The Sisters of Providence establish St. Vincent's Academy in Walla Walla on February 18, 1864.

  • By Michael J. Paulus Jr.
  • Posted 8/18/2010
  • Essay 9517
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On February 18, 1864, at the request of John Baptist Abraham Brouillet (1813-1884), who has oversight of Roman Catholic St. Patrick's Church in Walla Walla, three Sisters of Providence arrive to establish St. Vincent's Female Academy at the church. Construction of a two-story building for the school and a convent is still underway, but planning begins for opening the school. The unfinished building will be dedicated on Sunday, February 28, registration will occur on Monday, and classes will begin on Tuesday. The school will quickly grow and a hospital, St. Mary's, will emerge out of it in 1879. During the twentieth century, St. Vincent's will become part of a comprehensive parochial system in Walla Walla.

Persuasion and Providence

In 1862, John Baptist Abraham Brouillet became administrator of St. Patrick’s Church in Walla Walla, a church that had been established a few years earlier and grew quickly with the town. Among Brouillet’s first ambitions, in addition to constructing a new building for the church, was establishing a school. In 1863, he traveled to Vancouver to ask Mother Joseph (1823-1902), who had established the first Roman Catholic school in the Northwest, to establish a school in Walla Walla. She visited Walla Walla and was convinced that the town would become important.

Brouillet raised some $7,000 to build the school and a convent and in February 1864 three Sisters of Providence arrived in Walla Walla to begin the work of establishing an academy. The two-story building that Brouillet had constructed was not yet completed, but it was dedicated anyway on Sunday, February 28. The next day, March 1, registration opened and classes began on Tuesday. The school was christened St. Vincent’s Female Academy, but boys under the age of 10 were accepted. Instruction included English, needlework, and embroidery, with optional opportunities to study French and music as well. Fees were $10 for an 11-week quarter and students had to obtain their own books. By March 12, 45 students were in regular attendance at the academy. Construction was completed in September and the school began to receive boarders.

An Expanding Mission

Soon after St. Vincent’s opened, Brouillet attempted to establish a separate school, St. Joseph’s, for boys. But this school did not remain open for long. Boys enrolled at St. Vincent’s until a boys school, the Le Salle Institute, finally opened in 1897. So more sisters and studies had to be added at St. Vincent’s, and the school became one of the largest private institutions in Walla Walla.

The sisters who taught at St. Vincent’s also helped the sick in the community, and eventually they began admitting patients to the academy. Soon a separate facility was needed, and in 1879 St. Mary’s Hospital opened in a new, three-story brick building next to the academy. This building proved to be too small for the hospital, and in 1883 it became the academy’s building. A new hospital was erected on the site of the academy’s initial building. St. Vincent’s took in boy students again in 1920, when the Le Salle Institute closed, and received high school accreditation in 1922. The name was eventually dropped as it became integrated into a comprehensive parochial school system in Walla Walla.

Sources: Anna Clare Duggar, Catholic Institutions of the Walla Walla Valley, 1847-1950 (MA Thesis, Seattle University, 1953); Wilfred Schoenberg, A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest, 1743-1983 (Washington, D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1987); Wilfred Schoenberg, A Pictorial History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Ore.: Knights of Columbus, 1996).

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