The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

St. Mary's Academy

    The Jacksonville (Oregon) Reporter says that four sisters of Jesus and Mary are expected every day in that town, where they are to establish a school. The lady Superioress of the Order at Portland is coming to see them settle in their new home. Father Blanchet has been industriously at work for the last month cultivating the ground and shrubbery around their intended home. He has succeeded to such a degree as to make the cozy little nook look like a miniature Paradise. The Sisters will be a blessing to this community. They diffuse around them charity and virtue, gentleness and intelligence. We hope, in time, to see a school of Christian Brothers also in Jacksonville. The boys of the community need the right kind of training as well as the girls.
Marysville Daily Appeal, Marysville, California, June 4, 1865, page 2

    One of Southern Oregon's pioneer institutions is St. Mary's Academy, established in Jacksonville more than 65 years ago, but moved to Medford 17 years ago to be more centrally situated. The academy, located in a large, attractive building on West 11th Street, has at present 160 students enrolled in primary, secondary and advanced grades from all parts of the Pacific Coast, one student attending from Coronado, California.
    The institution has a splendid school of art and music, in which a comparatively large number of local and out-of-town students are enrolled, in addition to regular courses as set forth by the state courses of study. The academy is regularly accredited by the state and has the same rating as any public school. Boys are only accepted up until the eighth grade, the high school being conducted exclusively for girls who, like grammar school students, have the privileges of the boarding school operated in connection.
    The academy has exceptionally attractive grounds due to the work of several gardeners, who expend patient hours in painstaking efforts to keep lawns properly mowed, hedges trimmed, bushes attractively cut and flowers well arranged. An extensive campus includes promenades, tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts, swings and various other outdoor means of wholesome recreation.
    During the long period that the academy has been conducted in Southern Oregon, numerous well-known state citizens have received their education within the walls, and all are loyal supporters of the institution.
Medford Mail Tribune, January 2, 1927, page D6

    Botany students of St. Mary's Academy profited by and enjoyed a field trip to the Ashland foothills Wednesday. Boys and girls selected choice specimens to supply the herbariums required of the class. The pupils were accompanied by their instructors and by their invited guests, Mrs. Frank DeSouza and Mrs. Frank Leonard. The beautiful afternoon and the rich Southern Oregon flora made the afternoon's duty a pleasant one. Before returning home, all enjoyed refreshments thoughtfully supplied by Mrs. DeSouza. Another expedition in the Jacksonville vicinity is planned for a sunny afternoon this month.
    The students enrolled in the botany class are: Susanne Barkley, Edna Burkhardt, LaVonne Corum, Martha DeSouza, Genevieve Devaney, Lucille Eslinger, Olivette Ginet, Patricia Hayes, Arlene Jensen, Richard Lewis, Robert Lewis, Helen McDonnell, Dorothy Pankey, George Smith, William Smith and Richard Wilson. Medford Mail Tribune, April 26, 1931, page 3

Old St. Mary's School Building To Disappear
    The St. Mary's School building's 44-year service as a high school and convent is soon to end. Building inspector's office records show that a permit to demolish the old school has been taken by Sacred Heart Church.
    In 1908 the academy, as it was known until recently, was moved to the then-new building at 321 West 11th Street, according to the Very Rev. John M. Berger. Previously St. Mary's Academy had been in Jacksonville, where it was established in 1865. It was moved when Medford became more heavily populated than Jacksonville.
Original Enrollment 116
    The school's original enrollment at the 11th Street site was 116, with 23 boarders and 93 day students, Father Berger said. The registration this year was over 400.
    The old building is giving way to a new, larger school being built on the same property. Father Berger said he expected the new building to be completed and ready for operation by fall.
    The new building has been built virtually around the older building. The L-shaped building has been constructed along Ivy and 11th streets between the old school and the sidewalks.
More Floor Space
    Although the old school had one more floor than the new one, it had hardly half the floor space. The building under construction will have nearly an acre of floor space--43,000 square feet. The building soon to be demolished had only 25,000 square feet.
    Father Berger said demolition of the old building will begin when salvage arrangements are completed.
    The new building, he added, will accommodate 18 resident sisters and two guests.
Medford Mail Tribune, July 4, 1952, page 7

Dedication of New St. Mary's School, Convent Planned Monday
Academy Started in 1865 at Jacksonville;
New Building Fourth in School's History

