Seattle College grew out of Seattle's first Jesuit parish and school, Immaculate Conception, established in 1891. Although aspiring to be a four-year institution of higher education, Seattle College chiefly functioned as a high school in its early years. Chronic underfunding frustrated plans for development of its original First Hill campus, and so College president Joseph Tomkin, SJ, eagerly sought alternative facilities.
A Blessed Bargain
On the evening of February 21, 1919, Tomkin received a telephone call from retired cannery owner Thomas C. McHugh and Fr. John McHugh, SJ, (no relation), pastor of St. Joseph's Parish. They had learned that Adelphia College was about to default on a $45,000 mortgage to its Interlaken campus and two newer classroom buildings. The three men inspected the 14-acre site that evening and agreed to try to buy it.
Adelphia College was a Swedish Baptist school and seminary founded in 1905. The campus was developed on the site of an early Catholic cemetery, Holy Cross, but Diocese later abandoned the site as too soggy and remote from the city center. Adelphia purchased the property, but poor enrollment and internal disputes closed the school during World War I.
Now Seattle Prep
Seattle Bishop Edmund O'Dea initially opposed Seattle College's relocation, which would place the Jesuit institution in the middle of an existing Diocesan parish. Jesuit Provincial (regional administrator) Fr. Francis Dillon, SJ, prevailed and Thomas McHugh donated $50,000 to assume the mortgage on March 12, 1919. Seattle College classes began in the new campus in September, and the Bishop graciously officiated at the school's formal dedication on December 7.
Seattle College attempted to offer both high school and college courses on the campus, but upper class members resented commingling with younger students. In 1930, the college program was separated and sent back to its original First Hill campus. The high school was formally rededicated as Seattle Preparatory School under its own Jesuit administration on December 7, 1933.