It’s amazing how even the smallest metal ornament can become a gateway into one of the most vital periods of a university’s history.
A family member of mine had come across a pendant in an online auction and passed it on to me. It was a bronze piece about the size of a quarter, engraved with an eagle bearing the shield from the United States seal and an open book in its talons. On the edges were words identifying it as issued from the College of Gonzaga in Spokane. The reverse was engraved with the occasion, “1887 – 1912 Silver Jubilee Gonzaga College, Spokane, Wash.,” in plain bold-faced lettering.
The question in both our minds was of its significance. Was it some sort of honor? How many had been made? Who were they for?
The answers lay in the William Hutchinson Cowles Rare Books Library of Gonzaga’s own Foley Center. Assistant Dean Kathleen O’Connor was more than happy to introduce me not just to the university’s own remaining pendants of like design, but to the stories concerning their history.
One-thousand of the pendants were made and distributed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Gonzaga, and originally came on blue ribbon that students wore for the occasion.
Through hours of awestruck searching in news articles that have no turned 100 years old I discovered a rich and active Gonzaga of the past preparing for its first major anniversary.
Students across the campus decorated their rooms with flowers, class colors, and school pennants, transforming the place into what one account called a “veritable fairyland of color and beauty”.
One Professor Gerard Rugers composed two musical pieces for the occasion which were presented in addition to several student works of a smaller nature.
At the time, Gonzaga had a very successful football team captained by W. Lyle Davis, a graduate that year described by the Spokane Daily Chronicle as “one of the strongest athletic men in the institution”.
Father Welch was described as being in attendance for the ceremonies. Although their presence at the 25th anniversary was not confirmed; Fathers Desmet, Crimont, Goller, and Cataldo were also mentioned in the articles!
Perhaps most striking were the proceedings of the official three day ceremony itself. Then Governor of Washington M.E. Hay was present with several other authorities from both the state of Washington and the Catholic Church to witness the change in status of Gonzaga from a college to a university. He later described the occasion as “the most intellectual meeting I ever attended in all my life, and I do not expect to present at such another during the remaining portion of my life.”
The Most Rev. Alexander Christie, archbishop of Portland, presented the baccalaureate address to the graduates. He had these words to say which are still impactful 100 years later, “Gonzaga, I hail thee this morning. I Hail thy future work and thy future triumphs. On the morrow you take your place among the great universities of America. May the future bring thousands of students to you that will salute you as their Alma Mater.”
Another of his quotes highlighted by the Spokane Daily Chronicle was on education saying, “The church holds the ideal school system is that in which secular knowledge and religious truth blend together in inseparable union. In the Christian school, secular knowledge finds in its union with religious truth its completion.”
It pays to look back on our university’s history with pride and strive to do our predecessors proud. This time the discovery of a small bronze pendant has allowed a look back in time to do that.