Unlocking the Secrets of Regina Hall
By Carolyn Kesterman, Communications intern
Regina Hall is the oldest building on the Mount St. Joseph property, built in the 1880s.
Those who are familiar with the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse know that everywhere you look, the buildings are red brick, save one exception in the back. Behind the Motherhouse’s Seton Hall and next to the pool is a gray limestone building that seems almost out of place with its cottage-like design. Its name is Regina Hall, and not only is it one of the oldest buildings on the property, but it has had a history as eclectic and intriguing as the people who have spent time there.
When the original Motherhouse was built in the 1880s, limestone found on the property was used for the exterior walls on both the initially completed section and a three-story house-like structure behind it. This building, now known as Regina Hall, was built for use as a laundry, complete with state-of-the-art machines. When the original section of the Motherhouse burned in 1885, just a year after it had begun to be used, it was decided that when they rebuilt, they would use brick as the exterior since the limestone had proved too easy to crumble in fire. The red brick design continued to be used with every development to the Motherhouse campus, making the laundry building stand out as the only building with a limestone exterior.
The laundry was a very familiar building to Novices and Postulants, since their tasks included spending at least two days a week there doing the washing for the Motherhouse. Sisters today remember going there on Monday mornings to be greeted by S. Mary Vincent McGree who would say in a loud voice, “Shake, Novices, shake,” meaning to shake the wrinkles out of the sheets and tablecloths to prepare them for the mangle machine, located in the basement. On Tuesdays, then, they would go upstairs to spend the day ironing. A special few would then come back on Wednesday and Thursday to work on the Sisters’ caps, and if they were really lucky, the guimpes (collars) as well.
An account from S. Ernestine Foskey (1859-1947) describes her time working in the laundry as a Postulant, a task that proved providential to her in the end: “The first job that I had to do was to help a Sister look after clothes in general use. One morning she gave me an armful of clothes to brush, shake well, and hang in the air for the day. This much I did as directed, but I suppose with the studying of my lessons and other jobs to do I forgot all about the clothes on the line until I woke up in the middle of the night.” Afraid to go out in the dark to take the clothes off the line, S. Ernestine waited until dawn and ventured outside to see “a big black dog swinging on one of the articles fastened to the line and another dog jumping about in every direction with one of the articles from the line which he had pulled off.” Sister was relieved when she was not punished for her disobedience, and when she drew the humorous scene for several Postulants and Novices on some brown wrapping paper, everyone’s enjoyment of the drawing prompted Mother Josephine Harvey, mistress of Novices, to order the Postulant to practice her artistic skills every day. Two decades later, she was among four Sisters to be sent to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, her talents making her a prestigious artist.
In 1939 S. Augusta Zimmer, a well-known SC artist, transformed the abandoned laundry building into Regina Hall – a complete art department for the College of Mount St. Joseph.
The building remained as a laundry until 1937 when a fire started in the engine room at the Motherhouse and it was decided that a separate two-story building for an engine room, power plant, and laundry would be built to minimize danger if the machines caused hazards in the future. With the move of the laundry, the stone building was left vacant for around a year before S. Augusta Zimmer (1904-1990) realized its potential.
When S. Augusta began teaching art at the College of Mount St. Joseph which was then located at the Motherhouse, the art department consisted of S. Ernestine and S. Marie Adelaide Bodde (1882-1963) teaching a handful of students in the attic. After a year of hard work, S. Augusta developed the department to the point where the art classes were in high demand from the students. The fact that the classes remained on the fifth floor presented a problem, though, as it seemed too far out of students’ ways to venture. A new art department location was needed, but S. Augusta wasn’t sure where to put it until she was taking a walk one day.
S. Augusta Zimmer painted this mural in 1971 to depict the art classes that had taken place in Regina Hall; it can still be found on the building’s second floor today. .
“I was walking down the back avenue one day and saw the old, abandoned laundry building,” S. Augusta said in her account of her start at the building. “Since the fire in 1937, a new building housed the laundry, and the ‘romantic’ old stone building was left for any storage space needed. In my mind’s eye I saw a complete art building with at least three large studios on the second floor. I approached our Mother General Mary Regina Russell (hence ‘Regina Hall’) and she was most cooperative.”
After renovating the interior as well as adding French windows and a French entrance, the newly named Regina Hall opened in 1939 and students clamored to register for the new and exciting classes offered. Art studios were located on the second floor with some classes taught on the first floor and in the basement. Another draw to the building was a student lounge on the first floor that is remembered by Novices and Postulants from the time as the location of their Christmas parties.
The art department stayed there for 23 years until the opening of the College’s new campus across the road in 1962, and Regina Hall became quiet again, being used mainly for storage. After leaving the College in 1971, S. Augusta came back to the building to paint and add some murals to the interior that are still there, including a large one depicting the art classes that had taken place there, and another smaller one depicting Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Sisters of Charity. S. Augusta continued to practice art there until another renovation around 1985 that made the second floor quarters for chaplains, the first floor a meeting room and an area for Sisters working with silver, and the basement a living quarters for the Central Region Leader after an addition to the basement. Among the residents of Regina Hall during the years it was used in this capacity are Father Joseph Bruening and Father Mike Glockner.
Today, Regina Hall is used in many ways. The area used by students as a lounge is now a frequently used meeting space; the first floor art studio is still used by various Sisters for projects; a patio covering the addition to the basement is open to Sisters and employees for lunch breaks or small gatherings, equipped with benches and picnic tables. The second floor and basement apartment are used for overnight guests on special occasions. With the Sisters’ preservation efforts over the years, the building remains an important and peaceful place for the Community.
Regina Hall in 2016.
Today, a small area on the first floor of Regina Hall is still used as an art studio..
The current first-floor gathering space in Regina Hall.