In February 1890, Church of the Ascension was established in what was then the northern most part of the rapidly growing city of Minneapolis. Fr. Alexander Christie was the first pastor. Though he served the parish for only three years, his accomplishments laid the groundwork for what became one of the largest parishes in Minneapolis.
Soon after being appointed in 1894, Fr. Jeremiah Harrington bought lots on Dupont Avenue for a school building. Although funds were lacking, Fr. Harrington knew the importance of educating the children of his parish. He and some parishioners personally directed the excavation of the first Ascension School. It opened in September 1898 and began with three sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, three rooms and 160 students. Classes grew quickly, requiring several building expansions. In 1917, Ascension School had 734 students in 14 classrooms.
In 1926, one year after Fr. John Dunphy came to Ascension, plans were formulated for the building of a new school. This project became an immediate priority for Father Dunphy, because the parish recognized the need for an up-to-date and more spacious school. After razing the previous school building, ground was broken for the new school on March 17, 1927, and it was dedicated on October 9, 1927. The new school opened with an enrollment of 1,025 students. The splendid three-story red brick building included 24 classrooms, a library, office and reception room, a nurse’s office and a well-equipped cafeteria.
For the next decades, graduating classes fluctuated from year to year. In 1940, the 50th anniversary of the parish, there were 120 graduates, the highest total. Founded as an Irish parish, the school mirrored this heritage well into the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, student enrollment began representing the changes of the surrounding area. In 1975, the student population was 44 percent students of color. In 1990, this figure rose to 80 percent. For the 2014-2015 school year, 98% are students of color, and 53% of students are not Catholic.
Although Ascension Catholic School has undergone many changes since 1897, its mission has remained unchanged. It has continued to serve as an anchor of the north Minneapolis neighborhood, educating children in kindergarten through eighth grade to achieve greater academic success and set the path to graduation and post-secondary school success.