In 1905 St Catherine University opened its doors for the very first time. This move was part of a larger movement of women’s colleges, today a small handful of these original homes of learning exists.

In 1905 this place of learning for women was rather revolutionary for its time. In 1905 women did not have the right to vote. In 1905 women’s paths in life were rather limited; you could marry a man and start a family or join a group of women religious like the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. For the women that attended St. Kate’s this would be a haven of learning.

The following words of wisdom come from Sister Antonia, our first University president. Sister Antonia would be a powerful force at St. Kate’s until her death in 1937. Also included is a selection of quotes from the earliest groups of students who help to paint a picture of life at St. Kate’s in its original days.


Throwing Shade Respectfully

Sister Antonia excelled at respectfully calling people out. She refused to be taken slightly and demanded the university be treated with respect. She worked tirelessly to build up the reputation of the university and to grow it steadily.


“I delayed answering your letter because I felt a bit annoyed.” Sister Antonia in a letter in 1917.

Sister Antonia with a group of St. Kate’s first students in 1905. Students are following the dress code of white blouses and long black skirts.

“I realize fully that no priest would willingly tell a falsehood, and I know that there must be some explanation for this matter.” Sister Antonia in a letter in 1928


Walking like a Queen

Sister Antonia was not only a leader but also a mentor and professor to her students. Those that knew her all recall the way she carried herself. Sister Antonia was a force to be reckoned with and a “mover and shaker” on campus. She had a unique presence on campus and unique relationship with her students and staff.

“When I recall that indomitable lady, then Dean of the college during my time, I remember she carried herself like a queen…” Regina Nolan Connars class of 1930


“I was very greatly impressed with her because she was very dynamic; she was very kind, she was cordial, she made us feel at home.” Sister Eucharistia Galvin in 1974


Radiating Respect

Sister Antonia’s presence on campus was remarkable. She could both instill fear in her students and go tobogganing with them. She possessed a remarkable set of qualities and was a beloved figure on campus.


“Although she was very firm, courageous and fearless in carrying out all her plans for the College and its future, still she had a heart. She was kind and sympathetic and motherly. Everybody loved her. Although she was firm and demanding, still you respected her for it. You knew she was a true person, and she had a great dream.” Sister Laurena McLaughlin in 1974

“Well, it seems to me that I certainly knew from the minute I set my foot here that she was the most important one on the campus. She was the one I loved most, feared most, respected most, and she certainly was running things. There was no doubt about who was running the school or who was running the students.” Sister Marie Philip Haley in 1973


Education First

The education Sister Antonia provided would last these women a lifetime. Due to the hard work of Sister Antonia and the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet they would open countless doors for young women and teach them about the world.


“…she taught us a great deal about life and living, and the values of a liberal arts education.” Sister James Agnes Fogarty in 1974


“She was a woman who was very intelligent herself, and she tried to impart anything she could on you. She wanted you to study and make something out of yourself. Many times in the classroom, while she petted me outside of the classroom, she was strict with me in the class. She would say to me, ‘You little goose! The Lord gave you brains, make use of them.’” Catherine Hughes Youngquist in 1974

Dolly the campus horse used to bring the local priest to campus and was an important fixture to campus in its earliest days.

Today we enjoy the product of Sister Antonia’s hard work. We have a space that is designed just for us and a faculty and staff that demand hard work and care deeply about their students. The liberal arts education is still highly valued and the center of our time here. The only thing that has changed is we don’t go tobogganing down the hill with the university president.


“Mother Antonia wanted to toboggan with us, but she was afraid to go out, knowing that I guided a toboggan for a group she asked me one day whether I would take her. I did so, but the girls who rode with me tricked me. … They swayed in the opposite direction and overturned the toboggan, Mother Antonia and all. She carried a wealth of things in her pocket, and scissors, oranges and a variety of things spilled over the hillside.” Marie Hodapp in 1981

For more photos visit the digital collections site:

*The quotes used in this story all come from Alumnae Reminisces and Oral Histories housed in the St. Catherine University Archives and Special Collections. Photographs courtesy of the St. Catherine University Archives and Special Collections

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