Education was the mission of the first three nuns sent to Spokane by the order of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1888. The sisters’ 125 years of service have mirrored the rapid growth and slow decline of Catholic education and adherence in Spokane.
The nuns taught in the city’s first Catholic grade school. The school survived the great fire of 1889 and later became Our Lady of Lourdes School.
The sisters started their own school, Holy Names Academy, in an impressive four-story edifice on North Superior Street in east Spokane in 1891. They started with 12 students. The school became girls-only a few years after opening.
Girls’ education in that era often focused on home economics or job training for nursing or office work. The Spokesman-Review, in 1896, described the curriculum as “academic, including painting and music.”
By 1902, there were 235 students and the school needed more space. Architects Hermann Preusse and Julius Zittel added wings on each end of the building and a façade with stepped gables in the Dutch Revival style, completed in 1907.
The school received accreditation to be Washington’s first private normal school, for teacher training, that same year. In 1938, the school began offering a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree in education. The Holy Names College was built next door in 1941, creating a campus with several buildings. The college moved to the historic Fort Wright grounds around 1960 and became Fort Wright College of the Holy Names.
The sisters, who had always lived in the school dormitories, built a modern convent on 57 acres along the river off Fort George Wright Drive in 1968.
The high school faced declining enrollment and expensive maintenance of the aging building, and the school on Superior Street closed in 1975. The next year, the all-boys Gonzaga Preparatory School became coeducational. Within a few years, the former school was converted to apartments for the elderly. Merrill Gardens, based in Seattle, operates the campus.
The sisters closed the college and turned the historic campus over to Japan’s Mukogawa Women’s University, which created the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in 1990.
The college mission lives on through Heritage University, a nonsectarian institution that grew out of the Holy Names branches in Omak and Toppenish, Washington, in 1982. The university campus is in Toppenish and has partnerships with community colleges around the state.
The sisters’ emphasis on arts is carried on at the Holy Names Music Center for all ages on the Mukogawa campus.
Recently, the nuns in the Spokane convent announced they will be moving to a retirement center and leaving their riverside property for nature conservation and low-income housing through Catholic Charities.
– Jesse Tinsley
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.