In an unassuming corner room—just down the hall from and somewhat behind the dual lobby parlors of Celeste St. Paul Hotel + Bar—Sister Jane Hurley made some dubious memories.
“Hohohoho,” Sister Jane said, recalling what it was like more than 60 years earlier when she got summoned to the room. “I would have been mighty scared. That’s where you’d ask for your penance and find out what you did wrong.”
The room we’re looking at, empty now save some construction dust and scraps, is soon to be one of the nicer king suites in downtown St. Paul’s new boutique hotel. But Sister Jane, now in her 90s, knew it as someplace else: Mother Celestine’s office at St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Arts. Sister Jane spent a fair amount of time there—as, no doubt, did nearly 100 other sisters of St. Joseph who lived on the upper floors of the convent.
“Every time we did something that wasn’t the right thing to do, we’d have to kneel down and ask for a penance,” she says. How often was that? “Every day for a whole month or so.”
Another former resident, Sister Agnes Foley, had joined this walk-through on a Wednesday morning in late September. Neither of the now-retired sisters had explored this 1910 Beaux Arts building, designed by architect John H. Wheeler, since they lived here in the early 1960s. And as we poked around, they both seemed genuinely curious what the next turn would hold.