The College of St. Scholastica

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A Century of Saints

In the beginning. . .


Downtown Duluth, 1870In the beginning, there was nothing. Or very little, at least. Duluth was a busted town, unincorporated after financier Jay Cooke's banking empire collapsed in 1873 and most of the jobs and people moved away. A few thousand hardy souls clung to the rocks, eking out a living until the area's natural resources lured money and people once again up the rail line from St. Paul. By 1877, Duluth was an incorporated city again and in 1880, the vicar apostolic of nortern Minnesota saw the need for a school, and sent a request to start one to St. Benedict's, in St. Joseph, MN.

The winter of 1880 was so harsh that Laura Ingalls Wilder immortalized it in her book The Long Winter. In October, a blizzard struck that was so fierce it caused a railroad trestle south of Duluth to collapse and drifts piled up to 20 feet tall in western Minnesota. Even so, Mother Scholastica Kerst, the young prioress of St. Benedict's, responded immediately, leaving the warmth and camaraderie of the convent and venturing out into the cold, accompanied only by a young orphan girl.

I wonder how she traveled. In the summer, river travel was common. The sisters originally arrived in St. Cloud on a steamboat, traveling north from St. Paul on the mighty Mississippi. Of course, being winter, the river was frozen. Part of me wants to believe that she packed her sleigh, hitched up her horses, and headed out into the snow, but my guess is that she took the train. 

Mother Scholastica Kerst, 1878Mother Scholastica arrived in Duluth on December 15, and the need for education was evident. Within a month, she had a school operating with 150 students. It was housed in a drafty old horse barn in central Duluth. It was so cold that students and teachers bundled up in coats and mittens for their lessons as the wind tore through the creaky walls. Now that's a love of learning.

This first school the Benedictine Sisters opened in Duluth closed the following year due to the poor condition of the building. The Sisters were back three years later, though, and this time they were prepared. They rented space until they could build and founded several elementary schools, a hospital, a girls academy, a monastery, and, eventually, a college. From humble beginnings grow the greatest things. 


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