Fifty years ago, Mount St. Michael was a self-contained city, far from its current use as a pastoral abode.
During the mid-20th century, the mountain was home to Jesuit brothers and seminarians from Gonzaga University, who were served by tailors, bakers, cobblers, bee keepers and gardeners.
The Rev. Joseph Cataldo, the Jesuit who founded Gonzaga, bought almost 1,000 acres in 1881 for $2.60 per acre. Between 1881 and 1915, the site was used by Gonzaga Jesuits as a farm supplying the college.
Overcrowding at the college forced the Jesuits to look north for a site for a new scholasticate and construction of the four-story, brick building began in 1915. More than 2.5 million bricks were used, at a cost of about $400,000.
To transport supplies up the 320-foot western bluff, priests had a small railroad built directly up its face.
“St. Michael’s was, perhaps, one of the finest Jesuit houses of study in the world,” said one Jesuit, quoted in a historical essay.
A wing was added for students and a library in 1929, turning the “T” shaped building into an “F”. The Jesuits slowly filled a cemetary to the north of the building.
The compound remained a Jesuit scholasticate until 1968, when pinched finances forced the priests to move to the Gonzaga campus.
It operated briefly as a retreat center, and several commercial developers eyed the property. Envoys from the USSR, visiting during Expo 74, considered buying Mount St. Michael and turning it into a compound for Russian immigrants.
In 1977, members of the Tridentine Latin Rite Church bought the 700-acre site, including buildings, for $1.5 million.
The church, now affiliated with Mary the Immaculate Queen, added an outbuilding for priests, and sold 300 acres to parishioners and for operating cash.
The chapel, located on the second floor, was remodeled in 1991. The church bought several alters from a Wisconsin orphanage, and repainted the dozens of statues. A statue of St. Michael impaling a writhing, horned Satan holds a place of honor, in the front right of the chapel.
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