Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. ~Richard P. Feynman
Since I recently wrote about Random Fun Facts: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, it wouldn’t be complete without addressing Saint Vincent College.
This past June, for Kyle’s birthday gift I got him, Bricks 4 Kidz, Kyle’s Lego Camp Birthday Surprise at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe! Actually I got him two different Bricks 4 Kidz sessions, Animal Grossology for the morning session and Space Adventure – Star Wars for the afternoon session. The Lego camp lasted a week, from Monday June 24 through Friday, June 28. Kyle’s birthday is in July, so he was really surprised.
The first day of Lego Camp, on Monday, I thought it would be neat to hang out with Kyle for lunch. So I packed us a picnic and we ate on the college grounds. It was a warm day but really pleasant under the trees. Afterwords, I thought he might find a tour of the campus interesting. In my head, I remembered how cool it was when Father Alred gave our sixth grade class a tour of the college when attending Sacred Heart. He talked about the history, the architecture, the stain glass windows, and so on and so forth.
Well, as it turns out, I remembered the feeling more than the facts. I must say, I fell short and needed a refresher. Kyle wasn’t amused at all! It was at that moment when I thought, I need to revisit Saint Vincent College, in the books.
Ironically, when I was doing research for the Discovering Greensburg Scavenger Hunt for Seton Hill University Discovering Greensburg in the Rain (the sister college of Saint Vincent), at the Westmoreland County Historical Society, I came across a lot of intriguing content on Saint Vincent College. I hope you find the history of the college as interesting and almost mind blowing as I do! Please read to the very end! I promise it will shock you!
Random Fun Facts: Saint Vincent College
- Founded in 1846 – Saint Vincent Arch-abbey and College
- In 1766, before the monks John Fraser, an Indian trader, acquired land on part of which Saint Vincent is now situated
- February 10, 1766 granted a tract of land along the Forbes Road to John- made in the name of the King George II of Great Britain by Captain William Murray, Commander of Port Pitt.
- December 3, 1768 John Fraser transferred teh entire parcel of land to James Hunter, a farmer for Five Pounds Lawful Money
- James Hunter owned the land for 21 years
- March 12, 1790, the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted Joseph Hunter “a certain tract of land called ‘Sportsman’s Hall'” – 1st time the name of Sportman’s Hall was given to individual tract of land (name retained for over half a century)
- Sportman’s Hall was called “the Cradle of Catholicity in western Pennsylvania”
- April 16, 1790 Joseph transferred the deed to Rev. Theodore Brouwers, O.F.M.
- Father Brouwers died on October 29, 1790. As per his will his body was laid to rest in a plot overlooking Sportsman’s Hall. Since 1869 his remains have reposed under a a stone cross in Saint Vincent Cemetery
- Father Brouwers provided his successor by bequeathing all of his real estate “to a Roman Catholic priest that shall succeed me in this same place, to be entailed to him and to his successors, forever.”
- In 1787, 6 Catholic families moved from Philadelphia and settle near Greensburg
- A small log church was erected
- Sportsman’s Hall stood northeast to the present Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica until 1883 – in 1930s a marker was erected on this site
- Reverand Michael Galllagher succeeded Father Stillinger as pastor, serving until October 21, 1846 – then Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. was pointed as pastor
- Boniface Wimmer was a monk from the Benedictine Abbey of Metten in Bavaria
Hence the name Wimmerton for the neighboring housing development
- Boniface Wimmer received the monastic name of Boniface upon his entry into the monastery, a name with deep significance for German Catholics
- Saint Boniface was an English monk who in the 18th century brought the Gospel and the Benedictine Rule to the Rhineland, where he established monasteries and served as bishop of Fulda
He wanted to provide education for the sons of German immigrants and train clergy for the German community in the United States.
- Saint Vincent is the 1st Benedictine college in the United States
- Saint Vincent sits on roughly 200 acres of land
- First buildings were built by the monks
- The Benedictine Rule is known for spirituality and practicality
- By 1855, Saint Vincent was divided into the Seminary, the Classical Department, and the Commercial Department – basic structure of college for next 50 years
- In 1870, the college was incorporated by the State Legislature of Pennsylvania and given the power to grant degrees in the arts and sciences
- February 25, 1931 Benedictine Sisters left Germany to go to America, set up residence in Saint Vincent, to earn money to send back to mother house during World War I
- By 1987, one sister retired and founded Saint Emma’s Retreat House in Greensburg
- In 1948, there were 19 majors available in the divisions of Humanities, Social Sciences, Science and Business
- January of 1963 – a fire destroyed part of the campus – no life was lost
On the campus they have a memorial with a rescued bell saved from the bell tower. The bent and torn metal of the once perfect bell is so surreal yet intriguing.
