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The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
at St. James Cathedral

The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary have played an important role in the life of St. James Cathedral for nearly 100 years. They have served as teachers, as sacristans, as directors of religious education, as bookkeepers, as Eucharistic ministers. They have ministered to refugees and immigrants, to grieving families, to the elderly and homebound, and to the homeless.

The Cathedral School

Sisters of the Cathedral Convent, 1948-49.

The story begins in 1911, when Sisters Mary Everildis, Mary Flora, Mary Rosella, Mary Roswitha, and Mary Cyril founded the Cathedral School. It was a free school, open to all, and many of the children were from poor working families. For the first eight months, the Sisters worked out of four spare classrooms in St. Rose’s Academy on Broadway, for their new building was still under construction. Finally, just after Easter, 1912, they moved into their spacious and state-of-the-art facility. The four-story building featured an indoor gymnasium and playground (in the attic), a large hall with a stage, and two floors of classrooms. The Sisters were astonished the following September when enrollment jumped from 100 to 256, and, two years later, to more than 300. In their brand-new school building, finding space for all the children was already a problem!

In addition to the usual subjects—religion, math, civics, history, and, of course, penmanship—music was an important part of a Cathedral School education. The children—both girls and boys—sang frequently at Cathedral liturgies, including the weekly “children’s Mass” at 9:00am on Sundays. They sang for funeral Masses, and every year they sang carols around the Christmas crib. Many of the Sisters were gifted musicians, who instilled in their students a great love for liturgical music.

And there was more. “I treasure my truly liberal education at Cathedral and Holy Names Academy, and cherish the awareness it imparted that whatever direction I might take, religion was important,” writes Elizabeth Lonon Erickson, who attended the Cathedral School in 1947. Hannah Hirabayashi agrees: “The school was special because of the Sisters who taught not only academics, but also taught us respect for and acceptance of each other. I like to think we were one big family.”

For seventy years, the Cathedral School educated thousands of young people, both boys and girls. The Sisters of the Holy Names reached out to an incredibly diverse student body—Filipino, Japanese, African-American, Italian, German—and instilled in each student faith, pride, and a strong sense of community.  Click here to explore some favorite memories submitted by Cathedral School alums.

A Community of Sisters

For the first year, the Sisters who taught in Cathedral School were commuters—that is, they lived at Holy Names Academy but spent their days at the Cathedral. But very soon they realized that they needed their own community. After consultation with the Provincial Council (the governing body for the Holy Names Sisters) and with Bishop O’Dea, they adapted some space in the Cathedral School itself into a little convent. There, on September 16, 1912, the Sisters of the Cathedral Convent shared their first meal as a community.

The Sisters of the Holy Names gather in their new convent, circa 1963.

Life in the community was busy. There was the school to run—one teacher was sometimes responsible for as many as 60 children. And the work of the school did not end at 3:30. Children who were newly arrived in the United States—and there were many of them, from many lands—came to the Convent after school for special tutoring in English. The Sisters would visit children who were in the hospital, bringing them prayers, news from school, and homework as well. They kept careful track of “their” families, helping an overworked young mother clean a new apartment, providing special opportunities for poor children, and the like. The Sisters were also responsible, of course, for maintaining their own residence, something that became more difficult when they moved into a ramshackle old mansion on the corner of Terry and Columbia (where O’Dea High School now stands).

But the Sisters always made time for prayer. They took special care with the furnishing of the small Chapel in each of their residences, and Masses or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in their own Chapel were a special treat. They prayed the divine office as a community, and also had hours dedicated to silence and to devotional reading.

The Sisters were required to keep a chronicle of events, large and small, in their community; and the chronicles of the Cathedral Convent provide a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of these indefatigable servants of the Church. There was a formal visit from Bishop O’Dea: “Much kindly advice was given, the keynote of which was, ‘Live one day at a time; do not worry about tomorrow.’” One day there was a special treat for the Sisters from Father Noonan, the pastor of the Cathedral, who “provided two large automobiles and directed the chauffeurs to drive through the most scenic parts of the city…. On returning home we learned that during our absence our reverend pastor, with the aid of his housekeeper, had planned and provided the evening repast.” Humbler events were recorded in equal detail. The Sisters were delighted when the boys of the Cathedral School proudly presented a new library table they had built in their “manual training” class: “What a delightful surprise it was when our pupils called us into the hall where we beheld them with their enthusiastic teacher, gathered around a beautiful and decidedly satisfactory library table.” An anonymous gift was also immortalized in the Chronicle: “From some unknown friend we received a gift of eight pounds of butter and four dozen fresh eggs, with this note, ‘Please accept this little gift from one who has been fed by your Brothers and Sisters in Religion when he was roaming about the country. Please pray for him.’”

