Mount Aloysius College
HISTORICAL WALKING TOUR
Main Building Historical Usage and Artifact
Background Information
Demetrius A. Gallitzin, Apostle of the
Alleghenies, founded the first Catholic parish in
the Allegheny Mountains, naming the settlement
“Loretto”. Eight years after his death in 1840,
the Sisters of Mercy took up residence in Loretto
and opened a small school in a tinsmith’s shop.
Demetrius Gallitzin
Sister Gertrude Blake obtained land in Loretto to build a
convent and an academy for young girls. On May 14, 1853, the
structure became the Academy of Our Lady of Loretto, later named
Saint Aloysius Academy, in honor of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the
patron of youth. The Shrine of Our Lady of the Alleghenies,
designed by Sister Mary Benedicta San Antonio, RSM, currently
occupies the site of the academy there.
Under the leadership of Mother Mary de Sales Ihmsen and
Mother Mary Gertrude Cosgrave, the school and religious
community prospered. A parcel of land was purchased in Cresson
from the Frank Powers family. In 1897, the motherhouse and
academy moved to Cresson, an area more accessible to students
because of its proximity to the mainline of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. The academy was renamed Mount Aloysius Academy.
The Main Building, constructed in the 1890s, was fashioned
after a French chateau and was designed by renowned Pittsburgh
architects Longfellow, Alden and Harlow. The interior boasts
woodwork hewn from the property’s cherry, maple and oak trees.
Entrance, to far right
As you enter through the large wooden side door, an early hall
rack and mirror stand immediately to your left. Note the ornate
leather backing and the umbrella stand on the right side.
Proceed through the inner door and you will find, on the left
wall, pictures of two women significant in the history of Mount
Aloysius College.
The two large paintings hanging on the left wall portray Amelia
Ihmsen and Emma Cosgrave, who later became Sister Mary de
Sales Ihmsen and Sister Mary Gertrude Cosgrave. The bronze
tablet is dedicated to Mother de Sales, foundress of the Sisters of
Mercy, Loretto-Cresson Community.
Room 113 – Enrollment Processing Center
This area is currently used by the Enrollment Processing
Center. Most recently it was the Office for Graduate Studies and
Continuing Education; from the 1890’s to the 1990’s, it was the
Registrar’s Office for the academy and the college. Note the brass
plate on the door – all that remains of the “Registrar’s Office.”
Note the fireplace to the right as you enter the door. There are
more than thirty-three fireplaces in the Main Building, and no two
are alike. This one is a sandstone and brick design. The fireplaces
were the only source of heat in the entire building in the early
years, but today they are all decorative.
The print above the fireplace, entitled “Angels of the
Passion,” is a copy. The original hangs in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York City. Note that each angel holds an
instrument of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
Room 115 – Office of Administrative Assistant to
the President
This area was formerly one of several parlors for visitors to
Mount Aloysius Academy and, then, the Junior College. Originally
this parlor was called the Maple Parlor because of the Bird’s Eye
Maple on the back of the office door and the wainscoting all around
this room.
Note the fireplace here which is made of emerald green tile. In
an earlier time, a Mrs. Pollard furnished this room with light green
furniture to match the green tiled fireplace. Note also the mirror
above the fireplace – a feature found in several rooms of this
building.
The chrysanthemum painting to the right as you enter the
office is the work of Sister Josephine Ihmsen, artist and cousin
of the foundress. The painting of the Madonna to the left of the
fireplace is also one of Sister Josephine’s works. At one time,
several of her paintings hung in various places throughout the Main
Building.
Room 117 - President’s Office
This area was also formerly a visitor’s parlor for Academy and
Junior College guests. It was called the Aloysian Parlor, after the
patron saint of the Academy, St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
Note the oval painting above the fireplace. This room was just
about ready to be used when the large oval mirror set above this
fireplace was broken – leaving a gaping hole that had to be fixed.
Sr. Mary Josephine Ihmsen, whose painting is in the outer
room, asked for a stepladder and sandpaper. She smoothed out the
boards that lay behind the broken mirror and began to paint. The
panel of chrysanthemums resulted and was never replaced.
Main Entryway
The central hall and main entrance of this main building is
directly under the bell tower. The wood paneling is golden oak,
carved in Boston. The wainscoting up the stairs is also golden oak,
as are the tall columns supporting this stairway and the columns at
the fireplace. Evidently golden was the color scheme for the Sienna
marble of the fireplace reflects the color of the wood.
The painting to your right as you enter the building depicts
Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of
Mercy. Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin,
Ireland. She used her inheritance in service to the needs of her
time and had a special concern for persons who were poor, sick or
ignorant; for the needs of women; and for the faith formation of
all persons. Before her death in 1841, Sisters of Mercy were
engaged in the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy in settings
throughout Ireland and England.
