An article in the Dallas Morning News dated January 28, 2000, had a headline of “Pope clears sainthood path for native born American.” There is more to this than was stated in the article from the Washington Post. In 1992 while researching the files about Freedmans Cemetery on Central Expressway, the following information was found in the archives of the Catholic Diocese:
The Catholic Diocese was formed in 1890 and the first Bishop was Thomas Brennan from Pennsylvania. In 1891, Sister Mary Katharine (Miss Katharine Drexel), a wealthy woman also from Pennsylvania, spent her time and fortune establishing schools for Native American and black children. She was permitted to form an order to work with the Dallas Diocese. The arrangement for the establishment of a school for “Colored Children” was a priority assigned to Sister Katharine and her followers. They were to manage the school and buildings, but the first effort failed.
Around 1905, a black entrepreneur and his wife, Mary and Valentine Jordon, approached the Bishop, by now it was Bishop R.J. Dunne, asking that a school similar to Ursuline Academy be opened to benefit the children in the black community. Mr. Valentine worked at Ursuline and saw the wonders the sisters had accomplished with the children. Bishop Dunne agreed and St. Peter’s Academy was erected in the vicinity of North Dallas Freedmans town The school was one of the oldest accredited schools in the Catholic Diocese and since 1908 had taught thousands of children, sending them to successful college careers.
In the 1950s Tom Braniff was involved in fund raising to improve the facilities at the school and the new buildings were ready for the fall semester in 1953. Less than ten percent of the children attending the school were Catholic. In 1970 the high school grades were closed, as the facilities were not adequate to teach all the necessary courses. It operated for many years until the revitalization of the area caused many of the poorly built housing units to be torn down. By 1985 the land had changed hands and new housing was being built. The children who had been attending St. Peters now lived in other sections of town. The school was abandoned and sat empty for several years.
In 1989 a new school occupied the site! Notre Dame is a facility devoted to teaching the mentally challenged children of all creeds and ethnic concerns in our city these last ten years. The school was in Irving for twenty-five years on the campus of the University of Dallas before moving to this site. Through the years the children with special needs have gone to this school. This special site in our city has been involved in love and concern for over 100 years.