The History of St. Joe's

  • The beginning

    Saint Joseph's College was established in 1912, at the request of senior students at St. Joseph’s Academy, by Sister of Mercy Mary Xaveria Toohey to serve the need of preparing graduates for teaching. The State of Maine’s Superintendent of Schools granted two-year approval of the Academy’s Normal Training Department on June 2, 1913.

    Sr Mary Xaveria Toohey Sister Xaveria continued to serve as the first Dean and acted as the President of the college until her death in 1938.

    Between 1912 and 1920, Sister Xaveria oversaw: the first courses of the college taught at the Motherhouse on Stevens Avenue in Portland; the establishment of the college through the State of Maine guidelines (the Legislature granted the charter on March 29, 1915, hence the date in our seal) as the first Catholic College for women in Maine; the approval by the State Department of Education to grant the B.S. in Education degree in 1919.

    St. Catherine's HallNecessitated by growing enrollments, in 1914 the faculty purchased a property adjacent to the Motherhouse, St. Joseph’s Home, and began renovations on the former home for elderly women to house forty rooms: classrooms, labs, dorm rooms, and in the basement a kitchen area and laundry facilities. Dedicated on April 13, 1917, the first building exclusively for the college was named St. Catherine’s Hall, after Sisters of Mercy Foundress Catherine McAuley.

  • 1920s

    During the 1920s key milestones for the college were: the conferring of the first Bachelor of Science degree in education to seven students in 1923; and the establishment of the institution's first summer school sessions in 1926.

    1927 Summer Faculty

  • 1930s

    The 1930s saw the continued progress of the college with the publication of the first college catalogue; the commencement exercises for the first four-year class of seven students in 1938; the first annual music concert with Holy Cross College of Worcester, Massachusetts.

    Sister Mary Honoratus Maher was appointed President and Dean of the college in 1938. Sister Mary Honoratus Maher

  • 1940s

    The year 1940 brought the expansion of St. Catherine's Hall for additional classrooms and residence space, the celebration of the first Mass in the college's first chapel on February 24, and a visit by the NCEA (National Catholic Education Association) which granted membership to SJC into the Association of American Colleges.

    In 1943 the college appointed its third President, George Hermann Derry, who during his first year saw the joining of Saint Joseph's with the Mercy Hospital Nursing School and U.S. Cadet Corps for education of nurses. In 1945, the college was approved by the State of Maine for training of veterans (Servicemen's Adjustment Act).Sr. Honoratus and Sr. de la Salle

    The fourth President, James F. Rockett was appointed in 1947 and died during his tenure, leading to the appointment of the fifth President, Daniel J. O'Neill, who served in the position until 1956. 

    President O'Neill oversaw the name change of the college in 1949 to College of Our Lady of Mercy, a move that was intended to increase the visibility of the college.

    In 1949 the college had two other landmark events: a formal affiliation of the college with the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and the college’s incorporation as a separate institution from St. Joseph's Convent and Hospital, Inc.

  • To the lake!

    In the early 1950s the decision was made that the college needed more space and a search began for the new location. When on a visit to the Verrill estate, President of the Sisters of Mercy of Portland, Mother Mary Evangelist, and Vice President, Mother Mary Edwina, found in the estate’s chapel two most prominent stained glass windows depicted each of their patrons Saints - St. John the Evangelist and St. Edward the Confessor respectively. Mother Evangelist knew that this was a sure sign that the location was intended for the college.

    After purchasing the estate in 1954, the college moved forward with plans to add to the campus. In 1955, the college broke ground on Mercy Hall, the facility which originally housed classrooms, residence for a number of young women, administration offices, and dining facilities. 1955 Groundbreaking for Mercy Hall

    Just one year later and during the Presidency of Sister Mary Carmel Theriault in 1956, the college made the official move to the new Standish campus. Woldbrook Hall was renamed Xavier Hall after Sister Mary Xaveria Toohey. The first Celebration of Mass in the Xavier Hall Chapel was on May 10, and the college was official dedicated on Oct. 16 of that year.

    At the time of the move, the college reinstated its former name of Saint Joseph's College and adopted the new motto Fortitudo et Spes (Courage and Hope).

