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Pio Nono College

St. Francis, Wisconsin

1871-1923 (collegiate work)


Two good sources of information on Pio Nono College are Sadlier’s Catholic Directory and Columbian History of Catholic Education in Wisconsin.  The Milwaukee Journal covered some school news.  The image of Joseph Salzmann is from A Noble Priest: Joseph Salzmann, D.D. Founder of the Salesianum.

Joseph Salzmann (2).JPG


Dr. Joseph Salzmann, one of the founders of the St. Francis Seminary South of Milwaukee in 1856, next set his sights on creating a normal school to train young men to teach in Catholic parochial schools, but it was not until 1870 that he was able to realize this goal.  Catholic Normal School of the Holy Family opened on January 2, 1871 for 19 students.  It was the first Catholic normal school in the nation. “In the year following a commercial department, known as Pio Nono College, was added.”  This commercial division was named for Pope Pius IX.  The two schools shared a building and a 


Not surprisingly, extracurricular activities featured speech and music. In 1885 newspapers mentioned a literary entertainment provided by the students.  Thereafter each commencement featured “declamations, recitations, music—both instrumental and vocal.”  The Senior Elocution Class provided yearly farces.


Catholic Normal/Pio Nono was never large.  Total enrollment averaged “about 90 students.”  When listed separately in 1898, the college numbered fewer than 30 students.


In 1923 college-level instruction was dropped, and a high school continued under the name Pio Nono College.

faculty.  The Normal School offered a three-year program for common schools, extended to five years for advanced higher schools.  Pio Nono College offered “the usual branches taught in colleges for imparting a practical business education.”   Both schools had a core curriculum of languages, mathematics, history and religious instruction.    Under the direction of Chevalier John Singenberger, both schools emphasized music—“piano, organ, violin, harmony and plain chant.”

Many of the ads for Pio Nono college were in German.  The one on the left, is from Der Nordstern of St. Cloud, MN.

Pio Nono ad (2).JPG

Bricks and Mortar

In 1865 King Louis I of Bavaria contributed 3,000 Gulders to Dr. Salzmann to assist in fundraising for the normal school.  The cornerstone for the new building was laid on July 12, 1870, and the building was nearly enough completed to be dedicated and for classes to begin on January 2, 1871. 


Described as a beautiful gothic building, it topped a hill on South Kinnickinnack Avenue, creating a second campus west of the Seminary.  Photos show a four-story stone building with a gable roof and dormer windows for the top floor.  Catholic Education in Wisconsin describes it as a comfortable and safe building, featuring wide halls, steam heat and gas lights.  It had a gymnasium with “turning poles, parallel bars, Indian clubs, swings, etc.”


Pio Nono Cardcow (4).jpg

After the college was closed, the building continued to house the high school.  In 1941 it became the Family Classroom Building for St. Francis Minor Seminary.   The building was razed in 1968.


       School colors: white and green


The first newspaper reference to sports I found came in 1891 with the first Field Day.  What would become an annual event was a mixture of contests that would be recognizable as part of any collegiate track meet----long jump, shot put, 100 yard dash—mixed with exotic events such as high kick, potato race, and coin taking.  The main event was the tug of war between Pio Nono and Catholic Normal.


Newspapers reported few results for intercollegiate sports.  Given school numbers, it seems likely that sports teams representing Pio Nono College would include players from Catholic Normal.  Baseball may have been the school’s primary sport.  In 1891 Pio Nono played a baseball game with the junior team from Marquette.  Later opponents included Milwaukee Normal School, Milwaukee County Agricultural School, and Concordia Seminary. 


In 1911 Pio Nono lost a football game to Kenosha High School 53-0.  College Football Data Warehouse shows losses to St. Norbert College in 1921 and 1923.  In 1922 the team also lost to Wauwawtosa High School 33-6.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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