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The history and growth of Visitation parish closely parallels that of what today is called South Tacoma.   The most significant event for both came in 1891, when the Northern Pacific Railroad located its machine and car shops in the small farming community then called Edison.  Growth was so great in the ensuing years that by 1895 Edison became part of the rapidly expanding city of Tacoma.  This unprecedented growth was a cause for concern for Father Peter Hylebos, then in charge of all of what today is Pierce County, south to Olympia.

Reverend Wolfgang Steinkogler, OSB was dispatched to Washington with the express mission of locating a site suitable for the establishment of a priory known to this day as St. Martin’s Abbey.  “…It was this same Father Steinkogler who, on August 21, 1892, with seven people present, celebrated the first Mass in what soon would become Visitation Parish.  It was an inauspicious beginning, taking place in an empty store front at 54th and Warner.”  Due to the effects of an economic recession, it was not until 1899 that enough money was raised to purchase land and to construct the church on the corner of South 56th and Birmingham, the building which still stands today.

In 1924, with a population of over 200 families and 220 children, Pastor Demetries Jueneman OSB realized the necessity of a parish school.  Ground was broken in October 1924, and on August 23, 1925, Visitation Catholic School was dedicated.  The school was staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Benedict’s Convent in Minnesota.  In 1948, two lots behind the school were purchased and one of the houses was used to house the Benedictine sisters.  In 1952, two churches across from Visitation were purchased and converted into the parish hall and into classrooms and meeting rooms.


In 2012, Visitation adopted a STEM focus with an emphasis on project based learning, collaborative learning, and providing an excellent education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.  Research supports the positive impact project based learning has on student outcomes.  In the book, Setting the standard for project based learning: a proven approach to rigorous classroom instruction, John Larmer, John Mergendoller, and Suzie Boss (2015) summarize research surrounding the impact of project based learning on student outcomes.  Their summary shows the strong results of project based learning: most students demonstrate progress, few students show no growth, but no students were negatively impacted.  Moreover, project based learning develops critical thinking in math and reading, enabling students to answer questions on standardized tests that require application of concepts; something that is difficult to do for students who experience a traditional approach to learning.  Project based learning also strengthens career and college skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and supporting a mindset of ongoing growth.

At Pope St. John XXIII STEM Academy, formerly Visitation Catholic STEM Academy, we are blessed with a rich history and deep roots, but today our teaching is based on modern, research based instructional practices.  We look ahead with enthusiasm as we continue to grow as a STEM school in order to serve the students at Pope St. John XXIII STEM Academy.


Dias, M., & Brantley-Dias, L. (2017). Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning11(2). doi: 10.7771/1541-5015.1721

Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., & Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning: a proven approach to rigorous classroom instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

School & Parish history taken from: Milestones & Memories, (no author)