Sacred Heart Parish School -- History

Montana Catholic education has roots in Miles City.



Above, the front door leading into the Ursuline Convent includes beautiful woodwork and a tiled entryway. The convent is on the Historic Register. Left, a nun poses with her class. Classes were held in the Convent for many years.

Convent School students -- some boarded as well as went to school in the Convent. The year of the photo is unknown, but is judged to have been taken in the early 1920s. Sacred Heart's principal Bart Freese's aunt is in the front row fourth student from the left -- Casey Bartley.

  Excerpts taken from the article
"School Bells" in the Miles City Star's
Centennial Roundup book published
by the Miles City Star in 1987

The first public school in Miles City began in 1878. Catholic education began in Miles City in 1884.

Original article written by Jean Freese:

On January 16, 1884, a group of six Ursuline nuns arrived by train from Ohio to be met by Montana's first Catholic bishop, the Rev. John Brondel.
In a letter written to the organization's mother house in Toledo, Sister Amadeus, who was in charge of the group, reported on the something-less-than-wonderful beginning they had made. The first moment was fine. She wrote, "The first one to greet us at the depot was the gracious Bishop Brondel. There he stood at the foot of the car steps with outstretched arms, his face beaming with joy, his eyes brimful with tears. He had traveled 22 hours over a distance of 400 miles to welcome us to diocese. His kindness touched us deeply."
She was not as charmed with the bishop's arrangements for living quarters for the nuns. "I have not the language to describe the lodgings," she said and went on to do so. "We drove up in our fine carriages to a white-washed log cabin with a Chinese laundry attached to it, the two cabins forming one building. Over the Chinese establishment were the words, 'Yelee Laundry.' The outside turned out to be the best part of the building. There was no fire in the room although snow had blown in the door, which was ajar, and the window. Moonlight came through openings in the walls and roof.
"The partitions between us and the other lodgers (bar-room tenders, ditch-diggers, cowboys, ranchmen, etc.) consisted of pink striped calico stretched across the studdings," Sister Amadeus reported.
The room was not very clean and the conditions of the beds were worse. The Star article stated:
They (the nuns) gave up the bed and spread out a blanket and "...wrapped up in shawls and blankets and Father Eyler's overcoat," wrote Sister Amadeus.
They received permission from the bishop to find a place of their own, located a city map and a real estate agent and rented a small house for $25 a month. The nuns bought stoves right away (sources state the temperature when the sisters arrived was over 30 degrees below zero).
"It is a miserable little town, but the people are fine -- large, open, warm-hearted people. Everybody is glad to see us, Protestants as well as Catholics, and if times were good I think we would get along well," Sister Amadeus wrote.
Bishop Brondel had given them money to build schools both in Miles City and on the Cheyenne reservation. Within a few weeks the nuns had opened their school with 31 boarders, "most of them daughters of men from the military outposts."
Sister Amadeus' first letter written on Jan. 18, 1884, is headed simply "Miles City Montana Territory," but the second letter, dated Jan. 29 is from "Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart, Miles City, M.T."
Sister Amadeus, however, was more interested in working among the Indians and by March 30 was off with the bishop and three of the nuns to open their first mission on the Tongue River. This is now the
St. Labre Catholic School.
The original school burned. To induce the nuns to rebuild a site was purchased by the people of Miles City and on October 5, 1902 the new brick convent opened.

This aerial photo was taken before 1964, when the new high school building was constructed. At center is the current gym. The high school was added running to the right of the gym to the street. The two buildings on the right side of the photo have since been torn down. The building on the left with columns is the Ursuline Convent. This building is still used today, but not as a convent. It has office space for rent and hosts many functions. Click on the photo for more outside pictures of the Convent.

One of the most interesting historical photos we have seen is this view of the north side of the Convent showing all the trees around the Convent and the old high school. The new (and it must be really new) elementary building is present. What year was this taken? Ideas, let us know.

This drawing produced by Larson Arts of Miles City is the combining two old photos -- an aerial photo of the Convent, elementary building, new gym, old gym, and old high school. The old high school is then seen as the main portion of the drawing (it is also shown in the lower right portion of the main picture). Click on the photo for an enlargement. Please do no reprint this copyrighted picture, which we are using with permission of the artist. If interested in buying a print, please contact the school at and we will put you in touch with artist Gene Larson. Larson has a number of such works.