Mount St. Charles College
The Origins of Carroll College and its first two decades.
Mount St. Charles College
Carroll College began out of a desire “to bring a Catholic college to the youth of Montana.”1 Not just Catholic students, but those from all denominations. Bishop John Patrick Carroll stated, at the laying of the cornerstone in 1909, that the aim of the college “will be to give the young men of Montana a thorough, liberal education which will fit them for leadership in any vocation they may choose and at the same time surround them with religious atmosphere that they may ever follow conscience as their king.”2
Shortly after becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Helena in 1905, Father John Patrick Carroll (previously President of St. Joseph’s College in Dubuque, Iowa) continued previous efforts to provide Catholic education in Helena by offering “the first year of a high school course for boys” at St. Aloysius School.3 The steady growth of St. Aloysius from a day school to a boarding school required more space and provided an opportunity to expand the curriculum to include university-level education.
Breaking New Ground
The laying of the cornerstone of what we now know as St. Charles Hall occurred on September 27, 1909. President William Howard Taft happened to be travelling through Montana on his way to Washington state, and laid the cornerstone of Mount St. Charles College, then called Capitol Hill College. Soon after this, Bishop Carroll changed the name to Mount St. Charles College to commemorate St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan “who had first promoted the idea of a diocesan college at the Council of Trent in 1609.”4
The college officially opened on 22 September 1910, a week late due to the delayed delivery of furniture, with 56 male students enrolled in junior and senior high levels. There were no college students this first year. The first graduation ceremony occurred on 14 June 1911 with five students receiving their diplomas. In fall 1911, the first college-level courses were taught. Two degree programs were offered: a Bachelor of Arts in Latin and Greek and a general Bachelor of Science degree.
World War I
World War I saw students conducting military drills on campus and enlisting in the armed forces. Fearing World War I would diminish the student population and threaten the college’s existence, Bishop Carroll had Mount St. Charles College join the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), which required 100 candidates to join. One-hundred and forty-five young men joined, though the armistice was signed a month after the SATC at Mount St. Charles College was established. This SATC unit was formally disbanded on 12 December 1918.
After the war, the College continued to grow. It joined the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as a degree-granting institution in 1919. In 1922, it was recognized as a junior college and eliminated its non-college programs and classes. St. Charles Hall was expanded over the next ten years to include dorms, a library, chapel, auditorium, dining, and a kitchen. In 1932, the school was elevated “to the rank of a senior four-year college as a degree-granting institution.”5
Bishop Carroll’s Legacy
Bishop Carroll did not live to see the school become a senior four-year college. He died on 4 November 1925, the feast day for St. Charles Borromeo, while on a trip in Europe. As Robert R. Swartout later noted, the college “had not just lost its founder, but also the person who, more than any other, had a clear and powerful vision of what the little school of Capital Hill could become as the future decades unfolded.”6 The large crowd at his funeral illustrates how beloved he was by the community. To honor his commitment to the school, the Helena community, and to educating the youth of Montana, the college was renamed Carroll College in 1932.