The more I read about Racine history, the more I’m interested in the St. Catherine’s convent which was originally built “off in the woods”, many blocks away from the main part of downtown.
I grew up very near to where the convent used to be, but for most of the time I lived in Racine, I knew the location as the practice football field for the St. Cat’s high school football team. I can remember how sad people were in the neighborhood when the convent was torn down, and how the adults talked about when the wrecking ball started the demolition by knocking the bell tower down.
However, I didn’t really get interested in the convent and academy until I found a copy of the book Rooted in Hope: The Story of the Dominican Sisters of Racine, Wisconsin. This book is by Sister Mary Hortense Kohler, O.P., and starts at the very beginning of the founding of the Dominican convent in the 1860s. Most of the story has to do with what was going on within the walls, but also offers wonderful glimpses of Racine life in the 19th century. I liked the passage when the author talks about the nuns taking the girl students from the convent school out for a walk past the boy students at Racine College (Dekoven Foundation). The convent also took in orphans and abandoned children.
The book is well worth two readings. It’s a little dense with religious asides for the layman, but the history is there — the kind that’s fascinating and makes you think about particular episodes for days afterwards.
Here is Sister Mary Hortense Kohler’s masters thesis which led to the book: kohle_m_1936
Barbara Ann: Took piano lessons in the convent one summer…took the city bus. I remember walking into the foyer, up @ 12 steps, slightly dark inside, cool, and smelled clean, like starch. On the landing, look to the left, and right, long hallways, with creaky hard wood floors, many rooms. I don’t recall really what was in front of me. The room I took lessons was down the hall, right of the landing. The door I entered was on the west side of the building. I imagine the east side was nice and sunny in the morning, I was on the west side.