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And now, a brief word from O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall

When I, O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, perhaps some of you were surprised to hear me described as an architectural wonder. You probably knew that I was originally an addition to Foley Hall (1858-1989). But did you notice that “this gracious open hall features full-height Palladian windows with amber colored art glass transoms”? Did you appreciate how “Ionic pilasters accent the walls and Ionic columns support an arched, barrel-vaulted ceiling”? And have you ever looked at my exterior of “red brick in an elongated octagonal plan with a hipped roof”?

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students in O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall in years past, perhaps the 1940s.

Did you know that, like many of the buildings on the campus, I was designed by architect Oscar Bohlen in a style called classical revival? The style is characterized by proportion, symmetry and repetition of elements.

How did I come into existence, you ask? In 1920, Saint Mary-ofthe-Woods Academy and College had grown so large a new dining room was needed. Volume Three of the Sisters of Providence history tells the story: “Prospects for the college were so good that it soon became necessary to build a new dining hall, sufficiently large enough not only for the growing number of students and faculty, but also for the nearly 1,000 Sisters of Providence who converged on Saint Mary-of-the-Woods every summer.” (385)

Designed for beauty

O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall hosts a gathering of women from Providence religious communities in 2015.

Oscar Bohlen, who was designing Le Fer Hall and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, produced an elegant plan for a dining hall to extend from the hall of mirrors on the north side of Foley Hall. Thus, I made my debut in March of 1921 for the senior prom. The students were delighted with my grandeur and classic beauty.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students gather in O’Shaughnessy in the 1930s.

In my early days, students sat at assigned tables and were served family style. It was difficult to find servers. Then, in 1946, a creative work-study program was initiated. Young high school students called Commercial girls were engaged to wait on tables and wash dishes. Under the care and supervision of much-loved Sister Theresa Eleanor Blessinger, these girls were given room, board and two years of private Catholic high school education in exchange for serving meals in the dining room. I was a little sad when the program ended in 1964. I had enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of these cheerful young people.

A new name

I was simply called the dining hall until 1950. That year, a generous donation from Eileen O’Shaughnessy, a Saint Maryof-the-Woods College graduate, provided me with new tables, chairs, chinaware and draperies — and a new name. Eileen was a remarkable woman who supported many educational institutions, served on many boards and received many honors. Fittingly for a graduate of a college with an equine program, she held the rank of Lady Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Joining the Order of the Holy Sepulcher represented a lifetime commitment to the Christian life and to charitable works. I was honored by my new name.

O’Shaughnessy Hall decorated for an event in modern times.

Time went on and customs changed. Eventually meal service in my hall became buffet style. Then Foley Hall was demolished in 1989. But I was preserved and continued to be used by the college students. Visitors also began to come to me for an elegant Sunday Brunch. And the Sisters of Providence rented me out for festive, exciting events — weddings and receptions, proms and formals, workshops and seminars, meetings and conferences, family and class reunions, bridal and baby showers, anniversary and graduation parties. The sisters held many summer gatherings in me — Annual Meetings, Chapters, Golden Jubilee parties, even dances and plays.

What is next?

A modern-day event at O’Shaghnessy.

In 2021, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College constructed a modern dining facility adjoined to Les Bois, their new residence hall. I know that life must move on, but I miss the youthful energy of the college students, their intensity and their optimism. Now my beauty and magic are shared only at Sunday brunch, meetings and special events, such as weddings or receptions.

I am still a place of tranquil symmetry and classic beauty, and sometimes I think I can hear faint echoes of the chatter, laughter, music and ritual that for 100 years have filled this special space. I wait in eager expectation to learn what my next role will be.

Originally published in the winter 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan is a volunteer in the Sisters of Providence Archives. A retired English professor, she enjoys her role as an archivist — answering queries, writing grants, and learning how to digitize collections.

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