Every winter when I was a kid, I’d look forward to the Saint Vincent College Chill Out, always held in the spacious Robert S. Carey Student Center. It was a festival hosted by current students for the families of alumni. There were game booths set up for the kids, faux-gambling for the adults, food for everyone and opportunities to swim in Saint Vincent’s pool. So my sister and I grew up visiting my dad’s alma mater regularly. Even today, I can point out the sauerkraut tower, the stairs on a building that go nowhere (thanks to a fire 1963) and the best room in the crypts underneath the basilica.
Despite my love for Saint Vincent, it’s no surprise that just under a decade later I’ve found myself roaming the classrooms and grounds of Seton Hill University (SHU). My sister and I are fourth-generation Setonians; our great-grandmother attended Saint Joseph Academy on the Hill in the 1920’s, when Lowe Hall and St. Joe’s were still new.
Aside from a multi-generational connection, the two schools are linked in my family history by marriage. I’ve heard the story plenty of times; my dad, new to Saint Vincent’s campus. Mark Owens, the friendly upperclassman helping him move in. My dad’s Seton Hill-bound sister, a tiny blonde summer storm of a woman, who bounced down the hallway seemingly dead-set on embarrassing my dad in front of his new friends. Young Mr. Owens, of course, fell smack-dab in love and is my uncle today.
My family certainly isn’t the only one with stories like this. The relationship between SHU and Saint Vincent was in place long before that day.
“Going way back into the 50’s, the Seton Hill girls were cheerleaders for the Saint Vincent football team,” says Bill Black, archivist and professor at SHU. When homecoming season rolled around in the fall, the homecoming king was always from Saint Vincent and the homecoming queen from SHU.
Romance frequently bloomed between the students of the two schools from the very beginning up until both became coeducational. The archives at SHU contains a folder in which records are kept of the marriages between Seton Hill and Saint Vincent students. For many girls at SHU, the MRS. degree was real.
Academically, the schools forged an agreement in the late 60’s and early 70’s. A bus, much like the shuttle on SHU’s campus today, ran between the two schools several times a day. Students had the option of taking classes at the other institution while still having those credits count towards their degree.
On the whole, Saint Vincent was a more well-rounded college at the time. The school was larger than SHU – it offered more courses, had a greater number of students and had more money. With the development of an academic agreement, students of SHU were able to take advantage of this. The girls of SHU tended to take science courses at Saint Vincent, while the boys took part in Seton Hill’s array of liberal arts courses.
According to Black, one of the biggest benefits that came from this collaboration between the schools was the growth in their theatre programs. This partnership came quite naturally from the start – students from Saint Vincent were cast in male roles in SHU’s production, and the opposite was true for Saint Vincent’s productions.
In addition to the collaboration between the theatre programs, the music departments also worked together. For several years there was a Festival of the Arts that took place on Sullivan Lawn. Students from both schools set up displays in the festival and demonstrated their skills in singing, dancing, sculpting and other various arts.
SHU also experienced religious benefits from the relationship between the two schools. “From the first, brothers from SVC were our priests on campus. Fr. Robert is just following a very long tradition dating back to 1800’s,” says Black.
Until 1964, no man had ever been in one of Seton Hill’s dorms. Fathers of the students had to drop things off at the front. This changed in 1964, when men were allowed to go into the dorms and see how the girls had decorated the halls for Christmas on the Hill.
This change didn’t mean that the Sisters were any more lenient when it came to their young charges interacting with members of the opposite sex. While a sexual revolution was happening on college campuses across the nation, SHU remained rather old-fashioned. Even in 1968, young men who arrived for a date had to wait in the parlors of the Administration building while a Sister called down the student.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, some of this shifted. The young men of the area – including students of Saint Vincent – grew bolder. Panty raids used to be a regular occurrence, where young men would sneak onto campus and run through the dorms, grabbing underwear from the dressers of SHU students. Black recalled at least one instance where the men doing this were arrested and charged with misdemeanors. Other men weren’t so hasty in their visits to SHU’s dorm buildings.
“We used to have a fire alarm system here [that] could turn certain buildings on and off – the campus police would turn alarm on in Havey, collect the young men as they exited,” said Black. If no young men exited, campus police would then go through the building room by room and collect the men before escorting them off campus.
Though students from both campuses still occasionally interact today, the official relationship between the schools ended in the 80’s. Saint Vincent became a coed school in 1983, a decision that left the administration of SHU unhappy. With the arrival of women on Saint Vincent’s campus, SHU found itself in competition with the neighboring school, vying for the interest of young Catholic women in the area. The administration of Seton Hill – including the President at the time, Eileen Farrell – was not happy. The decision on the part of Saint Vincent to become coed had come as a surprise to Seton Hill and left the school struggling to make up for this loss in student population.
After President JoAnne Boyle took office, the relationship between the schools – official or otherwise – simply faded. Seton Hill became coeducational in 2002, the same year it gained university status. As of today, the schools are on friendly terms but do not interact on a professional level.
When asked about the relationship between the schools as they are today, Black said that he did not see it going anywhere. “There’s no longer any reason. We used to be competitors on the basketball courts, but [SHU] moved into the NCAA.” Even when the schools did meet on the courts, the relationship was far from sweet. After a loss in 2004, the men from Saint Vincent reportedly snuck into the tunnels beneath SHU and left graffiti on the walls, some of which can still be seen today.
This isn’t to say that the two schools – once sister and brother – hate each other; they’ve simply grown up and grown apart. Even in the days of instant communication and whole parking lots full of students’ cars, ten miles is quite a distance to cover just to say hello.
Perhaps in the future we’ll see some reason for the schools to come together. However, if this happens it likely won’t be on an administrative level – communication between the schools now falls to the students. The doors of both schools are open and have always been. Why not stop by for a day some weekend when you’re free? There’s plenty of stories to tell, and history to share.