    Dedication of the new St. Mary's school and convent here Wednesday by Archbishop Edward D. Howard of Portland will mark another milestone in the institution's 88 years of history in Jackson County.
    The ceremonies and open house, reuniting many old alumni and former teachers from all over the Northwest, will revive nostalgic memories of early days at St. Mary's in Medford and Jacksonville.
Opened Last Fall
    The new school opened its doors for classes for the first time last fall. Active planning for it started in April, 1952 when a fundraising campaign was inaugurated.
    Some 100 persons took part in a "kickoff" breakfast at the Sacred Heart parish hall. The Very Rev. John M. Berger was named executive chairman and treasurer for the drive and Tracy Crum and Bernard Loosemore were appointed public chairman and parish chairman.
    The $400,000 structure was designed to provide "a more versatile and appealing program for students." It includes nine classrooms for grade school students, four "home rooms" for high school students, as well as facilities for a self-government program, journalism department, public speaking classes, vocation training and an expanded athletics program.
Fourth Building
    Today's streamlined, functional structure, with its enrollment of over 500 grade and high school students, is the fourth building and third location occupied by the institution since 1865.
    In that year, after repeated requests by Father F. X. Blanchet, nephew of Oregon's first Catholic archbishop of the same name, four pioneer Holy Names nuns were sent from their mother house in Montreal, Canada to the then six-year-old St. Mary's in Portland on the first lap of their journey to isolated Jacksonville.
    Father Blanchet accompanied the nuns by stage on the hazardous, dusty, six-day trip to the gold rush town. Early chronicles kept by the nuns state they were "most hospitably received by the townspeople," including "Mrs. P. Donegan, Madame Holt and Mrs. Horne, three devoted friends of Father Blanchet."
    The school, located on Fifth Street, across from the present Jacksonville Museum grounds, opened in September 1865 with 12 "Pensionnaires" (boarders)
and 33 "Externes" (day students).
Bought Drum Home
    Enrollment increased to such an extent that three years later the Holy Names Community bought the large James T. Drum home on California St. The building was enlarged and the grounds landscaped with rows of flowering almond trees reaching up a hillside to the rear of the school. Roses, wisteria and grape-covered arbors and a windmill powering their water supply, added a charm to the Jacksonville St. Mary's that oldtimers insist has never been recaptured.
    Up the steps of that school with slates and lunch pails trooped countless pioneer children whose family names dot Oregon history books, designate geographical locations and loom prominently in current business and professional circles throughout the country.
    In the beautiful, shaded penmanship of the early French Sisters is recorded the enrollment of Applegates, Hanleys, Hannas, Colvigs, Bybees, Griffins, Ruches, Eads, Reames, Orths, Ishes, Colemans, Rays, Birdseyes, Britts, McAndrews, Ulrichs, Murphys, Nickells, Littles, McCallens, Days, Doxes, Kublis, Dugans, Gloors, Buckleys, Houcks, Chavners, Roots, Nunans, Deuels, Garrets, Whiteheads, Luys, Plymales, Wetterers, Neubers, Peltons, and other pioneer names too numerous to list.
    Why did so many of the prominent non-Catholics send their children to the Sisters' school? Mrs. Myrtle Dox Lee, curator of the Jacksonville Museum, herself a daughter of pioneers and a later pupil at the academy, explains it this way:
Refining Influence
    "Jacksonville remained a pretty rough town for years following the gold rush, and a majority of parents longed for a refining influence for their children. St. Mary's Academy, with its music and art as well as its strict scholastic standards, was recognized as the cultural center of Southern Oregon. A graduate of St. Mary's at Jacksonville could pass any college entrance examination offered. This was important to those who had professional or advanced business careers in mind."
    Just before Christmas in 1868, Oregon was swept by a devastating epidemic of Asiatic Black Smallpox. Near panic gripped Jacksonville, where the pestilence wrought its greatest havoc.
    At the outbreak, the 22 boarders at St. Mary's were sent home and the school closed. The Sisters promptly wrote a letter to David Linn, president of the board of health, offering their services in caring for the sick in the hospital. Mr. Linn, unwilling to expose the Sisters to the dread disease, at first declined the offer. Two days later the epidemic had reached such proportions that he sent a call for help to the convent. Two of the Sisters quickly volunteered and the other two maintained their home.
Worked Night and Day
    The two volunteers, Sister Mary Francis and Sister Mary Edward, went from one home of contagion to another for the two peak months, working virtually day and night. Under their care many cases thought hopeless recovered. Numerous others succumbed but were comforted in their dying hours by the nuns and Father Blanchet, who also helped lay out and even bury the dead.
    So great was the fear of the contagion that people fled from the Sisters when they saw them on the streets. Unable to re-enter their own convent after they had begun nursing the sick, the two volunteers picked up changes of clothing, food and supplies left for them in a shed near the convent.
