna Smillie and Cinda Echenfelds. Phil Rose and Mark Smillie came over from Carroll College to teach the Latin classes at the school three times a week.
The school spent its first two years in that rented space at First Christian Church. The first year was spent developing curriculum and doing the many things needed to solidify the nascent school. Father Bernard “Bud” Sullivan was able to offer a Mass for the beginning of the school year, and for a brief time was the spiritual director of the School. The Board of Directors quickly created an expanded oversight committee (later to be renamed the School Board) of seven members, and its duties were determined.In addition to the Roses and Steve Nistler, the members of the initial school board were Don Larsen, George Gredyk, Mark Smillie, and Bill Bradford.A mission statement was quickly drafted and approved by that board on October 22.The Faculty/Student handbook was finished and approved in February 1997. The school received its non-profit status in December 1996, which was also the month that began the current Christmas tradition of celebrating Lessons and Carols in lieu of the usual school program offered at that time.Long term planning was begun and a capital campaign to find and establish a permanent site for the school began in earnest in Spring, 1997, under the leadership of Steve Nistler.By summer, this campaign had raised $35,000, which was unfortunately not enough for a down payment on a building and site that had been chosen at the corner of Linden and Floweree, on the west side of Helena.
St. Andrew School’s second year saw the addition of the Third and Tenth Grades. Though the school lost students from attrition over the summer, with new additions total student numbers were above the first year, approximately 60 students. Bruce Fender, a chemistry Ph.D from Montana State joined the faculty that year, and Myles Grotbo and Gerald Korson were asked to join the board, to fill vacancies created by the departures of Don Larson and Bill Bradford. Much of the school year was spent working on various options for relocation, and thanks to the generosity of benefactors, St. Andrew School was able to purchase its current building at 1900 Floweree.That summer, between our second and third years, saw hammers and dust as dedicated parties of parent carpenters worked feverously to renovate the building in preparation for our move that Fall.
The school saw rapid growth in its first year at its new location, 1998-1999. Kindergarten, First, Second, and Eleventh Grades were added, and the student body grew to slightly over 90 students. To accommodate for growth, four full-time teachers were hired that year: Ruth McGee, Margie Brodowy, Michael Willing, and Lynn Bubb. Both Mr. Willing and Mrs. Bubb were graduates of Carroll College.On the School Board, Mr. Mark Fowler replaced Gerry Korson, who left the state because of a new job. Father Bud Sullivan blessed the entire renovated building at the opening school picnic at the new building on September 6. Spring of 1999 was the first year the school held its fundraising auction, in the school gym, which earned $23,000. Kathy Ramirez spearheaded this first effort.
With the addition of Twelfth Grade for the 1999-2000 school year, St. Andrew School at last was offering classes across the entire span of the curriculum. Total student numbers jumped to approximately 120 that year, and the school hired one new full-time teacher, Christopher Nelson, a 1999 history graduate from Carroll College. A small, 960 square foot, portable, 2-classroom building was purchased from Helena College of Technology during that preceding summer, and became the St. Joseph Annex when added to the campus.Helena’s new bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino, paid the first episcopal visit to the school in November, 1999, and offered the second mass of the School’s history, and the first mass at the permanent site.Bishop Morlino returned in the Spring to offer mass a second time during Lent.The school Auction, moved to early March that year, had an Irish theme to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, and earned the school over $40,000.Finally, on May 19, 2000, St. Andrew School celebrated its first graduation exercises as Twelfth grade student Monica Poelman became the first graduate of St. Andrew School.