Thursday, September 23, 2010

From log hut to Brady Hall

FOR THE ARCHITECTURE TOUR I'm leading next month, I've been poking around records, photographs, blueprints and beautiful Brady Hall itself, a remarkable structure that served as the entire College between 1931 and 1939.

I must have had architecture on the brain when I came across this illustration of the Sisters of St. Joseph's first building in America in 1836, a log hut in Carondelet, Mo., from whence the congregation takes its name. The tiny new St. Joseph's Convent, perched on a bluff between the Mississippi River and miles of virgin woods, consisted of a stool, two mattress covers, a table and three chairs. A nearby hut (similarly underfurnished) served as a school room for the local village kids.

From small starts do mighty things grow. You can trace the lineage of that log cabin down to Brady Hall, which in its early days was equally utilitarian, providing dorms, dining hall, classrooms, science labs, student lounges, library, chapel and convent under its pantiled roof.

On April 20, 1836, one Sister Philomene wrote back to the motherhouse in France describing their new foundation in cautiously optimistic tones. She concluded, "We are doing our best and trusting in God." It's that same mindset, charism, or whatever you want to call it, that built Brady Hall, and everything else the Carondelets have accomplished in the 175 years since they first occupied the log cabin.

(The illustration and quote come from The Living Fountain: The story of Mother St. John Fontbonne, by Sister Mary Dolorosa Mannix, CSJ, with illustrations by Sister Francis Louise Russell, CSJ. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing Co., 1951.)

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