The spirit that guided the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1650 in France led to the founding of the Albany women’s college that Sister Blanche Rooney and the other Sisters opened in 1920 with a vision, $1,000, and just one house.
In 1650, a small group of women in LePuy, France, under the direction of Jesuit missionary Jean-Pierre Médaille, sought to consecrate themselves to acts of charity and live together in community. Gaining permission to establish a Congregation, they became the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The Sisters faced persecution during the French Revolution that threatened to wipe them out. But their “little design,” as they called it, prevailed. They not only prayed and served but nurtured their physical health and their intellect. The Sisters learned to make lace and taught others. In 1836, at the invitation of the Bishop of St. Louis, Missouri, six sisters ventured from LePuy to establish the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and to found St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf (Carondelet, Missouri). By the early 1900s, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet had a presence throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In 1920, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Albany Province were called to help create a Catholic college for women in upstate New York. The idea came from Monsignor Joseph Delaney, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, who noted the lack of opportunities beyond high school for Catholic women. After clearing the idea with Bishop Edmund Gibbons, Delaney asked Sister Blanche Rooney if the Sisters of St. Joseph would staff the College. Albany was chosen as the site.
Once the Keeler Estate was purchased for this purpose, Sister Blanche, with help from other Sisters and members of the clergy, used $1,000 to transform it into a college.
On September 22, 1920, The College of Saint Rose – named for the first American canonized saint, St. Rose of Lima – opened with 19 students and a faculty of eight, plus Sister Blanche. A single building, now known as Moran Hall, housed classrooms, a dining hall, chapel, parlor, and library. A garage became the science laboratory, where chemistry classes were conducted.
As they had always done, the Sisters learned how people around them lived and what they needed. They continually asked, “What more could we be doing, and how can we do it in an excellent way?”