16 November 2009

what is "Normal"?


Several years ago I was part of a team invited to submit proposals on renovating the "Indian Normal School" in Rensselaer, across the street (and part of the campus) from St. Joseph College. I remember driving south out of town and seeing the campus rise out of the wooded area acting as a buffer between it and the sprawl quickly overtaking the surrounding cornfields. Then, down a long lane on the east side of the road sat this impressive building known as the Indian Normal School. We got a tour of the less than impressive state of repair. The building had a courtyard in the center of it, which I thought was a remarkable feature.

I became familiar with the desire of a certain woman named Drexel who constructed the building as a missionary project to "normalize" Indian boys taken from reservations. I don't question her good intentions despite what we would consider maybe inappropriate today, but I always think that examples of people living out their faith in real ways are remarkable. So while in Rensselaer not long ago I wanted to see firsthand the renovation work on the landmark building placed on the National Register in 1973. And it was a far cry from what I saw 5 years ago.

I went looking for information on Sister Drexel to write this post and was overwhelmed at the information out there on both her and the school:

Born in 1858, Katharine Drexel was the middle daughter of a millionaire banker. She had everything women of that time could possibly have hoped for: beautiful homes, a superb education, a loving family, opportunities to travel in Europe as well as in the United States. Katharine’s parents were devout Catholics who set a powerful example of generosity and personal attention to the needy. From the beginning, Katharine’s life centered on personal prayer and the Eucharist. Her desire to devote herself to prayer only intensified after her parents died, leaving her a huge inheritance. She thought herself called to a contemplative religious order, but it was not to be. Instead, her eyes were opened to the needs of Native Americans and to the injustices done to them. Moved by the scope of the need, she began to finance missions, churches and schools from the Great Lakes to the Mexican border.

In 1888 she funded the school to the tune of $50,000 and it became known as St. Joseph's Indian Normal School. It sat on 40 acres and included a craft shop. Drexel visited the three story building after it was constructed. Drexel was canonized in 2000.

Believing that such schools were a way to "civilize" the West, the U.S. government funded the school's operation. The school lasted only eight years, troubled by the Indian students’ dislike of American ways, homesickness and the demands of school. It suffered a fatal wound when the government withdrew support under “separation of church and state” protests. The building then became Drexel Hall, one of the first structures of the new St. Joseph's College. Drexel Hall's location across from the entrance to the College and at the entrance to the town give added visibility to what is widely regarded as the most historic structure in the community after the county courthouse.

The building became used as a men's dormitory for St. Joseph College and included a chapel on the third floor. This purpose was abandoned also and the building quickly fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006 for adult learning programs. What a unique story in this little Indiana town.

Here are some links with information and some before pictures:



12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Properly Mother Katherine Drexel.

I am a 1978 St Josephs Alumni, Drexel Hall was still being used by men during the early 70's because girls had just begun to be admitted and a dorm had been converted to girls use. It was in barely liveable condition, but back then we didnt have private air conditioned rooms or suites.
Drexel residents took some odd pride in being residents of that building. In the past two years a slightly larger than life size statue of Saint Drexel has been installed along a wooded walkway next to the science building at St Joe.

Wingman

hoosier reborn said...

Wait a minute....so it was you that did all the damage!

Anonymous said...

Nooooo! I lived in East Seifert home of the RAT PACK!( there are no fraternity houses at SJC so each dorm becomes a quasi fraternity...)We dominated intramural athletics!(in our own minds) Wingman

Bob Muir said...

...I was a resident of this building when it was a dorm '69/'70 and '70/'71...great stories and good times...I was so lucky to be able to live there...water wars didn't help the building much...the renovation looks great! Living there was like a crazy frat house, everyone in that building loved being across the street from the main campus...nice front yard for a pick up ball or football game and actually a peaceful walk to class...10 to 12 of us were from the East Coast. We had our own boiler system...when campus lost power, we were set. Best years of my life living there.

Bob Muir said...

...Forgot to mention your site...it's great! Thanks for the effort. Who is the artist/choir on the first cut of your play list? Drexel played Gasper for a keg in two hand touch on campus and won..simple times...

hoosier reborn said...

Bob,

Thanks for the kudos. The choir is "In One Accord". I didn't realize how difficult it was to find pentecostal-type music on line until I went searching.

I've got a good friend here in town who went to St. Joe and also lived in Drexel during the 70's-knowing him, I'm surprised the place survived!

Bob Muir said...

...Been teaching in Rochester, N.Y. for ever...my daughter, who is a soph. at Ithaca, and I sing in this gospel choir at a break away Catholic Church of healthy dysfunction. Did you bid on the job? Just how much of the interior was worked on? I really feel proud of that experience...I was lucky to land and live in that building. It was really a crazy group of wack jobs that forever left an impression. With summers off, just might get a road trip in June/July...I guess the college doesn't recruit much from the east coast anymore, but then again, I notice most kids are staying closer to home for their post secondary gigs. Is everything still flat out there?

Bob Muir said...

...in one accord..checked on Amazon and didn't find any music there...can you link me up or forward a site where their efforts are? Bob

Anonymous said...

BOB Muir consider going to SJC website and signing up on the alumni page...www.saintjoe.edu click on alumni. Wingman..... also the host of this blog is currious how you found it and I told him you Drexel guys were an ODD (animals) Lot and very loyal to Drexel!!!!!

hoosier reborn said...

Bob,
Yes. Still flat. I found "In one accord" on playlist and put it on my playlist-which is connected to my blog. Never heard of them myself, so it doesn't surprise me that you can't find them either. We did bid on the Drexel job, but were passed over. All of the exterior work is done and I believe all the first floor interior is done with plans to work their way up.

Bob Muir said...

Its too bad they couldn't work with the tile. My ex recently did about 10,000 repair on her @1910 French red clay tile and now it's tight and will probably go another 100 yrs. But the first 5 bids were for complete tear offs. The layer under the tile was still in real good shape...Your picture of the building looks great, yet that tile commanded a certain amount of attention to the untrained eye. There are craftsman around here if you look hard enough to do this work on the tile. What's the talent pool in hoosier country for said work?

hoosier reborn said...

If I remember correctly, part of the tile was an asbestos based tile made to look like a French cut slate. I remember some debate about what to do,but that they decided to replace all. There are very few craftsmen in that trade around here. I have one "go to" guy for that type of work-who has done work at Notre Dame-he's from Germany I believe.