In the summer of 1864, at the site of the present school, ground was broken and construction began for a 50' x 75' structure, The Immaculate Conception Church and School. It was designed by William R. Hutton a Montgomery County architect on land purchased by Father J. Walter, pastor of St. Patrick's Church at 10th & G Streets, Northwest. On October 30, 1864 the cornerstone was laid and by the middle of 1865 the work was completed. Martin J. Spalding, Archbishop of Baltimore, with Rev. F. E. Boyle, pastor of St. Peter's Church on Capitol Hill, dedicated the building on July 7, 1865.
For school functions, the building was divided with the boys' school located in the northern section and the girls' school in the southern section of the first floor. The boys' school opened on September 4, 1865 and was initially operated by lay teachers. For the girls, Father Walter had engaged the Sisters of Charity from St. Joseph's in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to teach. The School was under the supervision of Sister Josephine Kelliher.
The enrollment of girl students at Immaculate Conception increased so rapidly that Father Patrick F. McCarthy, the first pastor of the church who had formerly come from St. Patrick's Church, erected a new school for them at 8th and Q Streets where a lot had been purchased. The new girls' school was completed in 1872 and was called Immaculate Conception Academy. The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent dePaul, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, was in charge of the Academy, which became a highly regarded school. Its four-year academic program prepared students for college, nursing school or business and later affiliated with The Catholic University of America.
Father Stanislaus Ryan, who succeeded Father McCarthy, wanted the same high educational standards for the boys that had been established for the girls. He secured the Brothers of Mary (the Marianists) to oversee the boys' education in 1890. In 1892 a house was built for the Marianists directly opposite the church. Later, when the school became overcrowded, this building was used as an annex. The Marianists would direct the boys' education until 1964.
When Father Ryan died in 1903, Father James D. Marr took over the pastorate and was responsible for building the present Tudor Revival-style school structure. The old building had become unsanitary and unsafe and was condemned by the Fire Marshall. Originally intending to repair the building, Father Marr determined that it would make better financial sense to raze the old building and construct a new one. Construction began in 1908 on the same spot as the original church/school building. The cornerstone commemorates both the old and new school buildings. Designed to harmonize with the Gothic architectural style of the church (cornerstone laid in 1870), the new school was conceived by Washington architect B. Stanley Simmons. Built to accommodate 300 boys, it was considered to be practically fireproof. The auditorium included a 35-foot high ceiling and two galleries to hold up to 800 people. The school was renovated between 1962 and 1963 but closed in 1964 after 74 years in existence. The Marianists had requested permission to withdraw due to a shortage of vocations and personnel to staff the school.
After the Marianists left, Father J. Joshua Mundell reopened the school in 1964 as a co-educational parish school. Under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy, four sisters were assigned to teach in the school and lived in the convent located next to the rectory. Sister Carol Ann Knight of the Sisters of the Holy Child served as principal from 1995 to 2001 and was succeeded by Ms. Gillian Pratt in the Fall of 2001.
During the 2003 school year, the students and lay teaching staff attended classes in space provided by Trinity University in Northeast Washington, while their school was being renovated by the munificence of The Clark Construction Group. The complete interior renovation includes new lighting, air conditioning and heating, reconstruction of the third and fourth floor classroom areas, reconstruction of the cafeteria facilities, the auditorium (where the original galleries were removed and a computer room and library were built), installation of an interior elevator and exterior lift, restoration of many of the school's original woodwork features, and up-to-date fire safety mechanics. With the renovation completed, the 2004 school year began on September 8 with 160 children in Grades Pre-K to 6th and able to accommodate a 7th Grade in 2005 and 8th Grade in 2006.
On opening day of the newly renovated school, Monsignor James D. Watkins (12th pastor of the parish) told the Archdiocesan Catholic Standard: “The reopening of this school is a tremendous sign of hope - not just for the kids - but also for their parents, their families and this parish. There are many people who said that a school in the inner city would never have made it in the years after the riots and city unrest of 1968. This reopening refutes all those negative voices and reestablishes the consistent Catholic commitment to education for all God's children.”
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, rededicated the newly renovated school on October 7, 2004 in the presence of several dignitaries, many benefactors and donors, together with the teachers, parents and children of the school.
The newly renovated auditorium is named in loving memory of Monsignor J. Joshua Mundell (Pastor from 1964 until his death in 2001). The cafeteria is named in loving memory of Mr. Raymond L. Young, faithful parishioner and sexton of the church who served Immaculate Conception Church from 1964 until his death in 2004.
Graduates of the Immaculate Conception School include Father John J. Conway, famed orator and assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception; Joseph A Roth, a 1902 graduate who became a professor of English at Fordham University; Francis J Dailey, a reporter and then-city editor of The Washington Herald; Joseph J. Murphy, editor of the Washington paper The New Century; and Frances de Sales Ryan, an authority on the history of Washington, DC; the Most Reverend Philip J. Hannan, former Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and retired Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; and Roman Oben, who played professional football for the New York Giants, the Cleveland Browns, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Super Bowl winning team in 2004), and for the San Diego Chargers.
Due to decreasing enrollment of students and financial constraints for several of the inner-city Catholic Schools operated by the Archdiocese of Washington, Immaculate Conception Catholic School closed its doors in June 2008 and re-opened as a Public Charter School (“Shaw Campus”) that same year in September, serving 255 students in the same grades of Pre-K to Eighth. The parish church continues to own the school property, and the Public Charter rents the space from the parish for its academic program.