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From the Archives: The spirits of Saint Mary’s College

and | Friday, October 30, 2020

Diane Park | The Observer

In October of last year, the From the Archives team covered the story of the ghost of Washington Hall, arguably the most well-known supernatural story stemming from the tri-campus community. 

But while Notre Dame’s supernatural claim to fame is a Travel Channel feature of its most prominent ghost, Saint Mary’s bests the University with its sheer number of spooky stories and urban legends. This week’s edition of From the Archives profiles the plethora of poltergeists inhabiting the College — and the Saint Mary’s women who wrote a book about them.

Saint Mary’s alumnae write book on College’s supernatural side

Oct. 31, 2016 | Nicole Caratas | Researched by Evan McKenna

In the summer of 2000, Saint Mary’s hosted the Leadership and Community Development Academy, a high school leadership program led by Saint Mary’s students. The counselors and high schoolers alike stayed in Le Mans Hall for the duration of the program. As night fell, to entertain the high schoolers and themselves, the counselors told Saint Mary’s ghost stories. 

Three of the counselors — Saint Mary’s alumnae Shelly Houser, Veronica Kessenich and Kristen Matha — were especially enthralled by the stories, and decided to write a book on supernatural phenomena at the College. 

This idea eventually became “Quiet Hours,” published in 2002 — a thoughtful blend of Saint Mary’s history and the College’s often otherworldly underbelly.

As part of a 2016 profile of the three authors, Matha told former news writer Nicole Caratas how the team of young writers carried out their research.

“We would walk around campus with tape recorders and students would stop us to share a story,” Matha said, also describing an event the three girls organized wherein women gathered and told ghost stories, now known as “Heritage Week” at the College. “We met with security guards and cleaning staff who worked the night shift, both at the College and the Convent, to gather their stories.” 

Houser believed her fascination with the supernatural at Saint Mary’s stemmed naturally from her love for the College.

“The paranormal has always treaded the fine line of interest while easily crossing the line to spine chilling thrills,” Houser said. “Writing about Saint Mary’s was an honor … this was such an enormous privilege allowing such insight into Saint Mary’s as well as her past.” 

“Quiet Hours” seemed to solidify Saint Mary’s status as a haunted campus — following its publication, many South Bend ghost hunters visited the College inquiring about the book, Matha told The Observer. 

Maeve Filbin | The Observer

Students gathered in Riedinger House on Oct. 29, 2019 for the College’s annual reading of “Quiet Hours.”

“I have met my fair share of fellow ‘Quiet Hours’ lovers,” she said. “It makes my day when someone asks about the book or the three of us.” 

Despite living in Le Mans Hall — supposedly the College’s most haunted building — Matha has never had an encounter with the supernatural herself, but still considers herself to be a “true believer.”

Le Mans Hall, a hotbed of supernatural activity

Oct. 30, 2000 | Laura Bost | Researched by Jim Moster

Saint Mary’s is no stranger to the supernatural. According to a Scene article written by Laura Bost in 2000, “Saint Mary’s boasts a collection of unusual events and mysterious deaths.” Bost interviewed students at the College and dug deep into campus lore to uncover all of the alleged ghostly phenomena.

Many of the famous Saint Mary’s ghosts are tied to real or legendary deaths that occurred on campus. For example, a 20-year-old student named Zellie Selby died of illness in 1870. Selby had no official residence on file, so she was buried with the Sisters in the graveyard behind Regina Hall. Some students see a young woman’s silhouette marked on Selby’s tombstone, which they attribute to Selby’s spirit. Others claim that the silhouette is a coincidental result of the tombstone’s aging. Either way, many believe that Selby continues to watch over Regina Hall to this day.

But Le Mans Hall is believed to be the true epicenter of supernatural activity on campus. Residents of Le Mans claim to see doors open and shut randomly, pictures fall off of walls and ghastly forms emerge from solid surfaces. One former Le Mans resident, Nicole Mann, told The Observer “clothes, videotapes and food disappear[ed] from her room and then reappear[ed] a few days later.” Mann attributed these disappearances to a ghost. In response, her roommate began leaving out piles of Wurther’s candy for the spirit.

Alex Parilli (‘02), another Le Mans resident, has had multiple run-ins with the spirit realm. One day, while ironing her shorts, Parilli found a large streak of red on the shorts and the iron. The substance was impossible to remove until it mysteriously disappeared days later.

Le Mans residents pointed to a few tragic deaths to provide the cause of supernatural activity in the hall. A baby supposedly died in Le Mans in the 1970s, and a student’s body was found in her room in 1990. Saint Mary’s archivist John Kovach said that “students create justifications in the form of ghost stories” to explain mysterious occurrences. However, speculators of the spectral at Saint Mary’s are convinced that the ghosts are real. 

The authors of “Quiet Hours” seem to agree with these speculations. Their book chronicles various other supernatural occurrences within Le Mans Hall, including the stories of building services finding a child’s handprint on a window, security staff feeling cold chills in rooms that were not air conditioned and a Resident Assistant in Queen’s Court — reportedly “one of the most haunted hallways in the building” — seeing a man run past her and through a wall. 

Observer archives, Oct. 31, 2007

Queen’s Court, the haunted hallway of Le Mans Hall.

A spooky close second: The hauntings of Regina Hall

Oct. 30, 2000 | Laura Bost | Researched by Evan McKenna

If Le Mans Hall is the leading location for supernatural activity at Saint Mary’s, Regina Hall remains a close second. The building’s lower floors are especially eerie, according to many former Reigna residents — every night before a break, when students descended to the basement to retrieve their suitcases and luggage, strange sounds were heard from the basement.

One student recalled entering the basement in the early hours of the morning, only to hear “unexplainable slams of wardrobes opening and closing,” followed later by “barely audible voices” that broke the silence.

Concerned by the building’s ostensible paranormal activity, many Regina residents brought in reinforcements: Some banded together to retrieve suitcases from the basement’s storage room, while others recruited male students from Notre Dame to make the trip for them, often turning the men into “believers” themselves.

“There is something definitely messed up about that place,” said one Notre Dame student who made the trek down to the basement.

“Quiet Hours” only added to the number of hauntings reported within the walls of Regina Hall, documenting stories of pianos playing by themselves, previously locked doors found inexplicably opened and unexplained ripples in a courtyard pool.

Saint Mary’s student Mackenzie Griffin, who attended a 2015 campus ghost tour revolving around “Quiet Hours,” said she believed the stories outlined in the book. 

“I definitely think the ghost stories on campus are real,” Griffin said, before telling The Observer a ghost story of her own. “I haven’t experienced anything, but there is a lot going on in the bathrooms in [Holy Cross Hall]. You’ll hear people walk in and do their nightly routines, but there’s nobody there.”

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