The chronicles also provide a fascinating glimpse into local and world events from the point-of-view of the Cathedral Convent. Click here to read more.

Immaculate High School

With the convent car, late 1950s.

Cathedral School closed in 1972, and for the next ten years the old Cathedral School building was occupied by Immaculate High School. (On the east façade of the school building, a bronze plaque commemorates this era in Cathedral history). The school was very well-loved by both the Sisters and the young women who studied there. It was an experimental school in some ways, with small classes and plenty of one-on-one interaction between students and teachers. Many students thrived in that environment who might have struggled in a more traditional setting. Sister Kay Burton was principal of Immaculate High School from 1972 to 1978. “It was a wonderful school, a special school. I loved teaching at Immaculate. I would do every minute over again. The student body was wonderful—from all different kinds of cultures—and we had a curriculum that was adapted to that.” Immaculate High School closed in 1982.

During this time, the Cathedral Convent was also a dynamic place to be—every room was full, and the Sisters, involved in many different ministries, came together in the community room in the evenings. Without a regular cook, meals could be an adventure! But many of the Sisters soon developed into quite good cooks.

From the beginning the Sisters of the Holy Names had been actively engaged in the world around them—and during the tumultuous 1970s, the Sisters of the Cathedral Convent spoke out strongly for peace and justice, advocating for the poor and working for the homeless.

“A Visible Sign of the Church”

The closure of the Cathedral School in 1972 and of Immaculate High School ten years later did not mark the end of the presence of Holy Names Sisters at St. James Cathedral. In 1973, Sister Margaret Jane Downey and Sister Maureen Maloney became the first Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They did not, at first, serve at Sunday Masses; rather, their mission was to the sick and homebound. At the time, Sister Margaret Jane described her extraordinary ministry in the Cathedral parish: “This is a parish of many apartment houses of various income brackets, for the most part elderly, lonely, and the poor; a number are shut-ins unable to go to Mass, some are sick. I help the shut-ins make contacts for food service, visiting nurses, weekly apartment cleaning service, etc. I arrange and set up for Mass offered in an apartment house once a month; I bring Holy Communion to individuals when requested. I inform the rectory when the Sacrament of the Sick is to be administered as well as the Sacrament of Penance. I visit patients in three convalescent centers each week where I write letters, contact relatives, and do shopping. I set up for Mass twice a month in each center and bring Holy Communion to patients on the weeks we do not have Mass. Two days a week I visit all Catholic patients in one of the area hospitals. Other duties include convert instructions twice a week at the home; visiting and encouraging ‘fallen-aways’; visiting parishioners in hospitals; helping the poor in the parish by making contacts for food, clothing, and housing; informing needy families and elderly of the public assistance available; contacting and encouraging ‘new-comers’ to register in the parish, and” (last, but not least!) “keeping records and file cards updated in our office.”

Sister Maureen Maloney assisted Sister Margaret Jane in this work. “My main function,” she wrote, “is to filter out into the neighborhoods of the parish, trying to reach usually unreachable people, and in so doing, making the Church sensitive to their needs. The pastor, Bishop Gill, wants me to be a visible sign of the Church moving about our parish, responding to the multitudinous needs of all the people.”

The Holy Names Sisters also provided religious education for the children of the parish, and offered adult education classes as well, including sewing and reading.

Ministry to Refugees

In 1975, in the wake of the Vietnam War, Washington Governor Dan Evans offered unprecedented assistance to refugees from South Vietnam. One of the greatest needs for these new arrivals was speaking and writing English.

Sister Terence Maureen Reilly, already a member of the Seattle Literacy Council, responded by founding the St. James ESL Program. On July 16, 1975 (less than three months after the fall of Saigon) the first 25 Vietnamese students began attending English classes in the old Cathedral School building. Through class work and individual tutoring (Sister Terence Maureen had 45 volunteers trained in short order!), the students acquired the basic skills needed to get around in an incredibly different world. Some of the students came directly to class from area refugee camps. The ESL program has continued to grow. Today, the St. James Immigrant Assistance Program serves students from 37 countries in all parts of the world.

The Future of the Cathedral Convent

In January 2005, work began on transforming the St. James Convent into a new Pastoral Outreach Center. Though the sisters no longer reside at the Cathedral, their mission in the parish continues. The convent building is dedicated to the very ministries that they helped to establish in the parish: outreach, education, and pastoral care.  A special Mass at 10 a.m. on January 23, 2005 celebrated the ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Names at St. James Cathedral.  Click here to view the photo album.

Special thanks to the Archives of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Washington Province, for the photos and excerpts from the House Chronicle.

A unique first-hand account of Cathedral History from the beginning to the present


The Cathedral School comes to life again with these memories submitted by School Alums

Return to the History Home Page


Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303