SCN Archivist Kathy Hertel-Baker shares the following information on Sacred Heart Academy in Klamath Falls, Oregon:
The following account of the SCN mission in Klamath Falls was written by James Maria Spillane, SCN
In 1916 Father H.J. Marshall, pastor of Sacred Heart Church and Bishop Charles J. O’Reilly, Bishop of Baker City, Oregon, “visited Nazareth and begged for our sisters” to teach in Klamath Falls, Oregon — called Klamath for the tribes of Indians living there.
Mother Rose Meagher, soon after took a trip to Oregon to investigate possible sites for a hospital and a school. As a result, on September 3, 1917, eight SCNs set out to a “country of endless wonders” where “everything grows big,” to open a Catholic high school and grade school, in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
The first eight sisters were SCNs Beatrice Durbin, Suzanne Bearcliff, Jamesina Joyce, George Maria Rapp, Leo Monahan, Mary Lamberta Beaven, Angelica Lohmann, and Mary Ligouri Foley. Sister Margaret Mary Schwartz came in 1919, and Sister Maxima Glynn in 1923.
The pioneers left Louisville by train and arrived in Klamath Falls five days later on September 8. In those days, Kentuckians considered the West “wild and woolly,” although westerners themselves considered it “golden.” The eight Sisters wrote in 1917: “The road from the train station in Weed, Oregon, was bleak enough to be sure, and we found much of the poetry going out of our lives, though no one owned up to such a state of affairs, – nothing but neglected lumber camps, rocky and barren wastes. But suddenly, these gave way in time to ranches and lo! in the distance, a beautiful lake, Lake Klamath; then the lights of Klamath Falls appeared.
We had a royal welcome. A supper was ready for us that first day, and when we got to the church, the pastor, Father Marshall, had benediction. The altar and all the surroundings bespoke poverty. Two candlesticks were the only ornaments, but the consolation of having the Blessed Sacrament with us can be better imagined than described. After Mass we learned that we were to begin teaching school September 10, two days after our arrival.
“Fifty pupils were enrolled at Sacred Heart Academy the first day, including eleven boarders. So busy were we that Christmas came before we knew it. But what a difference from Nazareth! There were about a half dozen people in the church. All was quiet. It was just an ordinary Mass with no singing. When we came home, we went behind our bed curtains and had a good, homesick cry. But the next Christmas! The church was packed. It was a big celebration! The people seemed to want the Sisters there and they were so happy to have a school.
“That next year, the enrollment had doubled. We took both boy and girl boarders. The girls slept in a dormitory in our convent attic. We had no place for the boys, so Father said he was going to make a place for them. He had difficulty in getting workmen to build an addition, so the Sisters ‘exercised their skill in the art of carpentry.’ Father and our janitor, Mr. Jim, worked on the outside, and we on the inside. We’d put a board in place, and they’d nail it on.
“This ‘shack’ was built adjoining the convent, with the boys’ dormitory on the upper floor. Downstairs was the refectory. Before it was occupied, a heavy rain showed us its defects — leaks everywhere. However, leaking or not, it was used for about three years. In September 1919, an increase in the number of Sisters, boarders and day pupils caused Father Marshall to decide to erect a larger academy, so a new building was begun. The Sisters and pupils moved into the new building in 1921, but the workmen continued plastering until later in that year.
“The house and the school that they built was lovely outside. There were two wings connected by the wing of the convent. There wasn’t money enough to finish it so on the inside it was only rafters without plastering. Sister Mary Ligouri, a great carpenter, built a chemistry room with ample shelves to store equipment. She had also arranged to acquire all the books required by the state for the library.”
Sister Maxima, in speaking of her mission at the Falls, explained: “There were more Indians than any other students. The class that I had was either Indian, or half Indian. They were dressed in the finest of clothes like the American children, but their parents still had the shawl and the feathers. They kept to themselves, and lived a little bit to the north of Klamath Falls on a reservation which consisted of about one million acres beside Klamath Lake at the base of the Cascade Mountains. It was created by a treaty between the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooshkin band of Snakes and the Federal government in 1861.”
