Gonzaga College in Spokane welcomes its first students on September 17, 1887.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 3/01/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8101
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On September 17, 1887, Gonzaga College, later to become Gonzaga University, opens on a muddy campus just east of downtown Spokane after seven years of planning, fundraising, and construction. On that first day, only seven students are enrolled -- they are outnumbered more than two-to-one by the Jesuit faculty. Enrollment will grow to 18 students as the school year progresses The school year is launched the way every school year will be launched from them on, with a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

In 1880, Jesuit missionary Father Joseph Cataldo (1837-1928) conceived a plan to open a school for the most promising boys from the Jesuit's Indian missions in the Rockies and the Northwest. However, by opening day, Cataldo's vision had been abandoned. All seven students were white boys, aged 10 to 17, from California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

Several had arrived several weeks early and had been put to work tending the primitive campus's cows, horses, and vegetable garden. The college itself consisted of one  three-story building, which the local newspaper called "unquestionably the most commanding and imposing one in the Northwest," containing classrooms, dormitories, a chapel, faculty rooms, faculty lodgings, and a basement recreation room.

Discipline was strict from the beginning. The boys' normal routine went like this: 5:30 a.m., rise and wash; 6 a.m., morning prayers and Mass; 6:30 a.m., studies; 7:30 a.m., breakfast; 8:15 a.m., class; 10 a.m., recess; 10:15 a.m., class; 11:15  a.m., music or other optional studies; noon, dinner and recreation; 1:30 p.m. studies; 2 p.m., class; 3:45 p.m., lunch and recreation; 4:30 p.m., studies; 6:15 p.m., supper and recreation; 7 p.m., studies and reading; 8:30 p.m., night prayers, retire. This was the routine even on Saturdays, although the boys did get Sundays and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off.

Three days after the school's opening, Father Joset, a Jesuit missionary, arrived with two Indian boys and tried to register them. They were turned away: The school, they were told, was exclusively for "American" boys.

Sources: Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., Gonzaga University: Seventy-five Years, 1887-1962 (Spokane: Gonzaga University, 1963).

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