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1891-1919: Early Days in Seattle

In 1891, Frs. Victor Garrand, SJ, and Adrian Sweere, SJ, took over a small parish school at the intersection of Broadway and Madison. Re-chartered as Seattle College in 1898, it granted its first bachelor’s degrees eleven years later. But the coming of World War I and a shipbuilding boom would soon decimate its student body.

Seattle College traces its roots to 1890, when Jesuit superior Father Joseph Caltado, SJ, dispatched Frs. Victor Garrand, SJ, and Adrian Sweere, SJ, to take over Seattle’s struggling St. Francis parish school.

The young Garrand and the avuncular Sweere proved to be energetic founders. With the odds against them (Seattle had a small and poor Catholic population) they opened classes in 1891 and were soon teaching more than a hundred students. In the early days, local support was crucial. Fundraisers brought in thousands of dollars, while parish workers helped build the handsome stone and brick Garrand Building, which is still used by the university today.

At first the school did not offer higher education, though this was clearly part of Garrand and Sweere’s plan. Unfortunately, Garrand was unable to see it come to fruition. In 1896, he fell ill with typhoid fever and departed for eventual duty in Africa. Sweere pressed on, and in 1898 he re-chartered the school as “Seattle College.” It granted its first bachelors’ degrees eleven years later.

Enrollment in college classes remained low, however, and dropped even further with the coming of World War I. Military duty and high-paying jobs in Seattle’s shipyards siphoned off many potential students. Finally, a flu epidemic struck, causing the city to shut down all schools for several months. Seattle College faced its first great crisis.

The Founders: Fathers Sweere and Garrand

If nothing else, the founders of Seattle College, Fathers Victor Garrand and Adrian Sweere were a study in contrasts. Father Garrand was a mere 43 years old at the time. Born in France, he was frank, blunt, and openly vivacious, and had a flair for liturgical pomp that made him popular with his parishioners. Adrian Sweere, on the other hand, was older and more restrained, and seemed to have been a moderating influence on Garrand.

Both had long careers in the Society of Jesus. Garrand’s early assignments were in the Syrian missions. In 1891, he came to Seattle, where his accomplishments would include the design and construction of the Garrand Building. After catching typhoid fever in 1895, he was forced to leave Seattle and eventually ended up in North Africa, where he died on April 6, 1925.

Sweere, who arrived in Seattle after directing the Osage Mission on the Great Plains, would see the school through its early years, including its chartering as Seattle College. In the summer of 1905, he was reassigned to Alaska, where he worked until his health failed in 1913. He died while returning to Spokane and was buried at Mount St. Michael’s Seminary.

From Immaculate Conception to Seattle College

In its earliest days, the school at Broadway and Madison was not known as Seattle College. Instead, it took its name from the Jesuit parish of the Immaculate Conception that surrounded it. It was a day school, teaching boys and girls in English, history, math, geography, Christian doctrine, as well as some Greek and Latin.

When enrollment in its preparatory program for boys reached 73 in 1898, Sweere decided the time was right to draw up plans for a college that offered a “thorough commercial and classical education.” He named it “Seattle College,” after both the town around it and its early Catholic convert, Chief Seattle. The State of Washington gave its blessing on October 21, 1898, and Sweere became the institution’s first rector, or president.

The Garrand Building, a brief history

The Garrand Building, which now houses the School of Nursing, has the distinction of being named after its own architect. Father Victor Garrand, one of the founders of Seattle College, designed the four-story, stone-and-brick edifice, drawing inspiration from the Romanesque architecture of his native France.

Built by the labor of parishioners, the building was dedicated in December, 1894. In the early days, the entrance to the Garrand Buildnig featured a wide wooden stairway over three arched portals. The bottom floor served as living quarters for the Jesuits; the second floor housed the Immaculate Conception school. Above was an operatic chapel with an ornate altar. Topping it all was a hipped roof and octagonal belfry.

The roof, altar, and original belfry were destroyed in a fire in 1907, and though the building was repaired at a cost of $10,000, none of them were restored. Through the years, many renovation schemes rose and fell by the wayside, until the building’s centennial in 1994. Then, Seattle University undertook an extensive restoration to restore the building to its original proportions. With its belfry and roof carefully rebuilt, the Garrand Building now looks much as it did in 1894.

Father Burke and the Jesuits play ball

Though the college would eventually become known for its skill on the basketball court, in the early years, baseball was all the rage. Much of this enthusiasm can be traced to one of the coaches, Father Francis J. Burke, SJ, who was rumored to have given up a pro baseball career to become a priest.

In his book Reminiscing, Archie J. Richardson recalls him as an “Old School” Jesuit with the “poise of a statesman.” But when Father Burke tucked up his cassock and reached for a bat, the statesman disappeared and the slugger came out. Burke blasted fly balls through windows in houses, grocery stores, a dancing school, and just about any building that had the misfortune to be within striking distance of the baseball diamond. Soon streetcars would ring their bells as they approached the college, hoping the Jesuits would stop playing long enough for them to pass in safety.

Enrollment stumbles in wartime

In its early years, Seattle College struggled to attract students. In 1910, the first three baccalaureates took their degrees. In 1914, the number did not increase by much; there were four. Plans were made to expand the enrollment, but world events would soon render them fruitless.

In 1914, war was declared in Europe, touching off a boom in the defense industry in Seattle. Older students transferred from the classroom to the shipyards by the droves, causing one faculty member to quip, “It is a saying that Seattle Dry Dock and Construction, one of the largest shipbuilding plants in the country, is run by Seattle College.”

America’s entry into the conflict on April 6, 1917 dealt a further blow to the college, as students hurried to the recruiting office. President Woodrow Wilson organized the Army Training Corps, a forerunner of the ROTC, at selected universities. Seattle College was left out and most of its students transferred to Gonzaga. In 1918, the college graduated its two remaining seniors and Father Tompkin declared an “indefinite continuance” of the college program.

Life on campus

There was no question that education at Seattle College was rigorous. The day began with mass at 8:30 a.m. A student was expected to master the three Rs, as well as Latin and Greek. The curriculum still emphasized the Ratio Studiorum, with its focus on the liberal arts, and especially philosophy. Still, there was plenty of room for fun. In addition to a baseball team and a drama department, students at Seattle College had run of the city’s first handball courts. Tuition at the turn of the century was a mere $15 per year.