A Della Robbia bas relief adorns the mantel of the fireplace in
this entryway. The children depicted here are a copy from Della
Robbia’s famous singing choir. The original masterpiece of the
choir is found in the sculptor’s home town, Florence, Italy. There
are several Della Robbia pieces throughout the first floor of the
Main Building.
Since the time of the Academy the staircase in the main
entrance has been called “The Golden Staircase.” Academy
students were rarely allowed to use the stairs. The staircase is
built into the Bell Tower of the building. Originally a water tank was
housed in the upper stories of the tower and provided water to the
Main Building. Water was pumped to the tower tank from a cistern
on the property and the height of the tower provided sufficient
pressure to feed the water throughout the building.
The Angel Holy Water Fountain standing
under the staircase is one of few artifacts salvaged
from the fire which destroyed the Academy and
Convent in Loretto in 1904. The fountain stood at the
entrance to the Chapel in that older building.
Room 119-120 - Office of the Registrar
The two rooms currently housing the Registrar’s office
were formerly parlors for visitors. These rooms housed several
Madonnas, so the parlor currently housing the Registrar’s Office
was called the Madonna Parlor. The fireplace in the Registrar’s
Office is made of rich blue tile. The graceful angels surrounding a
medallion on which a Latin inscription is chiseled are a unique
feature of this fireplace. This is a copy of a memorial tablet of a
Bishop Zenobius. This piece and many other artistic selections
throughout the Main Building attest to the emphasis placed on a
liberal arts, classical education in the design of the building.
The outer room of this office space was sometimes called the
Sisters’ Parlor. Since at one time there was no parlor in the
convent, this parlor was reserved mainly for Sisters and their
guests. In the early years of the Academy, the deceased Sisters of
Mercy often were waked in this parlor.
In this outer office the fireplace is made of lighter tile and
features glass display cabinets on top of the mantel. The room was
originally intended to be a museum, but the intent was never
brought to reality.
Room 122 & 124 - Financial Aid and Finance Offices
At the time of the Academy and Junior College, these rooms
housed the Academy dining room and the Sisters’ living or
community room. An artifact from those days, but not available
for viewing, is a dumbwaiter which is currently a part of the storage
area of the Financial Aid Office. Since the room next to the Sisters’
living room was a dining room for visitors, the dumbwaiter served
to transport food for both the community and visitor’s dining room.
Room 120 - Memorabilia Room
This area was formerly the guest/priest dining room. The
Memorabilia Room was established in 1981 through the efforts
of Sister Mary Claver Cronin. She wanted to display some of the
institution’s heritage and some of its priceless objects.
The room has a fireplace in the center of whose mantel sits a
Della Robbia Madonna. On the mantel and on the floor near the
fireplace are several vases brought by Academy students from
various countries and donated to the school.
The Frederick Whittaker watercolors in this room were given to
Mother Xavier Phelan in the 1930s. Note also the banner depicting
the college seal with its motto: “With our light we serve”. The
cherry wood for this room was cut from trees on the property.
Some of the chairs and the settee are of rosewood; the light oak
table comes from the 1890s.
Room 105 - Wolf Kuhn Gallery
This area has served three major functions within the
institution: originally, a chapel, later, a library for the Academy
and Junior College, and now an art gallery and meeting
room. Many of the stained glass windows throughout the Main
Building adorned this room when it was a chapel (1897-1924). Note
also the raised platform area to the right of the entrance. This
served as the sanctuary area for the chapel.
The several permanent paintings in the Gallery date back to
the 1890s and 1920s. In the former sanctuary area, moving from
right to left, you will find several Martin B. Leisser paintings.
These paintings came into the possession of the Sisters of the
Sisters of Mercy through Sister Mary Josephine Ihmsen (18621950). Hildegarde (her baptismal name) was the daughter of
Frederick L. Ihmsen who was the son of Christian Ihmsen, one of
the pioneer glass manufacturers of Pittsburgh, Pa. She was also
the niece of Mother Mary deSales Ihmsen, foundress of the Cresson
Community and Mount Aloysius Academy (now Mount Aloysius
College).
Hildegarde was an exceptionally intelligent and attractive girl
who, having a wealthy father, had the advantage of attending
schools in Europe, where she acquired the ability to speak both
German and French fluently.
She entered the Religious Sisters of Mercy in Loretto and later
taught at Mount Aloysius Academy in Cresson. She had a genius
and reputation for teaching language, art, music, and elocution.
