History of the College of St. Benedict from 1910-1957, as found within With Lamps Burning by Grace McDonald, O.S.B.

See also A Brief History of the College of Saint Benedict and With Lamps Burning.

Building plans were made as early as 1910, and in September of the following year contracts were let for the erection of a college hall and a chapel.  The location of the proposed college building was easily decided….(p. 167)

The architect chosen for the new college building and the chapel was Mr. George Stauduhar of Rock Island, Illinois, and plans were drawn up for a $50,000 chapel and a $50,000 college hall.  Before the buildings were completed, however, the total cost was $335,467…. (p. 168)

The new college hall, St. Teresa’s, was a four-story brick structure with a full basement and a flat roof, the first of its kind on the premises.  The basement contained the gymnasium; the first floor, the library, the museum, and art and sewing rooms; and the second, the assembly hall and two classrooms.  The two upper floors, the residence section, were planned as a unit in which all the rooms opened into a spacious “rotunda,” an oblong social center, with a balcony, and a full skylight as a ceiling.  Like the chapel, the college soon became a show place of central Minnesota. (p. 169)

….The new college building, St. Teresa’s Hall, was completed and opened for classes in the fall of 1913.  The first students registered were sisters, candidates for the order, and a few lay students.  Helen McDonald of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was the first lay student to sign.  She was followed by Esther Mueller of St. Joseph, Margaret Grant of Minneapolis, Margaret McKeon of Montgomery, and Josephine Skluzacek of Lonsdale, Minnesota.  The old records show that Helen McDonald’s program of studies included logic, psychology, geometry, Greek, and history.  Margaret Grant registered for history, English, philosophy, Latin, and chemistry.  During the first ten years, very crucial years, the classes remained small, but the staff under the guidance of Sister Dominica Borgerding and Sister Adelgundis Bergmann pursed its way through all sorts of trying circumstances.  After all, the idea of a Catholic women’s college was still novel in the Midwest. (p. 190-191)

The teaching staff of the college during the first year, 1913-1914, consisted of Reverend Henry Borgerding, O.S.B., Sister Dominica Borgerding, Sister Adelgundis Bergmann, Sister Jeanette Roesch, Sister Irma Schumacher, and Sister Grace McDonald.  The following year the staff was the same except that a lay teacher replaced Sister Adelgundis, who left to pursue further graduate work at the Catholic University of America.  In 1915 Sister Magna Wirth joined the staff.

Despite the very small student body the administration within two years opened third and fourth year classes.  The decision was made because the faculty believed that a two-year offering was an obstacle to growth, for many students refused to enroll in a college in which they could not finish.  Accreditment came early for this embryo college; in 1918, within five years after its founding, the University of Minnesota inspected the institution and placed the junior college on its list of accredited junior colleges.

Discipline in a Catholic women’s college during the early part of this century was strict.  At St. Benedict’s, where the college evolved as it did under the same roof as the academy, retaining the same officers and at times the same teachers, it was but natural that the life and the discipline of the college students would differ little from that of academy students.  It was some time before such things as “late pers,” uncensored mail, and the privilege of receiving calls from young men of St. John’s University were taken for granted. School parties, picnics, dramatics, debates, and musicals helped to break the routine.  Entertainment of a higher order was provided by the administration, and in its first years the college established the policy of arranging programs by noted speakers and musicians and of bringing the best of artistic talent to its students.  During these years such well-known Shakespearean interpreters as Francis O’Donnell and C.E. Griffith made annual appearances, as did Henry Southwick, president of Emerson School of Expression at Boston.  Among the musicians were Madame von Unschuld and Rose D’Arina.  Professors of the University of Minnesota frequently spoke at student convocations.

The first college degree was issued in June of 1917, but the first group or class to receive the degree of Bachelor of Arts was that of 1918….  (p. 191-192)

The College of St. Benedict located as it is in the quiet of a Minnesota village might have been out of touch with the general current of national and international affairs.  However, the student body soon included young women of various races and from many countries…. (p. 192-193)   During the first fifteen years of the college’s existence the student body was made up mainly of young women from Minnesota and the Dakotas with an occasional student from Canada, Montana, and Nebraska.  But during the 1930’s the college took on a more cosmopolitan character.  In 1930 Lucy Chung and Florence Chi of Peking were enrolled, and since that date students from the Far East have continued to be registered at St. Benedict’s…. (p. 195)

