History of Saint Mary's College

Founding St. Marys

  • As early as 1835, Jesuits had been working with the Indians in southeastern Kansas. In 1838, the Trail of Tears relocated the Pottawattamie Indians to southeastern Kansas, settling at Sugar Creek.  St. Philippine Duschene and her Ladies of the Sacred Heart, at the insistence of Fr. Pierre de Smet, arrived to help the Jesuits in their work with the Indians on the Midwest prairie.
  • In 1848, the mission moved from Sugar Creek to present day St. Marys. This location on the Oregon Trail was chosen as offering a more spacious and healthier location. The Jesuits and the Sacred Heart Sisters persevered through many hardships, and founded both a boys’ school and girls’ school for the Indians. Even during the upheaval of the Civil War, this work of education continued to thrive.

St. Mary’s College: A Jesuit College and Seminary

  • Because of an increasing flood of white immigrants, Indians gradually disappeared from the area. This led the Jesuit superiors to realize that St. Mary's Mission must change its orientation. They started preparing for the next great work, a boys’ college.
  • By 1873 St. Mary’s College was thriving and was at its height by 1930. Bachelor’s degrees were given for Arts, Science, and Philosophy. In the areas of academics and sports, the College developed an excellent reputation. College life teamed with many fruits, including numerous societies, a band, an orchestra and debating and drama clubs.
  • The curriculum of St. Mary's College -- then as now -- was the liberal arts. It was laid upon the principles of the "Ratio Studiorum," the body of rules, elaborated by centuries of experience. To quote the Dial publication concerning the studies pursued in the College, "It is not the object of the College to train specialists, but to develop all the mental and moral facilities of the students by means of a liberal [arts] education."
  • Over the years St. Mary’s College produced many notable alumni, such as Fr. Francis Finn, author of the Tom Playfair series; Gutzon Borglum, the future designer / sculptor of Mount Rushmore; Charles Cominskey, "Father of American Baseball" and founder of the Chicago White Sox; Spencer Tracy; Lieutenant William Fitzsimmons, the first US Officer to die in the First World War; and Kenton Kilmer, son of Joyce Kilmer.
  • In 1931 St. Mary’s College became a seminary, focusing on the crucial last phase of Jesuit priests’ Theological training. By 1967 more than 1000 priests will have been ordained in the campus chapel, the Immaculata.
  • Due to the smaller numbers and lack of resources, the ravaging effects of the modernism sweeping through the world, the seminary closed in summer 1967 and the Jesuits moved back to St. Louis.

St. Mary’s: The Doors Reopen

  • From 1972 to 1978, the Jesuits sold or leased the campus property to various local and national businesses — the McCall's pattern company even used the old Jesuit Refectory (now Assumption Chapel) as a warehouse.
  • On May 22, 1978, encouraged by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, St. Mary’s Campus was purchased by the SSPX. That summer volunteers and families arrived from all over the country to help with the tremendous clean-up and repair work to be done on the neglected property.
  •  The first academic school year of the St. Mary’s Academy began September 12, 1978. A month later the iconic Immaculata was almost fully destroyed in an electric fire.  In spite of the tragedy, campus and the community continued to explode with life once again, a life centered around the Traditional Roman Catholic Liturgy.
  • 1981 sees the first graduating class of SMA, and also the first academic year of St. Mary’s College, SMC.

From 1981 to the present-day SMC has undergone several changes: but to this day College students and faculty are heirs of a proud tradition. They are grateful to have inherited an ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary together with such a rich cultural, historical, and academic Catholic history from predecessors charged by missionary charity and fervent with the desire “to restore all things in Christ”. What the Jesuits of old wanted is still what SMC stands for: “Oportet Eum Regnare!” He must reign!