Mount St. Joseph's College, Rohnerville



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

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

But from the day its doors opened in January, 1872, St. Joseph's was plagued by never-ending financial problems. The school was "materially aided" by the Motherhouse in Ohio, but the cost of operating in an isolated area was more than anticipated. Debts piled up against the college and Father Henneberry (Walsh, 1946). A dedicated and determined man, Henneberry left his beloved school in the fall of 1875 to begin a ten-year fund-raising crusade. Traveling throughout the world, he gave missions in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, South Africa, India, Rome and England before returning home in 1886.

Despite his efforts and those of the staff left in charge at St. Joseph's, the Motherhouse ordered the school closed:

St. Joseph's College - Sept. 17, 1877:
The College is closed and it will not be reopened under the present management or ownership.
Comparing the amount of patronage from the county to such an institution with the great distance and expense of sending forces to and fro, Very Rev. B. Austerman of Ohio, the proprietor, has arrived at the above conclusion. Consequently, Rev. A. Godfrey's earnest endeavor added to mine in upholding this place have sadly failed to be successful. Still, the warm sympathy of the public already expressed, we appreciate no less fully that the well meant courtesy and good influence of our local press manifested in our behalf, for which kindness we return our sincere thanks. Both creditors and debtors are alike cordially invited promptly to settle the open accounts of St. Joseph's College.
Very respectfully,
Jos. Uphaus, Local Superior
(Humboldt Times, Sept. 22, 1877)

Despite the school's closure, resident seminarians and priests continued their studies and service to nearby parishes. Rohnerville pioneer Andrew Long served as the school's caretaker for many years and a Mr. Ferguson cooked for the members of the novitiate during the 1890's. Henneberry considered Rohnerville home, always returning to St. Joseph's from his business trips and preaching tours.

Correspondence during the summer of 1888 between Henneberry and his superior in Rome discussed re-opening the school. In a letter to Henneberry, dated August 30, 1888 his superior wrote:*

From your last letter of July 19th, I learn that you are anxious especially for three things: for the boys you have received and would have intention to receive, for Fr. Connolly who does write no more, and for the help which you need for large missions. I must however repeat that for the moment it is my principal desire that you prepare before all a good and secure home for several priests of our community, so that the re-opening of that House be not illusory, and that we may not deserve the pity or even the contempt of the Roman sacred congregation, of the Bishop of Sacramento and of the Faithful and neighbors altogether of Rohnerville and its circuit.
... I want to have the moral certitude that I need not witness a second break-up of St. Joseph's and that the unsuccessful re-establishment give us the only glory of a mistaken enterprise ... Yes, God save St. Joseph's and let it become the dwelling of Saints!

The letter continued that if it should be impossible to offer the missionaries a solid and well-fitted convent, then Rome would prefer to sell the school at any price and buy a place in some larger city "where work and assistance of pious persons cannot so easily miss."

Through Henneberry's dedicated efforts, the college was re-opened in January, 1894, but finances were again a problem. Henneberry was forced to seek community aid. Rohnerville merchant L. Feiganbaum loaned Henneberry money on several occasions, as did the Ferndale Bank, Phillip Brody and others.* Despite Rome's desire for "moral certitude" that it would not witness a second break-up of St. Joseph's, the end was inevitable.

The following letter, written by Father Godfrey Schlachter to Rev. Father Joseph, November 6, 1897, reveals the serious financial situation at the college while providing insight into the man, Patrick Henneberry:

How prompt you were in sending the cable dispatch. I had just arrived in Virginia City when I received it. I spent all ... in Virginia visited Father Henneberry's grave . . . He had not heeded my urgent invitation extended to him in Chicago last April to retire to one of our houses but returned to the West and looking for funds everywhere and not finding them and trying ever so hard to saddle the home with all its debts on some religious community, but in vain he began a series of missions and worked without a day of rest between, at Reno, Carson, Gold Hill and Virginia until he broke down. On the 15th of August he opened Mass at Virg. C. worked until Friday, was paralyzed during Mass on that morning, suffered a hemorrhage of the brain, lingered on in the hospital until 19th of September and died ...
Bishop Grace received me very kindly .... and would like to see this place kept up if possible and gladly offers the little parish of Rohnerville to a priest who would decide to remain in the College. Thinks it cannot be run as such but as a home for Missionaries or a home - House of retreat and orphanage - conducted by Sisters in which event he would give to that sister community the entire county, i.e., schools of Eureka, Ferndale and Rohnerville.
... Mr. L. Feiganbaum holds a mortgage of $3400 against the College while he values the land at $600 and the improvements at $1500 - $2100. The liabilities are $6626.80, more than half for merchandise and the rest was borrowed from various parties. He (Henneberry) has been paying 11% interest to ...Feiganbaum and 10% to others. If we cannot lift the mortgage, Feiganbaum will, of course, foreclose and attach all personal property and the rest that Father Henneberry claims in the house which was again supplied since opening the school in 1894. I should try meanwhile to induce one of the neighbors to watch the premises for Bro. R. Dowd will not remain longer ...

Final disposition of the property came in the spring of 1899 when Joseph Feiganbaum purchased it from the Henneberry estate. The Degnan family, donors of the land to Henneberry in 1871, bought it back from the Feiganbaum estate in 1921 and the building was demolished shortly thereafter.

* Correspondence relating to the settlement of Father Henneberry's Estate, Mount St. Joseph's College, Rohnerville, California copied from original materials at St. Charles Seminary, Society of Precious Blood, Motherhouse, Carthagina Station, Celion, Ohio. 1970.
HSU Library. Arcata, California.

NEXT: Aviator John Joseph Montgomery

 

 


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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