By Stephanie Plowman
Special Collections Librarian
SPOKANE, Wash. – The 1890-91 academic year at Gonzaga College, its fourth, began on Sept. 5. At that time, students had to be at least age 10 and able to read and write. On that first day of school, 11 faculty and officers greeted 38 students (36 boarders and two day students). More students were admitted during the school year and by year’s end enrollment totaled 62 students. The total cost for board and tuition for 10 months was $250.
Among the societies students could join were: the Sodality of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; St. John Berchmans Acolytical Society; St. Cecilia Philharmonic Society, and the Gonzaga Debating Society.
Neither a student newspaper nor a yearbook had begun to document campus life. The best sources were the “1890-1891 College Catalogue” and the “Minister’s House Diary,” which offered a daily handwritten account of both the Jesuits’ and students’ activities. (The diary is held in the Jesuits’ Oregon Province Archives in the Foley Library.) The diary documented the daily comings and goings of the Jesuit priests who were offering Masses on campus and in the local area. Gonzaga’s founder Rev. Joseph Cataldo, S.J., is mentioned frequently in the diary as he spent much time on campus.
On April 28, 1891, the diary described how Father Cataldo brought in a giant bull snake and immediately put it in alcohol to be placed in Gonzaga’s museum.
A month earlier, on March 29, 1891, the diary detailed news of 11 students being notified they had been chosen to depart for DeSmet Mission in Plummer, Idaho the next day to begin their novitiate, which marks the beginning of their training to become a Jesuit.
This news was met with great excitement by the school, as the diary noted: “Hence for a moment a great excitement. Some could hardly believe that such ‘happy news’ were true.” The next morning the remaining students gathered to wish them well.
There were mentions throughout the House Diary that shed light on the daily life of Gonzaga pupils. On April 25, 1891, the Gonzaga baseball club beat the Spokane University Club 6-3. As a reward, the diary stated, all students were served coffee at supper along with extra dessert. On May 7, the Gonzaga baseball club invited the same team to a rematch; the offer was declined. As noted in the diary, the Spokane club players “were unwilling to expose themselves to another defeat.”
Since most students lived on campus, they did not leave campus for holidays or breaks until the end of the school year. On Christmas Day, the Gonzaga College Choir awoke students at 4:30 a.m. with a rendition of “Adestes Fideles” to start the day. The normal waking hour was 5:45 a.m. The next day, the students walked to St. Michael’s Mission for a picnic lunch.
Gonzaga President Rev. John B. Rene, S.J., was installed as vice rector of the College at noon on April 2, and students were given the rest of the day off; 25 went on an excursion to the Little Spokane River and returned at 6 p.m. Later that month, President Rene declared all students were off-limits for anyone to call on them from 5:15-6:15 p.m. so they would have at least one hour a day for quiet study. Music lessons and practice also were banned.
To celebrate the end of the school year on May 14, 1891, all pupils went to Loon Lake for the day. President Rene surprised the students when he announced the excursion that morning. After the two-hour train ride, they played baseball, went shooting, swinging, and boating. They ate roast beef, ham, cakes, candies, oranges, and lemonade. A few of the students’ mothers helped serve the food. A newspaper clipping attached to the diary described the outing in detail.
Closing exercises were held on June 23, 1891 at the Academy of the Holy Names. Although there were no college students graduating, the program included senior students’ critical essays about epic poets, musical interludes by the choir, a play called “The Hidden Gem,” a violin solo by Robert Monaghan, who would leave Gonzaga that year to go to West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. Annual awards and prizes were given to students as well.