St. Mary of the Plains College
Dodge City, Kansas
Though I have lived in Kansas, I have never been to Dodge City, an area Truman Capote referred to as “out there.” Digital copies of the St. Mary of the Plains yearbook, Campanile, are on e-yearbook. As I write this, the school has been closed just over 20 years, so the campus is still pretty much intact and the graduates have an active alumni association.
St. Mary of the Plains Academy, a Catholic boarding high school, existed in Dodge City 1913-42. In May 1942, a tornado destroyed the campus. The Sisters of St. Joseph built again after World War II, and St. Mary of the Plains College opened in fall 1952 as both a high school and junior college. By 1954 it had become a four-year institution, and the high school was dropped. SMOP was accredited in 1963.
The 1965 Campanile shows a student body of around 500—later to reach 800. Over half of the freshman class that year were from Kansas, but students from the East Coast made up almost 20% of the class.
All students took classes in theology and philosophy, which the school felt integrated the curriculum. But most graduates were in the professional programs—business administration, elementary education, and nursing. Other graduates were in typical liberal arts programs such as history, English, mathematics and modern languages.
SMOP provided its students with numerous extra-curricular and social opportunities. Most disciplines had clubs for their majors. In addition, there were organizations for student government, service, intramural sports and creative activities. Drama students did four productions each year; The Miracle Worker and Barabbas were featured in 1965; the Campanile Singers did annual tours—Latin America in 1965.
Enrollment began to decline as the regional population shrank. In addition, the school faced a ten million dollar student debt default. These led to a closure on August 31, 1992.
Bricks and Mortar
All campus buildings date from 1952 or later. Hennessy Hall (1952) was the original classroom/administration building with a chapel and campanile on the west end. In addition to dormitories, the Sheridan Activity Center was added in 1969. Cavalier Field was home for football and baseball.
The city first leased and then purchased the campus outright in 1996. The Sheridan Activity Center is presently home to the Parks and Recreation Department. Cavalier Field is used by the Dodge City Community College teams. Hennessy Hall is host to both Newman College West and the Alumni Association. It was placed on the National Register in 2004. One of the dorms is now a motel.
Hennessy Hall with campanile Photo by Ammodramus (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mary_of_the_Plains_College#/media/File:Hennessy_Hall_(Dodge_City_KS)_from_S_1.JPG>)
Team name: Cavaliers
Colors: Blue and White
St. Mary began football as soon as the Sisters reopened the school in 1952. Until 1969 the Cavaliers played as an independent school. As such, they were often overmatched against opponents such as Arkansas State, Missouri Mines, Lincoln (MO), Colorado College, Western New Mexico, Missouri Valley, and Peru State (NE).
In 1969 St. Mary became a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, composed of a group of like schools. Through the years, they experienced more success. The 1969 team went 7-2, winning the Southern Division of the conference. The 1973 team, co-champions of the conference, lost to William Jewell (MO) in the Mineral Water Bowl. The 1975 team won the conference outright before losing to Buena Vista (IA) in the Boot Hill Bowl. But the last three teams were the most successful—all winning the conference and being invited to participate in the NAIA Division II playoffs. The 1989 team had a 10-0 record with eight shutouts. Allowing only 13 points, they set a national record for stinginess. That team lost to Tarleton (TX) State 16-6 in the first round. The 9-2 team of 1990 also lost to Tarleton State 24-14. The school’s final team also went 9-2, winning the conference, before losing to Hastings (NE).