St. Gregory’s College
The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture profiles Sacred Heart Mission and St. Gregory’s College. The 1975 National Register application contains a history of the campus and buildings. The Shawnee Morning News and Catholic Home covered school events. Yearbooks for 1949-56 are available through Ancestry.com. The school seal (right) is from the Flags of the World website, located by Paul Bassinson.
On May 13, 1877 Father Isidore Robot, a Benedictine monk, opened an Indian mission in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. Sacred Heart College, opened in 1880, became the oldest institution of higher education in Indian Territory. After the buildings burned in 1901, the Benedictines determined to build a new school in Shawnee, a town served by the railroad. Catholic University of Oklahoma opened for 40 boys in 1915. It offered programs of study leading to Bachelor of Art, Bachelor of Sciences and Bachelor of Philosophy degrees in addition to high school and commercial programs. By 1916 enrollment had reached 150. In 1923 the school adopted the name St. Gregory’s College as an indication of “the actual scope of the work of the school.”
St. Gregory’s offered a strong musical program with both a school orchestra and a school band. Students had a literary society, a debating society, and a student council. In 1923 a school newspaper, The Gregorian appeared. As a Catholic school, St. Gregory’s had a Holy Name Society.
The 1949 Cowl shows that post-high school classes were open only for seminary students. But by 1956, the junior college program for lay students had been restored. In 1965 the high school was dropped, and St. Gregory’s became a co-educational junior college. In 1997 St. Gregory’s again offered bachelor’s degree programs, becoming St. Gregory’s University, accredited for graduate courses in 2005.
Financial difficulties led to closure at the end of the fall semester 2017.
Bricks and Mortar
Work on Benedictine Hall began in 1912, and the cornerstone was laid in May 1913. The building was completed in 1915 for the opening of the college. Made of concrete reinforced with railroad rails, it is faced with brick and stone. Measuring 260 feet by 90 feet, Benedictine Hall has four stories over a raised basement. The central tower with turrets adds a fifth floor. The ground floor held administrative offices and some classrooms. The second floor contained the library. Classrooms took up the third floor with laboratories on the fourth floor. Originally there was a gymnasium in the tower, but after a separate gymnasium was built, the space became classrooms. Until 1940 when a separate church was built, the building also served as the abbey and church. Benedictine Hall was placed on the National Register in 1975.
The earthquake of 2011 damaged the four turrets. However the school received 2.5 million dollars in donations, so turrets were rebuilt by 2013.
The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, purchased the campus in 2018. In 2019 the family donated the campus to Oklahoma Baptist University. Today it serves as the Green campus of O.B.U.
Benedictine Hall. Image by Kennethaw88. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Gregory%27s_University#/media/File:Benedictine_Hall_Shawnee.jpg
Team name: The 1923 Catholic News refers to the teams as “Cardinals.” The 1949 Cowl refers to teams as
“Knights.” Later teams became “Cavaliers.”
School Colors: Originally Green and White, these finally became Red and Blue.
A 1907 image from Sacred Heart College shows that the earlier school offered a baseball program.
Catholic University began a football program immediately in 1915, defeating Oklahoma Baptist College 13-0. Even with a small enrollment—part of which were high school students--Catholic University/S.G.C. played football through 1926. While many games were against area high schools, the team also lined up against many of the four-year colleges in Oklahoma—with limited success. Teams lost to the University of Oklahoma 107-0, to Henry Kendall College (now Tulsa) 82-0 and to Central Oklahoma State 67-0. In addition, early teams played basketball and baseball in the independent Shawnee league.
The 1949 Cowl shows that the Knights fielded football, basketball and track teams at the high school level. After 1997 both men’s and women’s teams from St. Gregory’s University were members of the NAIA- based Sooner Athletic Conference.
(left) 1915 Catholic University football team. Image from the Shawnee Daily News-Leader https://www.newspapers.com/image/665631603/