Today in Catholic History – Opening of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

On 4 July 1841, the first student arrived for enrollment at The Academy, now known as Saint Mary of the Woods College in Indiana. Saint Mary’s is the oldest Catholic college for women in the United States.

Bishop Simon Bruté of Vincennes, Indiana invited Saint Mother Theodore Guerin to establish a school for young women because Mother Guerin was known for the quality of her teaching in 1839. Mother Guérin and other Sisters of Providence arrived in 1840 to begin work on the establishment of The Academy despite facing severe anti-Catholic prejudice. For example, Jesuits in Philadelphia advised the Sisters to wear secular clothing as a means of avoiding hostility. This anti-Catholicism caused severe problems for the school as Mother Guérin wrote:

I have just discovered that there is a conspiracy in Terre Haute to destroy our institution. The persons responsible for this had begun by prejudicing against us the families whose children were here last year. Only one pupil returned this fall, and she, it seems, had no other home.

Despite this and the problem of the harsh Indiana winter, Mother Guérin and the Sisters persevered and today provides a Catholic education to 1,700 men and women.


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