The historic James J. Hill House has a legacy of service to Catholic education

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Part of the legacy of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul has been to provide space for educational purposes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

James J. Hill’s wife, Mary Meaghan Hill, was the last member of the family to live in the Hill family’s opulent 36,000 square foot mansion at 240 Summit Avenue. When she died in 1921, she had no will and an equal share of her estate passed to each of her children.

The house was not easily divisible, so it was put up for auction and four of the Hill girls purchased it and gave it to the Archdiocese of St. Paul to be used as an educational facility.

Meanwhile, the Catholic sisters who taught thousands of young Minnesotans faced a different problem. Increasingly, teachers had to be licensed by the state, but the state prevented the sisters from qualifying for a license because they were not allowed to teach in demonstration schools while wearing their habits. Between 1905 and 1925, the colleges of Sainte-Catherine (in Saint-Paul), Sainte-Thérèse (in Winona), Saint-Benoît (in Saint-Joseph) and Sainte-Scolastique (in Duluth) all came into being, in part to help solve this problem. When St. Paul Diocesan Teachers College opened in January 1927, it was also meant to help.

Initially, the Diocesan College of Teachers offered classes on winter and summer Saturdays for up to 350 students at a time. The sisters earned 100 term credits in religion, psychology, and academic subjects to graduate from her “two-year” program, which met state licensing requirements. Of course, many sisters took more than two years to complete the program, which they incorporated into their many other duties.

Those who attended during the summer enjoyed eating the lunches they brought in or bought outside while admiring the view of St. Paul. On colder days, students would gather in the basement dining room. Meanwhile, the dining room on the ground floor of the hills had been transformed into a chapel for daily mass and adoration, and the library was reorganized with teaching texts and a table that could seat 30 people. On the second and third floors, bedrooms served as classrooms, and when classes for teachers were not in session, Notre Dame School for the Deaf shared the space.

While some servants’ rooms served as student residences, many orders that sent students from further afield purchased mansions along Summit Avenue for their sisters. The Benedictines established St. Paul’s Priory at 301 Summit Avenue (now the German-American Institute). The Sisters of the School of Notre-Dame (Summit 261 and 265), Sisters of St. Benedict (Summit 239 and 378) and Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls (Summit 365) also lived nearby and joined the Dominicans, Feliciens, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of Presentation, Servites, Sisters of Christian Charity, Sisters of Loreto, Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Saint Joseph in the classrooms as students and teachers.

Initially the school only served nuns, but like many other aspects of the school this changed in the 1940s. In 1946 lay people were first admitted, the school began to offer Year-round weekday classes and tuition become free to any woman, lay or religious, who plans to teach in the archdiocese. After Minnesota State began requiring a bachelor’s degree for teacher certification, the Diocesan Teachers College affiliated with the College of St. Catherine. Between 1951 and 1957, students completed the first two years of their studies at Hill House before completing their degrees at St. Catherine’s College. While all classes were moved from the Hill House in 1957, it remained the headquarters of the Archdiocese’s Office of Education until 1977, before the mansion was sold to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1978.

Luiken is a Catholic and a historian with a doctorate. from the University of Minnesota. She enjoys exploring and sharing the hidden stories that touch our daily lives.

Key words: St. Catherine’s College, Diocesan College of Teachers, Dominicans, Feliciens, Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, German-American Institute, Hill House, James J. Hill House, Mary Meaghan Hill, Minnesota Historical Society, Notre Dame School, Oblate Sisters of Providence , Sisters of Presentation, Servites, Sisters of Christian Charity, Sisters of Loreto, Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sisters of Saint Benedict, Sisters of the School of Notre-Dame

Category: Echoes of Catholic Minnesota, Featured

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