“For recreation,” Sister Angelica told a group of Sisters later, “sometimes we would take a hike, and take some of the boarders with us. If the children wanted to go up to the mountains on a Saturday, they would go around to the Sisters they wanted. They’d come and ask you on Friday night, ‘Would you go to the mountains with us tomorrow, Sister?’ “We, of course, said Yes.”
“So they’d say, Iet us clean the class room and you Sisters go get your bedrooms cleaned so we can go early.”
“They liked to be outside, so we’d climb up those mountain paths and pick all kinds of flowers. We cooked coffee and hot dogs over a fire made with sagebrush. We’d leave very early and would be gone until maybe four in the afternoon. Once we also visited Crater Lake and in the summer months some of us went to school in Portland, Oregon.”
One of the women who lived on the reservation and who sent her two daughters to Sacred Heart Academy asked Sister Angelica a and Sister Maxima to couch her children for two weeks during the summer. The Sisters explained, “She paid our way, and two of us went up to the camp she operated during the summer for hunters and fishermen. It was in the mountains along a cold, fresh-water stream with about six tents. We would go out there and live in one of the tents. All had wooden floors to prevent dampness and were raised up off the ground.
“We would sit outside on the grass and give her children their lessons. When the lessons were over, they would go horseback riding, and we would go into the main house and talk to their mother. Sometimes, we went fishing and horseback riding also, and in the evenings we would sit around the campfire. At 9 p.m. we’d put the fire out and go to our tent. Sometimes we would hear coyotes calling outside, and one night we saw a porcupine in the tree over our tent. We were right out in the wild.
“The Klamaths lived in tents all summer long. They gathered berries during the summer time and travelled higher up on the mountains. They preserved and canned the berries right there for the winter time. Ordinarily, however, they didn’t live in tents; they had nice homes.”
Changing the subject, Sister Angelica said, “We had a wonderful character in our janitor.” His name was Jim O’Brian, and he told me one day that he got all his education from the Jesuits. When I said, ‘Jim, I didn’t know you were with the Jesuits in school!’
“He said, ‘Oh, I was their janitor, and I learned everything they had on the board before I erased it.'”
The Sisters described him in a letter they wrote to Mother Rose shortly after their arrival in Klamath Falls: “A word about Mr. Jim, S. Jamesina’s namesake. Well, he is an erratic somebody who is the sworn friend of the Sisters. Father Marshall says if the Sisters want anything, Jim goes running, but if Father wants a thing, Jim takes his time.
“Mr. Jim is a great lover of poetry. When we enter the school rooms we often find our desks decorated with a glass of sweet peas – large beauties, the likes of which you have never seen. Then when one least expects it, Mr. Jim turns up with a request to see the ‘Sister S’perior.’ His mission? Why to hand her an envelope containing clippings of poems which must be read for the Sisters.
“He went downtown the other day and returned with a present for the teachers – a pencil box and a ruler. Sometimes his present takes the form of ‘real Japanese tea,’ done up in true Japanese style.
“Mr. Jim’s last present was somewhat disconcerting: a squalling young kitten which was instantly relegated to the back yard, and if that cat had any lung disease, it would be a miracle. Mr. Jim, too, is very particular about ‘sonatary’ requirements – he has a bottle of ‘pneumonia’ for all cleaning purposes; to say nothing of the ‘magnolia’ on the kitchen floor, and the ‘radicators’ in the school room.”
During the last school year the SCNs were at Sacred Heart Academy, four boarding students developed scarlet fever in May, 1924. When the doctor pronounced it contagious, the Board of Health ordered every boarder to be out of there by six that evening. Many of the boarders lived at great distances, so their parents had to be contacted, and the children had to be taken to the trains. Four Sisters since they couldn’t go into the public church because of the disease, went to Chiloquin at the reservation and stayed in the home of a very devout Indian woman for the week.