    1956 Flyer with the change of the college name During the first year in Standish, the student body consisted of 77 students including 17 commuters. Seven Sisters moved to the campus in St. George Hall, and two remained in the Motherhouse in Portland. The two remaining Sisters used an old Ford truck left behind by the Verrill family for their commute.

    The year of 1959 saw the unveiling of two landmarks on campus: the laying of the cornerstone and completion of Saint Joseph’s Hall, and the dedication of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a gift from Msgr. George P. Johnson.

  • 1960s

    Student enrollment in 1960 reached 100, and as the population grew, the college realized the need to expand the Mercy Dining Hall. Construction was completed in 1965 for the then-250 seat cafeteria.

    Nuns at Microsopes In 1961 the college received its first ten-year accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which the college has continued to receive every ten years.  

    Full-time enrollment at the college reached 200 students in 1965. To meet the new needs presented by continued growth, the college once again expanded the Mercy Dining Hall and renovated, landscaped and dedicated the Meditation Chapel below Mercy Hall.

    Mercy Hall in the 1960's The chair of the History Department, Sister Mary de la Salle O'Donnell, became the seventh President on Dec. 11, 1967. During that same year the college purchased 25 acres of the adjacent Marshall property, and formally established the Office for Admissions.

    The year of 1969 saw the beginning of many changes at the college, including the decision to open the college to a co-educational student body. As part of the transition, Sister de la Salle resumed her position as chair of the History Department, and the college appointed its eighth President, Bernard P. Currier, on June 27, 1969.

  • 1970s

    Possibly the two biggest changes during the college's history occurred during the 1970s: the transition to a coeducational institution, and the establishment of the distant education program.

    Students enjoying the Lake When the college opened its doors in the fall of 1970, 85 male students joined the full-time student body, bringing enrollment to 300.

    The transition to a co-educational institution ushered in many other changes around campus: the addition of six townhouse-style residence halls for the new male residents (townhouses A through F), the beginning of athletics at the college, the conversion of the library in Mercy Hall to the college Chapel, the renovation of six classrooms in Mercy Hall into the library, the transfer of administrative offices into Xavier Hall which had formerly been reserved for housing upperclassmen, and in 1971 the renovation of the auditorium in Saint Joseph's Hall into The Chalet. Later in the decade, the college added Townhouses G through R (1974) and dedicated Townhouse G to benefactor Dr. Napoleon Gingras (1977).

    1970 Hon Degree Edmund Muskie In 1970 the college also established the Board of Overseers/ Board of Trustees governing structure, and the Office of Development.

    The college conferred its first honorary degrees at the annual Commencement on May 10, 1970. Among those so honored were the former Maine Governor and U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie and Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

    The college briefly housed 250 Vietnamese refugees until sponsors were found during 1975.

    In 1976, Saint Joseph's introduced distance education to serve the needs of busy adult learners who wanted to earn a degree through off-campus study. Since then, more than 9,400 adult learners from 50 states and 22 countries have earned their degrees from Saint Joseph's.

    After the unexpected passing of President Bernard P. Currier on Christmas Day in 1978, the college appointed Sister Mary Dolores Sablone as the interim President of the college January 1979 until Anthony R. Santoro was appointed the tenth President in July 1979.

  • 1980s

    Some of the signature moments of the college during the 1980s include the dramatic growth of the Distance Education Program, from its start in 1976 to one of the best-developed distance education programs in the country. On-campus student enrollment also grew, hitting 500 in 1985, marking another landmark in the growth of the SJC student population.

    1988 Grads in Cap in Gowns In 1982 and 1983 the college dedicated the Margaret H. Heffernan Center, which includes the Wellehan Library. The building also comprised the Bishop Daniel J. Feeney Auditorium, the Josephine C. Healy Chapel, the Catherine McAuley Foyer and the Celestron 14 telescope, a gift of John Reilly. The Auditorium has been converted to hold the closed stacks of Wellehan Library. The Offices of Student Life and Campus Ministry are now located in the Heffernan Center.

    Other areas of improvement on the campus included the 1982 the conversion of the Mercy Hall library back into classrooms, the development the beachfront, the acquisition of 23 acres of adjacent land for expansion on Westerlea Way, the dedicated the campus radio broadcasting facilities in honor of Sister Mary Dolores Sablone in 1983, the purchase of Marian Hall in 1986, and in 1987 the acquisition of 120 acres of land adjacent to the Gowen property across Whites Bridge Road from the main campus.