These developments were taking place despite the pressures inherent in the effort to conform to the pattern of state education.  Looking for full accreditment and recognition it had been natural to turn to the University of Minnesota and to the State Department of Education rather than to regional or national agencies.  As a result, the college had in some things patterned itself on the University.  Like the University, St. Benedict’s divided the school year into quarter terms instead of semesters.  The sequences of studies often followed that of the University.  To be assured of state approval, most of the faculty continued to attend the University of Minnesota and received advanced degrees from it.  Full accreditment of the senior college to the University of Minnesota came more slowly than had recognition of the junior college.  The reason was that after 1918 it became the policy of the University to accredit but a few departments at a time instead of accrediting a college as a whole.  This policy prolonged the suspense and uncertainty of the standing of the college in the educational system of the state.  Besides, the sisters began to see the possibility of developing the more distinctly Christian character of the college by looking beyond the state university for educational advisement and leadership.  With the appointment of Sister Claire Lynch as dean in 1932 the college entered on a new program—that of throwing off its dependence on one local accrediting agency and of seeking membership in the North Central Association of Colleges.  Some of the faculty feared that such a powerful organization might exert undue influence in Catholic institutions.  But neither the president of the college, Mother Rosamond Pratschner, nor the dean, Sister Claire, was of that mind.  Under their guidance the college applied for membership in the North Central Association in 1932 and was admitted within a year.  With this step taken, administration and faculty worked to bring the program of studies back to a more traditional Catholic liberal arts pattern with philosophy as a central discipline.  The departments of studies were reorganized and grouped into eight divisions.  Because of pressure from the University of Minnesota inspectors, philosophy as a distinct department had been dropped and only a few courses had been offered.  In 1937 the department was not only reinstated but ten quarter hours of philosophy were required of all students.  Today the requirement is sixteen semester credits for both the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science degrees…. (p. 195-196)

When the disturbances of two world wars broke in upon the normal life of the college, students and faculty cooperated with the government’s war efforts.  During World War I sisters and students did all they possibly could in sewing and knitting for soldiers.  In World War II the college was permitted to establish its own Red Cross unit—one of the first college units to be set up in Minnesota.  The output of this surgical dressing unit doubled that of any other unit of the county.  Faculty and students signed up as blood donors each time the mobile blood donor unit came to St. Cloud.  On occasion seventy sisters from the college and the convent responded.  Several of the sisters were so generous that they were enrolled in the gallon club.  Some sisters and students joined in first aid classes; others conducted the sale of war bonds and stamps.

World War II brought to the college some of the same problems that it brought to other colleges.  On two of these the administration and the faculty took a conservative stand, unswayed by war hysteria.  Should St. Benedict’s follow the lead of the colleges which were planning to shorten the four-year term by means of long summer sessions?  Should the college stress subjects and courses of a more practical nature?  To the first question Mother Rosamond and the faculty answered that a great number of students were dependent on summer employment to help defray the expenses of their college education.  Part-time work the year round would enable students in large cities to dispense with summer salaries, but such opportunities were not available in the small village of St. Joseph.  To the second question, should St. Benedict’s follow the new trend or keep to the traditional Benedictine cultural program of the sciences, literature, and the arts and prepare its students not only for earning a salary but for the richness and beauty of living, there could be but one answer…. (p. 193)

The erection of four hospitals at Bismarck, St. Cloud, Ogden, and New Prague had so absorbed the attention and the financial assets of the community that nothing had been done to enlarge and improve the college buildings at St. Joseph.  A residence hall had long been needed.  Since in its early years the college was located too far from St Cloud to draw a large number of day students, most of the students enrolled would have to live on campus.  Insufficient residence accommodations compelled the college administration to refuse entrance to a large number of students each year and hampered the growth of the institution.  Finally in 1954, the situation became so acute that building was imperative.  A committee chosen from the college faculty was appointed by Mother Richarda to study the needs of the college and to make plans for its future growth.  After putting the project under the patronage of St. Joseph, they called in the assistance of the architects, Mr. Richard Hammel and Mr. Curtis Green of St. Paul.  The committee and the architects after weeks of investigation decided that three units of construction were necessary—a dormitory to house 200 students, a recreational center, and an auditorium.  The vacated dormitory space in the old building would provide room for the expansion of instructional facilities.  It was soon evident that an auditorium would not be built until a later date.