While there, the Pastor asked Sister Maxima to give baptismal instructions to five of the children who lived on the reservation. On the last day, Sister was examining them and asked the oldest boy, who was about 11 years old, “What is a soul?” He swung around on his stomach and held up the sole of his foot. Sister then said, “No nonsense!” Immediately, he gave the correct answer as taught in the Catechism.
Some Sisters lived in a little cabin and went to the big house for meals. The other Sisters stayed at the Academy and nursed the sick children. After a week the Sisters went back home but the children were not yet well enough to be able to return to their own homes. So the Sisters went to the White Pelican Hotel in town and stayed there for a week. While they were there, they were a curiosity. As the guests came into the dining area to eat, they had to come over to the Sisters’ table and take a look. After the house was fumigated, the Sisters were able to return to it. Then they gathered all the things and prepared to close the mission.
In the early summer of 1924, the Bishop of Baker City, Oregon, Joseph McGrath, had made a trip to Nazareth to ask the SCN community to take over the school property by assuming the debt of $40,000, while the parish assured the remainder. However, Nazareth was making improvements: renovating the church and building, the laundry and gym. Besides the Board had just bought land on Eastern Parkway for new St. Joseph’s and could not go more heavily in debt at the time. Besides, Klamath Falls was so far away. So reluctantly the Council at Nazareth decided to withdraw the Sisters. There was great sorrow, for all the Sisters had heard of the growth of the Academy because in 1922, as a representative of Mother Rose, Sister Innocentia had come to Klamath Falls to visit the Sisters and was amazed when she reached the academy to find a large, spacious building, well lighted and heated. Everything there spoke of comfort and happiness, she wrote.
However, these opinions were evidently those of an SCN for when the Mother Superior of the Franciscan community that assumed ownership of Sacred Heart Academy visited Klamath Falls to find out something of the nature and extent of the obligations assured by her community under episcopal pressure, the sight of unplastered walls, bare beams, joists and scantlings, chilled her heroic soul with fearful forebodings. On retiring that night, she pleadingly asked whether some arrangement might not yet be made by which the SCNs would be able to keep what had cost them so much labor and sacrifice. When the SCNs closed the school in 1924 on May 9 with 75 boarders, 180 day pupils and 50 music pupils, Sister Maxima remarked, “When we left, the school was highly accredited by the State of Oregon ‘A+’.” Father Loeser, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church, who was also the editor of Klamath County Catholic Monthly, seemed to express the feelings of the city when he wrote in the July 19th issue: one of the saddest pages in the annals of this parish is the leaving of the Sisters of Charity from Sacred Heart Academy . They have erected to themselves, in this county, a living monument – the spiritual training and true Christian character, in the lives of the men and women of tomorrow.
The SCNs left June 13, 1924. Practically the whole town turned out to say good-by to them. Mr. Jim gave the farewell speech. Shortly after their departure, Father A. F. Loeser wrote in a 18tter to Sister Mary Ligouri:
“Poor Jim, he has been pegging away at the wood this afternoon, and, contrary to custom, is silent and glum. Despite his little failings, he was loyal to the Sisters to the end. I am now sitting in the Community Room at the large table. I have paced the academy from room to room, tried the musical instruments and finally sought diversion from the Senora, only to find the record ‘Are you from Dixie?’ Just before, Jim slapped me on the back and said, ‘It is no use worrying; it is just like a funeral, and the sooner you forget it, the better it will be.’”
As a farewell gift the Bishop had given Sister Mary Ligouri $100 to treat the Sisters. As she had relatives in Los Angeles, she and the Sisters went there for a short time and saw some of southern California. They then returned to Kentucky by train, leaving Sacred Heart Academy in the hands of the Sisters of St. Francis from Glenn Riddle, PA, who have their western Motherhouse in Pendleton, Oregon.
(Featured image at the top of the story shows SCN Staff at Sacred Heart Academy, Klamath Falls, Oregon, 1920.)