    1985 Mad Monk Tournament Photo from Sports Illustrated 1985 brought national attention to the college when SJC was noted in Sports Illustrated magazine for the Mad Monk Tournament held on-campus in the Bernard P. Currier Gymnasium (also known as the "Chamber of Horrors"), between SJC and three other Saint Joseph’s Colleges from Patchogue, New York, Brooklyn, New York, and Rutland, Vermont.

    Loring Hart was named the eleventh President of the college in 1987. Saint Joseph’s was the first college in the State of Maine to have lighted baseball fields in 1987 dedicated in 1985 as the Msgr. Edward F. Ward Field for outdoor sports activities.

  • 1990s

    The 1990s saw continued change on campus, with the on-campus student population reaching 799 by the end of the decade. SJC was recognized as one of the “best buys” for a college education by Money magazine in 1992.

    1990 Commencement Photo During this same decade, the External Degree program was renamed the Distance Education program in 1994, and then the Division of Continuing and Professional Studies in 1998. Enrollment attained an all-time high of 5,000 part-time students enrolled in the program.

    The Campus Ministry office was officially established in 1991 and with it the first Spring-Break service program for students, faculty and staff, as well as the tradition of Mercy Week inaugurated in 1995 to recognize and honor the roots of SJC, the Sisters of Mercy.  The college received a charter endorsing a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity in 1999.

    Another official recognition of our roots in Mercy in 1999 was the establishment of the Office of the Vice President of Sponsorship and Mission Integration. Sister Mary George O’Toole’51, Hon ’90 was the first Vice President in this role and held the office until 2010.

    1993 GPS Student Photo Behind Xavier Hall SJC continued to build on our athletic traditions, established with the move to a co-educational institution in 1970. The college completed the soccer field on Westerlea Way in 1991, and the Harold Alfond Center in 1999.

    Renovations and expansion of college lands continued with the purchase of what is now known as the Honoratus Residence for some Sisters of Mercy on Whites Bridge Road in 1995, the completed construction of Carmel Hall in 1996, and we received the gift of 30 acres from neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Bill Adams in 1993.

    The college became a founding member of the Greater Portland Alliance for Colleges & Universities in 1993, and named Dr. David B. House to the position of President in 1995 making him the 12th.

  • 2000s and beyond

    The first decade of the new millennium brought many new changes to campus. Buildings are perhaps the most visible. The college dedicated: the Bernard P. Currier Residence Hall in 2001, the Bishop Daniel J. Feeney Residence Hall in 2003, the Harold Alfond Hall (academic building) in 2004. It also brought more renovations to keep up with our growing on-campus student population and needs in the Graduate and Professional Studies divison: two renovations to Mercy Hall for faculty offices, classrooms, and dining facilities; and the dedications of the Sister Mary Consuela White Nursing Lab and the Sister Mary Kneeland Dining room.

    Construction of new dorms on campus Less visible changes during this decade include the 2006 memberships of the college in the Conference for Mercy Higher Education and Great Northeast Athletic Conference; the renaming of the Continuing/ Professional Studies division to the Graduate & Professional Studies division in 2000; and the acquisition of the library holdings, furniture and lab equipment from Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont in 2001.

    Dr. E. Joseph Lee was named Interim President in 2007, then was selected as President in 2008. Dr. Lee served the college until 2011, when the college named the Honorable Kenneth Lemanski, J.D., as Interim President. In July of 2012, Dr. James Dlugos became President.

    Ground breaking ceremony for Alfond Hall The college’s dedication to the traditions of the Sisters of Mercy continued with the opening Catherine’s Cupboard Food Pantry for citizens in Standish in 2008, and began an organic farm called the Pearson Town Farm Project in 2009. The pantry is a joint effort of the college; its food service, Bon Appétit; and the Town of Standish.

    SJC dedicated the Larry Mahaney Baseball Diamond, a part of the rededication of the Monsignor Edward F. Ward Park, in 2001. In 2011, the college dedicated the Richard Bailey Softball Field in the same park. The other sport field completed on campus was the field hockey field in 2002.

    To close, we simply say Ad multos annos!