Spokane History Timeline

Father Cataldo and Gonzaga College - 1887

Father Cataldo

Father Cataldo began missionary work in the Spokane area in 1865. While Father Cataldo was working with the Indians, he recognized that if the Jesuits were to continue their Indian mission work, they would have to build a catholic school and college for the smartest Indian boys in the area. Father Cataldo informed Rome of his idea. He told Rome that if they didn’t start a school then forty years of missionary work would be wasted. The founders were so excited with the idea of a college, however they expected it to be a college for white students, not for Cataldo’s Indian students. Gonzaga College was built.

Gonzaga College opened on September 17, 1887. The cost of the college when completed would be about $30,000. The school accepted children of elementary, high school and college ages. Gonzaga was named after St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the Saint of Children. A few days after the college opened Joseph Joset, a missionary, arrived with two Indian boys, and tried to register them. Father Joseph was told that the school was only for white boys. By the end of the school year the attendance had changed to 18 boys, every one was white. By 1900, the college had a church, a new four-story brick hall and 244 students, making it the biggest Catholic school in the area. Over the years the number of students steadily rose.

Gonzaga Students 1889

The school grew again during 1911-1912. It built a twin spiraled church, which still stands in the center of today’s campus. It also became a university in 1912. This made it possible for it to open the Gonzaga School of Law. It is still the only law school in Eastern Washington and one of only three in the state. In 1922 the elementary age children were moved to other catholic schools. This left the high school students and college students.

Gonzaga continued to grow until the Depression of the 1930’s. In order to keep students, Gonzaga had to cut back the cost of the school, making it free in some cases. The school went into debt and the end seemed near. By 1936, it looked as if the school would close forever. Slowly, it came out of its slump; part of this was due to the School of Engineering, which was opened in 1934. By 1940 the school had 1,213 students, and was doing well.

Gonzaga Field

On December 7, 1941 everything changed, it was the day of Pearl Harbor. The male students joined the military and became chaplains. In the Engineering program alone the number of boys went from 175 to 31. Meanwhile, only three days after Pearl Harbor, a massive fire destroyed the Law Library building and the school science lab. They decided that they needed a change on campus, so they enrolled woman into the school. In 1948, Gonzaga admitted women students for the first time, although when 70 woman arrived in 1948, some Gonzaga boys did not appreciate the girls coming, they got over it sooner or later. After the war, the enrollment increased greatly, because those men who served could get tuition through the GI Bill. Because of these two changes enrollment went to over 2,000.

The school went under more changes in 1954 when Gonzaga high school, or Gonzaga Preparatory, was removed from the main campus; to a land they owned several miles away. Finally the Gonzaga campus was strictly for college students.

Today, Gonzaga encourages people of all races and backgrounds, it turns out to be the kind of school Father Cataldo wanted many years ago. Gonzaga started out to be a school for bright Indian children in the area. It was begun by Father Cataldo himself. Over time, Gonzaga made many changes over the years including the opening of a high school, allowing woman to attend, building during hard times and becoming known through a popular basketball program. Today it is more successful than ever. Even Father Cataldo would be proud!

Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society.
L93-66.50 = Father Cataldo
L87-1.20402-21 =Students on Stairs
L94-9.103 = Gonzaga field

copyright (c) 2000, 2007 Discovery School.
All rights reserved.
Report created May, 2007.
Revised: August 21, 2007; 10/4/2009
Last Modified on July 27, 2011; April 2016