St. John the Apostle Catholic School (SJA) was founded in 1844 when Father DeSmet, a Jesuit missionary arrived in Oregon City. He brought with him, from Europe, six sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The sisters opened the first Catholic school in Oregon City, teaching there until 1849 when they moved into a new building given to them by Dr. John McLoughlin. Their school was called the Young Lady’s Academy. They remained in this location until 1853, when they left Oregon to establish a new headquarters in California. The gold rush decreased the population of Oregon City to a great extent and the school closed. The School re-opened from 1860-1862, but in 1862, the school personnel, along with the Archdiocesan personnel, transferred to Portland.
In 1883, Father James Rauw arrived and made efforts to reopen the school; the Sisters of St. Benedict came to Oregon City two years later. This school became St. John’s Parochial and High School.
In1888, Father Hilldebrand enlarged, improved, and repaired the church and school, then located downtown on Main Street. His program continued until his death fifty-three years later. in 1907, a dream of 20 years was realized: Fr. Hilldebrand founded and opened McLoughlin Institute, a school that would perpetuate the memory of the most important parishioner of the pioneer days and the “Father of Oregon.” McLoughlin Institute was both an elementary and high school through the tenth grade. The three-story facility was built to accommodate 300 pupils with a hall and gymnasium. The former school continued to serve as an annex.
Father John Sheridan was the next pastor of SJA. He made extensive improvements to the parish school, and inaugurated a financing program that paved the way for the purchase of a new plot of ground on the hilltop of Oregon City, its current location. Father Sheridan had collected a sizable sum for the construction of new buildings on the hilltop property, but he died in 1956 prior to completing his goals. Father Michael Raleigh continued to carry out his plans of his predecessor by moving all the parish facilities to the hilltop property. In 1947, the old school, where the Benedictine Sisters had taught for over sixty years was razed. Under Father Raleigh’s leadership, the parish began building on the hilltop site. In 1948, a new fireproof school was completed and dedicated. A large basement, intended ultimately to become a parish hall, was used as a temporary church from 1948-1957.
The Benedictine Sisters continued to operate the Catholic School in Oregon City from 1885 to 1982. Since 1921, a total of 86 sisters have served the SJA community. In 1982, the operations of the school affairs passed entirely into the hands of the laity.