Museum gives new life to St. Michael's Parochial School

The room where female students stayed at the parochial school. It was filled with beds, and small lockers were available for the girls' belongings.

TARNOV, Neb. — Close your eyes and you can see the children, laughing, learning and praying.

The voices of the nuns almost echo in the halls. The priests' sermons hang in the air.

It's been 51 years since St. Michael's Parochial School in Tarnov closed its doors.

The school opened in 1911 and was the beacon on the hill for 50 years until dwindling enrollment forced its closing.

St. Michael's historic church still draws parishioners to this village of about 50 people, and the school is now Tarnov Heritage Museum.

Tarnov's St. Michael Complex was placed on the Nebraska Register of Historic Places in 1990, and the Tarnov Heritage Museum was established in the school in 2000.

It is open for tours, and local historian Judy Hanzel is glad to bring the old school back to life for visitors.

At the school's height, 60 to 70 students were enrolled. By the time it closed, there were fewer than 10.

Seven sisters once taught; four or five were teaching at the end.

Hanzel stops in every room of the school — the library, kitchen, the sisters' quarters, dining hall, stage and the area where the children slept, boys and girls divided.

Also divided — at least during meal time — were the boarders and the Tarnov residents.

Hanzel said the kids who ate in the upstairs dining area were the boarders, and the sisters cooked for them. Those who lived in town ate downstairs because they brought their lunch.

At the time the church was built, the congregation was all Polish. Other churches in the area were predominantly German or Irish.

“They had their own little congregation,” Hanzel said.

The first settlers, mostly from Poland, arrived in the area that would become Tarnov between 1877 and 1879. In 1880, they petitioned the bishop to build a crude church.

Tarnov was founded July 25, 1889, when representatives of the Union Pacific Railroad persuaded the pastor to intercede between the railroad and property owners in platting a town.

The church was built during the Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition, which was held in Omaha from April to November of 1898.

Once the expo was finished, the buildings were torn down and rafters and bricks were used when the current St. Michael's church was built.

The museum was open to tours around 2000.

There are donated artifacts throughout the building, and people still donate today.

The former winter chapel, which was used during the cold months because it was heated, is now the social hall, home to Tarnov's annual Fall Festival.

The complex also includes a rectory, which is now rented out to families.

The tour also features a replica of the bomb dropped on Tarnov in August 1943, which is displayed at the museum. The bomb was dropped by mistake during military training. Nobody was injured.

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