The plans drawn up by the architects provided for a three-story dormitory to accommodate 200 students and for a common building or recreational center to include guest rooms, recreation rooms, snack bar and a lounge for day students.  Though both buildings were to have a brick exterior to harmonize with the older buildings on the campus, the plans revealed a decidedly contemporary handling of materials and spaces.  To prevent bigness from destroying the family spirit which has been such a marked feature of school life at St. Benedict’s during its century of existence, the dormitory was divided into six units, each having its own living room, kitchenette, and laundry.  Early in 1955 the building contract was given to the Wahl Construction Company of St. Cloud.  The estimate for construction, furnishing, and architects’ fee was $981,117.68.  The expansion of the power plant necessary to provide heat, light, and other utilities for the new buildings brought the total cost to over one and one half million dollars.

To meet this cost the sisters broke their century-old tradition of building up the plant at the mother house by their own efforts and savings and those of a few interested friends.  They now decided to call on outside help.  Because professional fund-raising campaign was not feasible in a small village, the sisters decided to raise the money by personally soliciting funds from foundations, from business firms, and from parishes, as well as by appealing to relatives, alumnae, and friends.  This work has been carried on by a committee of sisters appointed by Mother Richarda.  This committee also coordinated the activities of the community in planning sales of articles such as bread, fancy work, and rosaries made by the sisters at the missions as well as at the mother house.

On April 6, 1955, ground was broken.  The work of excavation and construction of concrete foundations was pushed in order to have the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone on home-coming day, April 30.  On that day Bishop Bartholome in presence of the clergy, sisters, students, and alumnae blessed the cornerstone with all the ceremony of the Church’s ritual, placing Mary Hall under the special protection of Mary the Mother of God.  In September, 1956, the first group of students moved into their residence hall to find there under the broad sweep of the low-hanging roof of the new commons building the same spirit of dedication to God that had prompted the establishment of the college over forty years earlier and had inspired all the growth of the community. (p. 176-178)

The college at present is affiliated with the Catholic University of America and is a member of the National Catholic Educational Association, the National Commission on Accrediting, the Association of Minnesota Colleges, and the State Council of Minnesota Colleges.  At the time application for membership in the North Central Association was made the College Advisory Board was formed at St. Benedict’s.  The laymen who generously consented to give time and counsel to the college were: Mr. Frank Gross, president of the German National Bank of Minneapolis; Mr. Edward Callahan, an attorney in Minneapolis; Mr. Frank Mulcahy of the Northwestern Mortgage Company in Minneapolis; and Mr. Joseph Matt, publisher of The Wanderer in St. Paul.  St. Benedict’s is also a member of the Minnesota College Fund Association which, together with thirty-eight similar organizations of the country, is presenting the needs of the small liberal acts college to businessmen of the nation.  So, as a college president, Mother Richarda found herself in the autumn of 1956 in offices of Minnesota businessmen reminding them of what industry owes to the kind of college she represented.

Many of the student organizations date back to the early days of the college.  The Ardeleons, a dramatic club, carries on the work begun by Sister Dominica Borgerding and Sister Marcine Schirber.  Since 1952, Ardeleons of St. Benedict’s and the Johnny Players of St. John’s have collaborated in such plays as Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning, Moliere’s The Miser, Claudel’s The Tidings Brought to Mary, as well as in several by Shakespeare.  Each school had its own schedule and is responsible for plays on its own stage.  The Choral Club is another organization dating from the foundation of the college.  Our Lady’s Juggler presented in 1953 on the stage at St. John’s was the first of the annual operas in which musicians of St. Benedict’s and St. John’s collaborated.  The International Relations Club introduced in the early 1930’s at the invitation of the Carnegie Peace Foundation continues to draw the more politically minded students.  The Sigma Kappa Phi gives members of the home economics department opportunities for experiences not possible in the classroom.  On March 29, 1940, St. Benedict’s established the Omega Chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma, a national scholastic honor society for students of Catholic colleges and universities, founded in 1939 in Washington, D.C. The National Federation of Catholic College Students and the National Student Association are strong organizations tying the student body at St. Benedict’s in with the students of other colleges in the nation.

Campus publications include The Benet, the Facula yearbook, and St. Benedict’s Quarterly, the literary magazine which has evolved from College Days, its 1914 predecessor.  Faculty members have found time to publish books and to write articles for scholarly publications in the fields of English, history, sociology, and Latin.  Others have won research grants or scholarships (p. 197-198).


NOTE:  The book With Lamps Burning can be found in the CSB and SJU Libraries, call number BX 4278 .S25 M27.