Mount St. Joseph's College, Rohnerville

A Rohnerville College That Taught Classic Education

Humboldt County was a remote and sparsely-settled wilderness in 1864, when the first Catholic resident pastor came to Eureka. For a year Father Thomas Crinnian served the Catholic population from Humboldt Bay to Crescent City before ill health forced him to retire. Two other Irish priests followed, but their tenures were also short.

Father Patrick Henneberry,
                founder of St. Joseph's College.

Father Patrick Henneberry, founder of St. Joseph's College.

In the fall of 1865, Father Patrick Henneberry, who was to become Superior of the California Province of the Society of Precious Blood, arrived in California. After preaching missions throughout the mining district, it was his desire to establish a novitiate in the northern part of the state. He reached an agreement with his superiors, and Eureka, the leading town of Humboldt County, was chosen as the site.

In the fall of 1868 Father Henneberry became the parish priest for Del Norte and Humboldt counties. The following year he supervised construction where the Eureka Inn now stands. Other priests and seminarians arrived to help establish the novitiate, but no means of support was provided the infant Catholic community. Henneberry's decision to start a secular school for boarders outside Eureka was accepted in hopes the profits would support the novitiate. Rohnerville pioneer James Degnan donated a 30-acre site high on the bluff overlooking the Eel River. (Introduction information from Hallowed Were the Gold Dust Trails by Henry L. Walsh, S. J. University of Santa Clara Press, 1946).

The St. Joseph's College building was completed in the fall of 1871 at a cost of $16,000Over a quarter million in 2005 dollars. for materials. Designed by Rohnerville resident M. N. Lockington, the "magnificent edifice" was described as "Ionian style" architecture (Humboldt Times, Sept. 1, 1871). Lumber was brought from Eureka but other materials were purchased in San Francisco, shipped by steamer to Humboldt Bay and hauled by wagon to the site. During the final days of construction, contractors Masson and Campton employed fifteen men, including carpenters, painters, bricklayers and laborers.

To place this major undertaking in perspective to a time frame, consider that the Humboldt Bay had been rediscovered only twenty years earlier. The horse was the only mode of land transportation. There were no roads to the other areas of the state; the only way in or out of the area was via trails or by coastal steamers. The first school in Rohnerville had been built only ten years earlier, and it would be forty more years before the railroad would arrive and before Fernbridge would be built. William Carson would not begin construction on his Eureka mansion for another 14 years.

The fact that the school was even suggested, let alone completed, shows a tremendous amount of faith by Father Henneberry. The rest of the 'civilized world' considered the area a wilderness, and it was undoubtedly pointed out to him that a school that teaches the foreign languages, fine arts, philosophy and classic culture studies would be better built where its student base was not made up of sons and daughters of farm and dairy families.   

The three-story building, containing 62 doors, 97 windows, and eight skylights, extended 170 feet across the front, with an eight-foot wide corridor running 120 feet along the building from east to west. On the ground floor were three parlors, the bishop's room, two dining rooms, two recreation rooms, and eleven bedrooms. The second floor included two piano rooms, six bedrooms, the infirmary, study hall, classrooms, library, chapel, and rooms for the priests and professors. The third floor dormitory was topped by a promenade surrounded by an iron railing with a twenty-foot cupola. (Northern Independent, Sept. 7, 1871).

Mount St. Joseph's College at Rohnerville, 1871.

St. Joseph College, built at Rohnerville in 1871 (west of the present-day airport). Fortuna Beacon, July 30, 1953

An imposing building, the college rose from the bluff with an ocean view in the distance, and, just below, the Eel River passing through its delta to the sea. To this frontier wilderness came priests and seminarians to teach the sons of local Catholic families, as well as boarders from other parts of the state. In addition to the standard commercial and English course of study, the students were offered Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German literature, math, chemistry, and natural philosophy.



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-- Humboldt Times, December 16, 1871 --
"St. Joseph's College, Rohnerville, Humboldt County, California; Conducted by the Priests of the Congregation of the Precious Blood."

This institution situated on a picturesque elevation at the confluence of Van Duzen and Eel Rivers, and near the town of Rohnerville, commands an extensive view of the sublime and varied scenery adjacent and over-looking the Pacific in the distance. With grandeur and beauty of location, it also enjoys the great advantage of salubrity of climate. The buildings are large and commodious. The grounds belonging to the establishment, thirty acres in extent, afford the pupils opportunities of enjoying healthy and manly exercises.

The course of studies pursued in the College is classical, scientific and commercial, and is designed to impart a thorough knowledge of the French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek and especially of the English and German languages; Literature, pure and mixed Mathematics, Geography, History, the Sciences, particularly Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, for the teaching of which splendid apparatuses have been procured from Germany, comprising the latest improvements. Special care is paid to the commercial course which offers rare advantages to young gentlemen who intend to make business their profession.

Unremitting attention will be given to the intellectual and moral culture of the students. The discipline will be sufficiently strict but mild and parental. The religious sentiments of non-Catholic pupils will be scrupulously respected and no interference with them will be tolerated. They will be free to attend the religious exercises or not, according as their parents or guardians may desire.

Students are received at any time during the year but never for a shorter period than one term of five months. No deduction will be made from regular charges except for absences caused by protracted illness. Pocket money to be deposited with the Treasurer. No leave of absence will be granted to the students during the Scholastic Year except during the Christmas Holidays.

Each student on entering should be provided with sufficient suits of clothes for the term and a liberal supply of shirts, socks, pocket-handkerchiefs, towels, napkins, combs, brushes, etc. None of these will be furnished by the College unless at the express request of parents or guardians, and a sufficient sum be deposited with the Treasurer. Payments are to be made half-yearly and invariably in advance.

Terms: For board, lodging, tuition, washing, mending linens per scholastic year ... $225.00; entrance fee ... $10.00; vacation at College ... $40.00; music, vocal instrumental, drawing painting and modern languages will form extra charges. Physician's fees and medicines to be paid by the parents. Day pupils: senior class ... $60.00; junior class ... $40.00.

The scholastic year consists of two sessions each comprising a period of five months. The first session commences the 16th of August and the second on the 16th of January. The College will be opened for the reception of students after the first week of January. Studies will begin on the 16th.

All communications regarding the College to be addressed to the Secretary, Rev. F. Anthony. Superior, Very Rev. P. Henneberry