College of Saint Teresa

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The Seal of the College of Saint Teresa
Chapel and convent buildings on the old college campus.

The College of Saint Teresa was a Catholic women's college in Winona, Minnesota. Previously a women's seminary, it became a college in 1907 and was operated by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Rochester, Minnesota until its closing in 1989.


Mary Molloy (1880-1954) grew up as the only child[1] of Irish Catholic immigrant parents in Sandusky, Ohio.[1] In an age when few women attended college, Molloy earned her way through Ohio State University and graduated, in 1903, with more honors than anyone else up to that time.[1] She went on to earn a master's degree and election to Phi Beta Kappa at Ohio State University. In 1907 she earned her doctorate at Cornell University.[1] That same year, she began her career as a Catholic college educator in Winona, Minnesota, when she accepted a job with the Franciscan Sisters who, under the leadership of Sister Leo Tracy, O.S.F., were creating the liberal arts College of St. Teresa. The two women persevered and successfully established and administered the new collegiate institution for Catholic lay and religious women.

Molloy was unique as the lay dean of a Catholic college, but in 1923[1] she became a Franciscan Sister, then known as Sister Mary Aloysius Molloy, O.S.F., and in 1928 became the college president.[1] As an educator, Molloy worked hard to improve the quality of women's education, wrestled with the unique problems of Catholic colleges, and carefully oversaw the development of her own school. By 1946, when she retired, the college was a firmly established institution producing outstanding graduate women. Molloy was one of the last among the founders of Minnesota women's colleges.[2]

Current status[edit]

Since its closing, the college has been best known for its scholarship programs available to women attending other Catholic colleges and universities, as well as its connection to the Saint Teresa Leadership and Service Institute at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. The St. Teresa campus is currently owned and operated by two educational institutions; it is the location of Winona State University's West Campus and it is the location of Cotter High School (a private Catholic High School).

Crisis and closure[edit]

Some cite the conversion of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota to a coeducational institution as the ultimate downfall of the College of Saint Teresa.[citation needed] That view, however, may overstate the importance of what was only one of many factors. Coeducation at St. Mary's University, then called Saint Mary's College, eventually ended the two schools' brother-sister relationship and harmed the social life of St. Teresa College, but that alone cannot explain the closing of the school. The College of Saint Catherine survived coeducation at its brother school, Saint Thomas, and continues to thrive. Saint Mary's College in Indiana has easily survived the arrival of coeducation at its neighbor the University of Notre Dame. The issues that brought about the closing of Saint Teresa are far more complex than the end of campus mixers.

The closing of St. Teresa College came during an era that saw a general decline in women's colleges (other than the most elite) and the closing of, or switch to coeducation at, many smaller Catholic women's colleges. Recruiting was to some degree hurt by the school's insistence on maintaining a strict code of student conduct years after such things had been abandoned at other colleges. Such rules as nightly curfews and bed checks for first-semester freshmen and a total, campus-wide ban on alcohol were not eased until the early 1980s, and then only slightly.

And in a sense the college found itself in a vortex from which it could not escape. As enrollment fell cutbacks in spending were made which, in turn, made it more difficult to attract and retain students. A major layoff of faculty and cutbacks in programs in 1980 led to a large number of student transfers and a corresponding drop in revenues. This, of course, worsened the financial situation and invited further cuts in spending. St. Teresa College might have survived with a reduced enrollment but as enrollment fell it was never able to stabilize at a consistent level.

The college was also hurt to some extent by over-reliance upon its signature nursing program. Junior and senior nursing majors lived and studied in Rochester, Minnesota, fifty miles distant. As enrollment declined this left the main campus in Winona largely empty of upperclasswomen, making campus life unattractive for those who stayed in Winona.

In the 1980s a plan was developed to convert one the school's three large dormitories to a residence for older women who could have access to the college's programs in hopes of reviving St. Teresa College's financial prospects. A model unit was built and prospective residents found but the school was unable to find a bank willing to lend the necessary funds.

Before St. Mary's College went coed in 1969 there were discussions between the two colleges about merger. The potential of such an arrangement is illustrated by the present relationship between the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Ultimately Saint Teresa broke off the discussions. While this proved in the end to be short-sighted, at the time St. Teresa College had a larger enrollment, higher admissions standards and a superior physical plant.

The two schools then went their separate ways until the mid-1980s when a new President at St. Mary's College, Brother Louis DeThomasis, F.S.C., took an interest in helping St. Teresa College pull through its crisis. Joint programs were established to help expand Saint Teresa's offerings but it was too little too late. At the very end, when closing the college seemed inevitable, DeThomasis proposed a full merger of the two colleges but was vetoed by his Board of Trustees. It was generally assumed that the trustees concluded that the serious financial problems of St. Teresa College were too great a burden, or at least too risky, for St. Mary's College to handle.


  • Sister M. Leo Tracy, OSF, 1912–28
  • Sister M. Aloysius Molloy, OSF, 1928–46
  • Sister M. Rachel Dady, OSF, 1946–52
  • Sister M. Camille Bowe, OSF, 1952–69
  • Sister M. Joyce Rowland, OSF, 1969–80
  • Thomas J. Hamilton, 1980–85
  • Sister Michaea Byron, OSF, 1985–89

Notable alumnae[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Mary Aloysius Molloy". Women's History Month. National Women's History Project. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Karen Kennelly, "Mary Molloy: Women's College Founder," in Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays, (Minnesota Historical Society Press: 1977) pp 116-135

External links[edit]