- In 1983, Saint Vincent became co-educational
Until that point it was an all male college, sister college to Seton Hill University, which used to be an all female college
- The college is sponsored by the Benedictine Monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey and shares the campus with Saint Vincent Seminary (4-year graduate school of theology), and Saint Vincent Parish
- Saint Vincent College offers undergraduate degrees in business, education, medicine, engineering government service and church.
- Saint Vincent College offers Masters degree programs in education and business
- The Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media (yes THE Mr. Rogers!) is a college center
- Nationally known, students from 24 U.S. states/territories and 20 foreign countries – half of these students are in the top 20% of their high school graduating classes
- Accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and School
Ok, now for the the really fun and interesting information I stumbled across. Evidently, the students at Saint Vincent College need or did need to write a senior thesis before graduation. Using primary resources, they were permitted to write about anything.
One student narrowed his focus to Latrobe and decided to write about the history of Latrobe’s volunteer firer-fighters and the Latrobe fire company. Nice little topic!
Unbeknownst to him, he was going to stumble upon some really ground breaking news that was overlooked, even by Saint Vincent scholars, even to present day! When I had lunch with my cousins John and Sherry Business Leader in the Form of a Youngster, in September, I asked John if he ever heard of the news I will reveal to you below. He didn’t. Dr. Olczak who also translated books for Saint Vincent College and most certainly was knowledgeable in the history of his Alma Mater, had no idea!
In the 1870’s, the Latrobe Advance, the local paper which is now the Latrobe Bulletin, circulated a story which dealt with a recent incident at Saint Vincent College. What made the news but never made any other history books regarding the college and was forgotten?
Boniface Wimmer, yes the founder of Saint Vincent monastery and college, made the paper in the form of a small hidden story. On October 1, 1879, the newspaper reported that the then 70 year old Abbot was nearly assassinated by a “lunatic”. YEP! No joke! Keep in mind at this point in history, Boniface Wimmer was no stranger to the world, especially when concerned with his dedication and progress towards education and as a missionary. In fact, he was recognized by many as the American Roman Catholic Church leader. Kind of a big deal! The paper reported that the mad man tried to assassinate Boniface Wimmer in his monastery room.
The story goes, a stranger was found lurking around, outside the monastery for several days. On Saturday, September 13, 1879 the stranger gained access to the monastery where Boniface Wimmer resided. A monk cut him off at the pass and ejected him from the premisses. A week later the creepy stranger, on Tuesday September 23rd made his way back in the monastery and proceeded towards Brother Nicholas room. He was the Porter or the gatekeeper of Wimmer. This crazed stranger struck Brother Nicholas on the head and bolted up the stairs to the Abbot Boniface’s room. (currently located in Mauer Hall and is used as a guest room) The lunatic took the key and tried to lock himself inside along with Boniface Wimmer.
Quick witted and matching reflexes, even from an aged man, the Abbot noticed this unusual sight and took the would-be assassin off guard before he could lock the door. There was a tussle between the two men and that’s when Boniface Wimmer received a blow to the head, but not before gaining a hold of the intruders arm and managing to gain the upper hand. The 70 year old Abbot took down his attacker! Yes! He wrestled him to the floor! This just proves, you have nothing to fear with God on your side and when you have complete faith in Him.
The recovering Porter came to Boniface’s assistance, after gaining his wits about him, and eventually a couple of monks arrived at the scene, hearing yells for help. They removed the determined stranger from the premises. No charges, no cops, no finger pointing, nothing. Now-a-days that would have made front line news and opposing sides would be talking about it and pointing fingers at everyone including the Abbot for days, or weeks, heck months. Everyone would have someone to blame.
The reason for this situation? Not an Anti-Catholic message nor a hatred against Saint Vincent nor its Abbot. The intruder was a Latrobe native who had mental issues and recently escaped from an asylum. He felt if he killed the Abbot Wimmer he would in turn take his place as the Abbot of Saint Vincent. At least the mentally disturbed man had goals!
Since this was not recorded anywhere else or brought to the spotlight, how can we know this actually happened? Even though back then the reporters needed to check and verify their sources, so I would be pretty confident they did their due-diligence before including the story in the paper. Well, I came across documentation of a letter Abbot Wimmer wrote to the Vatican giving them an update on the church and the college. This was a standard letter, with pleasantries and general day-to-day stuff. At the conclusion of his letter, yes not as a headline, the butt end, as if just mentioning it in passing or as an afterthought, Abbot Wimmer made note of this incident. Why didn’t he make it out to be the big deal it was? Simply, because he was a humble man and didn’t want to upset anyone or have the general population turning on the assailant. At least that’s my guess. Or perhaps he didn’t like the negative publicity. Either way, it was real history.