Sister Mary Josephine not only directed many plays at the
Academy, but also painted the scenery and made the costumes.
She was truly a gifted artist. A few of her paintings still hang at
Mount Aloysius.
Probably it was during her studies abroad that she became
acquainted with Martin B. Leisser, who was also from Pittsburgh.
She would have been 25 years old in 1887, the date that was
marked in the collection of Leisser paintings at Mount Aloysius
which include:
 Head of Woman
 Head of Black Male
 Head of Man w/Earring (shown above, right)
 Man Without Shirt
 Head of Young Man
 Man with Head Bowed (shown above, left)
 Elderly Gentleman with Golden Cloak
In addition to the Leisser paintings, there is a wonderful
picture entitled “Ruth”. This painting was the gift of Mr. and Mrs.
Charles Schwab on the occasion of Mother Gertrude Cosgrave’s
Golden (50th) Jubilee as a Sister of Mercy. Both this work and the
“Mary Magdalene” painting hanging nearby are ornately framed as
well as beautifully executed works of art.
The left side of the sanctuary area is a circular room of the
Norman Tower, which extends upward through all four floors of
the Main Building.
Second Floor - Our Lady of Mercy Chapel
Our Lady of Mercy Chapel is
European in style and monastic in
arrangements. Originally the ornate rood
screen separated the religious community
from students and guests. Note the two
carved angel figures standing guard on
the columns of the rood screen. Note also
the carefully carved designs on the screen and the two rows of
dark oak stalls lining the front walls as well as the chapel-side of
the rood screen. The wood furnishing also contains many
examples of the egg and dart design famous in wood carvings.
Until the mid-twentieth century, the Sisters of Mercy daily offered
the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this chapel, recited or sung
in two choirs facing one another.
The altar is Sienna marble and Mexican onyx. The four corner
tiles in the floor around the main altar show the symbols of the four
Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The stained glass
windows throughout the chapel, the focus of another tour booklet,
are fashioned from blown and rolled glass from England, France,
Germany, Belgium and the United States. These windows depict
Scriptural stories of the Jewish people as well as early Christian
saints.
The baldachino above the main altar was added in 1932,
about ten years after the chapel was built. Note the intricate and
delicate carvings of this canopy, especially the manner in which the
angels appear to be in flight in the thrust of their bodies and the
strength of their wings. This wonderful artifact was generously
donated by a parish in Pittsburgh when they discovered they were
unable to use the canopy in their parish church.
A statue located in the back of the chapel near the
confessionals reflects the theology and devotion of early twentieth
century Catholicism. The statue “Jesus Scourged” was a gift to
Sister Mary Teresita Doyle, R.S.M., from Margaret Warner, a
graduate of Mount Aloysius Academy. The Statue was sent to sister
in 1938. The manufacturer of the statue was Deprato Studios, no
longer operating. Very few of these statues exist at the present
time.
Another treasure on campus is the Raphael Monstrance.
Raphael designed and painted a fresco called “La disputa del
sacramento” in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican in Rome. In the
center of the picture, there is a monstrance (an artifact used in
Roman Catholic worship services). Gathered around the
monstrance are many figures of saints who had great devotion to
the Blessed Sacrament. Gold copies of this monstrance were made
for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Vatican, as well as for a college
in Rome and two churches, one in New York City.
Mother Mary Xavier Phelan and Sister Mary Evangelist Phelan,
after seeing the painting in a trip to Europe, determined to collect
metal and jewels to create such a monstrance for the chapel at
Mount Aloysius. The collection from friends and family took a long
time, but finally enough was collected to take to Florence, Italy,
where a goldsmith on Ponto Vecchio agreed to do the work.
Deep purple amethysts taken from a necklace of Mother
Xavier’s mother as well as a diamond crescent from Colette Phelan
(Sister to Mother Xavier and Sister Mary Evangelist) adorn this
unusual monstrance. Because of the great value of this
monstrance, it is kept in a safe and is not available for public
viewing.
Mount Aloysius College traces its roots to
Mount Aloysius Academy, opened in 1853 by
Sisters of Mercy who emigrated from Dublin,
Ireland. The College encourages students “to
synthesize faith with learning, to develop
competence with compassion, to put talents and
gifts at the service of others and to assume
leadership in the world community.”
Today at Mount Aloysius, students can choose
from over 70 programs of study and develop
their skills to a state of the art level. Like
President Foley, 70% of Mount Aloysius
students represent the first generation in their
families to attend college.
The beautiful and historic campus is located on
193 acres in central Pennsylvania, at
the summit of the Alleghenies in Cresson.
Brochure compiled by Helen Marie Burns, RSM, September 2011
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Main Building - Mount Aloysius College