Saint Mary’s reflects on history of Riedinger House as laboratory, guest home
Jordan Cockrum | Monday, March 4, 2019
While Saint Mary’s is now well-known for its nursing program and preparation of women leaders, it was once also known for its ability to prepare students to run a home.
The College had a major in domestic science — commonly known as home economics — until the mid-1960s, director of donor relations Addie Cashore said in an email.
“The program was considered rather advanced for the time,” Cashore said. “Students with a concentration in dietetics or nutrition were required to take several rigorous courses in biology and chemistry in addition to fulfilling laboratory requirements.”
All seniors majoring in domestic science were required to complete a unique practicum: a nine-week stay in the campus’ Riedinger House, Cashore said.
The Riedinger House was built in 1939 through a gift given to the College by Charles Riedinger and his sister, Caroline Riedinger. The gift was donated in honor of Adaline Crowley Riedinger, class of 1864, and her daughter Mary Adeline, class of 1889 — the College’s first mother/daughter legacy, Cashore said.
The house was built with the purpose of allowing students to have a practicum experience during College President Emerita Sister Madeleva Wolff’s tenure. Cashore said four students at a time would live in the Riedinger House with a Sister of the Holy Cross, who served as a live-in supervisor.
“The students learned home management skills that included budget management, planning and preparing meals, shopping for food, cleaning, sewing and entertaining,” Cashore said. “They practiced their culinary skills on faculty and administrators who were invited to dine on a regular basis.”
While there are traditional aspects of the home — three bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen — the Riedinger House was built on a nontraditional seven-eighths scale on the inside. Due to the building costs being higher than expected, budgets cuts had to be made, resulting in the smaller-scale interior.
Former College President Jan Cervelli lived in the home for six weeks at the beginning of her term. While the seven-eighths scale might be small to some, Cervelli said her small frame fit in well with the interior of the home.
“For someone that’s three-quarter scale anyway, it was delightful,” Cervelli said. “It made me feel at home right off the bat. I could get a real sense for the students who were actually students in that home, what it would have felt like.”
Cervelli stayed in the home with her dog, Pearl, while waiting for her purchase of a home in South Bend to close. While Saint Mary’s is quieter in the summer, Cervelli said she felt staying on campus allowed her to understand the College’s culture better.
“It was summer, so it wasn’t so busy with a lot of people, but there was enough traffic that I kind of got a feel for the pulse of the day and the evening,” Cervelli said.
Cervelli said she feels the ability to live in the Riedinger House enabled her to have an experience that not many College presidents have anymore. Although Cervelli did stay in dorms throughout her time as president, she did not get another chance to stay in the Riedinger House before her resignation.
“As far as college campuses are concerned, there aren’t many instances where there is a home kind of in the center of campus, certainly not one where presidents live in the house,” Cervelli said. “I was tempted over the course of my presidency to stay there again because I think it really makes you get the real feel for the campus and the students and being part of that.”
Another unique aspect for Cervelli was the Riedinger House’s location in relation to the Sisters of the Holy Cross Convent. Cervelli said this allowed her to also gain an understanding of the relationship between the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s.
“It also kind of sits between the campus and the convent,” Cervelli said. “I definitely got a feel for the power of the convent and the Sisters and the relationship and the history. Being able to look out onto the convent, so that was, I think, a very special thing.”
Cervelli was not the only distinguished guest to live in the home — College President Emeritus Monsignor John McGrath lived in the home for almost three years during his time as president with two other priests and his dog, Cashore said. In addition to the housing of College presidents, the Riedinger Home is also the location of on-campus Alumnae Board meetings as well as occasional events for students.
Cervelli said after her stay at the Riedinger House, she advocated for its increased usage in campus events because she saw the benefits of visiting the house.
“That really convinced me that it’s kind of a hidden treasure on the campus and to try to encourage more people to use it, like students to have events and meeting and gatherings,” Cervelli said.
There have been several events hosted in the Riedinger House for students. Each year, there is a reading of “Quiet Hours,” a book written by Saint Mary’s alumnae about the ghost stories they have heard on campus. There are also teas hosted in the home periodically, with the next happening Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in honor of the 175th anniversary of the College.