The College Of St. Benedict Began – On ‘This Date In Central Minnesota History’
ST. JOSEPH - August 25th, 1913 – College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph begins fall of 1913. Pauline Mischow was the first college girl to arrive on August 25th.
In June of 1857, four Benedictine sisters made the trek from Pennsylvania to the frontier of Minnesota, just before it became the 32nd state in the Union. They originally settled in St. Cloud and opened a frontier school to support the growing German population in the area. As Minnesota grew towards the northwest, the sisters saw an opportunity they couldn’t resist. So in 1893 they moved to St. Joseph and began laying the groundwork for what would become the College of Saint Benedict.
When the sisters arrived in St. Joseph they began to plan a college that girls could attend to become teachers. By 1905, the plans were finalized and the development phase began, and the first of the buildings on campus were contracted for in 1911. Then in 1913, the college opened its doors for the first time with a small but dedicated staff. The first student graduated in 1917 (although she was a transfer student and only attended St. Ben’s for 1 year), followed by the first graduating class in 1918.
By 1926 the college had slightly less than 100 students enrolled, but it continued to grow as more programs were added and the campus increased in size. In 1932 Sister Claire Lynch became the dean and began to modernize the college, adding new programs, accepting more students, and getting the college admitted to the North Central Association. She started a commuter bus program to help students from St. Cloud get to the college, giving more students the opportunity to attend St. Ben’s.
In 1942 enrollment was up to 191 students, and the community of sisters was growing as well. By 1947, the group of Benedictine sisters living in the area became the largest such group in the world when it peaked at around 1200 individuals. This strong support system solidified the College’s position as a leading school in the Midwest.
The College of St. Benedict wasn’t alone as the only school in the area; St. John’s University was just a few miles away and was the all boys version of St. Ben’s. The two schools hadn’t done a lot together in the past, but in 1955 the two came together to offer adult classes in St. Cloud. The program was a success, with starting enrollment at 110 that expanded to 366 in 1959, the last year the classes were offered. During the six years the classes were offered, St. Ben’s was able to increase their enrollment to over 400 students and add more dormitories.
During the 1970’s, St. Ben’s had a period of immense growth, doubling and nearly tripling its enrollment. From then on, the College of St. Benedict has become America’s only Benedictine College for Women and is now rated as the #1 Catholic College for Women in the U.S.
In 1989 St. Benedict’s Convent and the College of St. Benedict were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The “This Date In Central Minnesota History” piece was written for WJON by Stearns History Museum volunteer Spencer Brown.