Mount St. Joseph University at “100”: Celebrating our Founders and Legacy

Photographs of Sisters Maria Corona Molloy (left) and Leonita Mulhall (right). Both Sisters were on the founding faculty of the College of Mount St. Joseph. All images are courtesy of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati via Ohio Memory.

In September 1920, the College of Mount St. Joseph received its first group of students. The establishment of the College had long been the hope of the Sisters of Charity. Pioneers as they are in the field of Catholic education and eager to keep pace with advancing times and changing conditions, they sensed the necessity of the higher education of women…Enrollment of seventeen names, from widely scattered places, was the hopeful response to the new effort which they had launched. (Mounting Yearbook, 1924)

This summer, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati archives was able to digitize published resources from the College of Mount St. Joseph and the Good Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing through an Ohio Archives Grant received from the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board. Given the extreme rarity of these publications, having these resources available in a digital format through Ohio Memory will be invaluable to so many, especially in the next year as we celebrate the centennial anniversary of Mount St. Joseph University. Through this article, we hope to provide potential users with some context to the publications as well as the institutions from which they emanated. Please also take some time to review the extensive collection of photographs and Seton Journal student newspapers that have been uploaded by the MSJU library team from the University’s archival collections.

Title page for the 1924 Mountings yearbook for the College of Mount St. Joseph. Click on the image to view a tailored search of all the yearbooks digitized through this project.

The College of Mount St. Joseph can trace its roots back to the Mount St. Joseph Academy, a boarding high school operated out of the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse beginning in 1906. For many years, the Academy had been offering a year of post-graduate courses, chiefly for students intending to continue their studies in college or for those pursuing teaching licenses. In 1918, one student from Indiana found that her state would not grant a teaching license due to unverified postgraduate credits. Sister Leonita Mulhall served as the Director of the Academy at the time and oversaw the application process with the state; she would eventually serve as the first Dean of the College. After a series of inspections and observations of the program beginning in 1919, the Academy was officially accredited by January 1920. However, during this process, one of the inspectors felt that the Sisters had the faculty and organizational structure in place to pursue a charter for the establishment of a 4-year college. This suggestion was heeded and a charter was drafted and presented to the Ohio legislature and approved on February 26, 1920. The Sisters accepted their first group of students the following September, operating the college in the same section of the Motherhouse as the Academy. Many of the early Sister faculty taught classes at both institutions, but it is noted that Sister Maria Corona Molloy was considered “exclusive” to the College given her role as Registrar and head of the Mathematics and Science departments. She would eventually serve as Dean of the College for 34 years beginning in 1933. The 1924 “annual” or yearbook describes the unique experiences of students and faculty in the formative years of the college, culminating with a list of the first graduating class. A collection of yearbooks from 1924 to 1931 are now available, brimming with scenic photos of the Motherhouse campus and ample information about the students, faculty, and programs or “clubs” available. For local historians, the advertisement sections located at the end of the later yearbooks are definitely worth a perusal!

Throughout this period nursing education was in transition, and formal education rather than hospital duty received more attention. As part of this trend, Good Samaritan School of Nursing affiliated with the College of Mount St. Joseph. A five- year program leading to a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing Education was created and yielded its first graduates in 1933. (Good Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing: celebrating a century of nursing excellence, 1996)

Excerpt from Good Samaritan School of Nursing in Story and Picture. Click to view a tailored search for both volumes of this work.

Good Samaritan School of Nursing in Story and Picture was originally a two-volume scrapbook that was compiled by Sister Rosanna Barker. It traces the history of the School of Nursing from its foundation in 1896 through 1970. Although the volumes do not include much textual description, the documents and photographs included work to weave together the story of the students and Sisters as well as the progression of the program, especially in conjunction with World War I and World War II. Good Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing: celebrating a century of nursing excellence was written by Sister Judith Metz and published by the School of Nursing in honor of its centennial anniversary. Its rich chronological historical narrative serves as an excellent companion to Sister Rosanna’s works. These volumes were selected for digitization this year also for their ability to shed light on the collaboration between the School of Nursing and the College of Mount St. Joseph. In 1928, in response to the transition in nursing education from formal training over standard hospital duty, the School of Nursing affiliated with the College of Mount St. Joseph resulting in the creation of a five-year program leading to a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing Education. Students in this program spent their first two years at the college and their summers at the hospital. They then moved to the hospital for two and a half years of clinical education before returning to the college for the final semester. This program was later phased out in favor of a traditional four-year Bachelor of Science degree track in 1949.

It is a particular pleasure to see Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio start this new building program…Not many things are more stirring than to witness new life, and we have here the opportunity to see a college operated by a dedicated order, the Sisters of Charity, whose interest in education is older than any of us present, begin a new childhood. In doing this it will take along their years of experience in teaching truths that are older than man, and bring them to the service of us all. – Kelly Y. Siddall, Procter and Gamble (Mountings, Spring 1960)

Cover photograph of Mother Mary Omer Downing “turning the earth” at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new College of Mount St. Joseph campus. Dr. Vincent A. Orlando, faculty coordinator, and Sister Maria Corona Molloy, president, are also featured in the background.

The newsletter Mountings was initially published for alumnae of the College beginning in 1955. The samplings digitized for this project show the progression of the institution’s current campus from architectural drawing to its dedication! Archbishop Karl J. Alter presided over the groundbreaking ceremony on March 19, 1960. At that time, he saluted the Sisters for preparing for the expected influx of enrollments and for taking on this multimillion-dollar construction project without an endowment. Construction continued on the campus for the ensuing two years. Meanwhile, the College continued to operate out of two small sections of the Motherhouse building. The last graduation at the Motherhouse occurred on June 2, 1962. That fall, the new campus was officially open and a new era in the College’s history had been realized.

When those of you who taught on the old campus rejoiced at the completion of these new buildings, your main joy and satisfaction, I am sure, was in the fact that Sister Maria Corona’s dream of many years had at last become a reality. However great a tribute these buildings are to her foresight and planning, more important still are the educational strides which the College of Mount St. Joseph has made over the past 47 years. These can be credited, in large measure, to Sister Maria Corona and her complete dedication to the cause of Catholic education on the college level.” – Mother Mary Omer Downing, SC (Mountings, Summer 1967)

The Mountings collections ends with the retirement of Sister Maria Corona Molloy after 47 years of service to the College, a fitting capstone to this progressive and industrious era in the institution’s history. Sister Maria Corona died just three years following her retirement, but her obituary in The Catholic Telegraph succinctly captures her legacy: “She will be remembered not only in the Cincinnati Archdiocese…, but also wherever Mount St. Joseph graduates and their husbands and children gather, and wherever the history of Catholic education in America is recounted.”


Thank you to Veronica Buchanan, Congregational Archivist at the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, for this week’s post! 

For more information about the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati archives, or to schedule an appointment to view more materials from the Mount St. Joseph University or Good Samaritan Hospital collections, please visit https://www.srcharitycinti.org/who-we-are/archives/.

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