    Near the end of the epidemic, Sister Edward herself caught the disease and, although recovering, carried heavy pockmarks for the rest of her life. Sister Francis, a victim of the continued strain, fatigue and loss of sleep, succumbed to a paralysis and died soon afterwards at the age of 39.
    The heroism of the two nuns endeared their community to the early settlers and various eulogies of their services during the epidemic appeared in the press of the day.
Brought Gifts
    "For years afterwards," recalls Miss Kate Buckley of Applegate, who, with her sister Rose, were early boarders at the Jacksonville school, ‘"women of the community would visit the Sisters on holidays, bringing them gifts of food and farm produce to express their love and appreciation."
    One pleasant memory shared by many pioneer students interviewed were the well-produced plays and operettas presented at both the Jacksonville and early Medford St. Mary's, twice a year, at Christmas time and as a feature of Commencement.
    "Queen of the Fairies" was one Mrs. Lee remembers so well she can still sing snatches of the solo and chorus numbers, although she was only five when it was produced. The leading role in this was played by Madge Mayo, and other prominent parts were taken by Laura Neuber, a relative of Judge Hanna's, Maude Newbury, daughter of Gus, and by little Miss Dox herself.
    The play made such a hit that the entire cast occupied a special float in the Jacksonville Fourth of July parade, Mrs. Lee recalls.
Became Teacher
    A real beauty-and-brains combination around the turn of the century was Lizzie Gloor, who attended St. Mary's from Ashland, where her uncle and guardian owned a hotel. Lizzie was said to be a near genius in mathematics and science and became a teacher of both subjects later when she entered the Community of the Holy Names, as Sister Alexander.
    Expected to attend the dedication from her convent at Spokane, if her health permits, she will meet at least three members of her class of 1900: Marie Nickell Ulrich, Lucinda Reames Hubbard and Helen Colvig Cook of Portland.
    Boys were admitted to St. Mary's for the first time in 1894, but only in the grade school. So gingerly did the nuns approach the boy problem that they kept them in a section of the school to themselves, calling their unit St. Aloysius School. As their numbers increased they were gradually admitted to classes with the girls.
    Among boys attending the Jacksonville school 1895-1896 were Johnnie and Eddie Wilkinson, Richard and Eddie Donegan, George and Johnnie Schumpf, Bennie and Victor Plymale, Willie Murphy, George and Richard Christian, Almond and Harold Wilcox, Mattie Kennedy, Frank Ivory, Clarence Kasshafer, Harrison, Hubert and James Fielder and Alphonse Bienvenue.
Move to Medford
    In 1906 Mayor Reddy and 20 leading Medford citizens petitioned the Sisters to move the academy to Medford to fulfill increased demands for admittance. The move to the first three-story frame building on 11th and Holly streets was made in 1908 and the new school dedicated by Archbishop Christie.
    At this time the enrollment had jumped from an average of 50 to 126 pupils and the faculty to six Sisters. The first superior of the Medford St. Mary's was Sister M. Agnes of Assisium. Among the students who moved with the school, and became the first Medford St. Mary's High School graduate, was Allene Kingsbury (Mrs. E. H. McKee). Allene, an accomplished speaker, gave the students' address at the dedication ceremonies. Mrs. McKee's mother and daughter also attended St. Mary's.
    Frequently mentioned by oldtimers and former students are: Sister Angel Guardian, who was not only superior but taught music and painting at the Jacksonville school from 1877 to 1902: Sisters Hyacintha and Helena of the Cross, who were Ella and Elizabeth Caron at the Jacksonville school. Sister Helena later became Superior at Medford in 1918; Sister M. Agnese, Superior from 1930 to 1934; Sister M. Raineldes from 1939 to 1945 and Sister Leonelle, who was Emma Bolt, a relative of the Kublis, and graduated from the Jacksonville school in 1887.
Names Familiar
    The roll call of familiar names continued as the enrollment increased at the Medford St. Mary's. Some families have had several generations in attendance. Registered over the years were numerous Miksches, Niedermeyers, Orths,  Brophys, Becks, Singlers, Fabricks, Clancys, Hubbards, Deuels, Esteses, Dallaires, Connors, Pankeys, Murrays, Dugans, Tom and Bob Emmens, Clara and Vivian Childers, Jack, Mabel and Madeline Scudders, Bigelows, three generations of Hanleys, including Katheryne and Ed, Cooleys, Nyda Neil, Jack Porter, Neva Samuels, Caroline Andrews Werner, Bob and Larry Duff, Hazel Swayne, Farwell Kenly, Jean Steele, Roxanna Ruhl, numerous Reddys, Merrimans and Kellys.
    With expanded facilities, the incentive of parish school jurisdiction, now under the direction of Rev. Nicholas Deis, the addition of a full-time athletic coach on the faculty, the new St. Mary's is already showing signs of growing pains. Pre-registration has shown an increase in most grades for next fall, with the first grade already carrying a record-breaking enrollment of 79.
Medford Mail Tribune, June 21, 1953, page 10

Last revised February 20, 2024