Monday, April 14, 2014

House of the Good Shepherd

A small colony of five Sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd arrived in Helena in 1889 at the invitation of Bishop John Brondel. He was keenly aware that many of Montana’s wild and wicked mining camps and urban areas supported thriving red light districts. The bishop was concerned that young girls might be enticed into an immoral lifestyle and wanted to offer these young girls (and women of the “profession”) sanctuary. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd fit the needs perfectly. The Catholic order, founded in France to convert prostitutes to a better way of life, spread into Europe and the United States in the first half of the 1800s. Residents under the sisters’ charge were called Penitents. They included women who wished to reform, reformatory children, and “children committed to the nuns’ care for preservation.” The sisters came to Helena from St. Paul, Minnesota, and settled into a convent prepared for them at Ninth and Hoback in a quiet South-Central neighborhood.

The complex at 9th and Hoback includes the convent (now apartments) and the dormitory at far left which is now the studio of artist Tim Holmes. SHPO photo.
The sisters supported their work with a state-of-the-art laundry operation in the basement of the women’s dormitory. The “inmates” (as they were called) did all the laundry for the major hotels in Helena and Great Falls. The complex included a large dormitory adjacent to the sisters’ convent and chapel. The home was always filled to capacity and soon outgrew the space. In 1909, the House of the Good Shepherd moved to expanded facilities in Kenwood west of the city. Eventually the emphasis shifted to teens at risk, and the sisters took in girls until 1967. The original Ninth and Hoback convent, dormitory, and St. Helena’s Church across the street are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The complex is a neighborhood curiosity. Nothing remains of the extensive Kenwood campus except for the former gymnasium. It survives as St. Andrew School.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, Mulvaney postcard collection

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