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Legacy Leads the Way: Ask the Archivist

We are excited to introduce our new feature, Legacy Leads the Way. Throughout the 22-23 school year, as Visitation celebrates our 150th anniversary, we will share Visitation stories and tidbits and how they have helped shape who we are today. Have a story idea? Please contact Cecilia Petschel, Director of Communications, at or 651-683-1748.


Legacy Leads the Way: Winter Recreation

Winter is upon us at Visitation! As we reflect on our legacy Visitation, we asked archivist Colleen Hansen to share some of Visitation’s history with Minnesota winters.

Winter is here! We’ve seen some of the students sledding and snowshoeing around campus. Did the Sisters ever do things like that?
They did! Religious life is pretty structured, but the Sisters built recreation time into their schedule. Most often, they took their recreation in the Community room doing things like playing board games, sewing, knitting, performing skits and playing music together. That said, they were known to snowshoe, cross-country ski, build snowmen and even sled during the winter!

What about the pond? Did they ever skate on it?
They did, but not for too many years.  Because skating was such a strong tradition at Vis, the first few Winter Week celebrations for the students included skating on the pond in Mendota Heights, but due to the variable conditions of ice and winter weather, they stopped that activity relatively quickly after moving here.

So, when did the tradition of skating begin at Vis?
We know for sure that there was a skating rink flooded at the Robert Street location as early as 1886. Because we do not have a whole lot of written information from those early years, I can’t say much more than the fact that it happened there, but I do have an account telling that the St. Paul Fire department came at least once to flood the rink for them. When they moved to 720 Fairmount Avenue campus, the tradition of skating continued with the flooding of “the field” in the wintertime. The girls were allowed to skate during their recess period. 

Did the Sisters skate too? And did they really skate while wearing their habits?
They absolutely did both of those things! The Sisters would bundle up and go skating for their community recreation and participate in the annual skating parties held for the students. Many of the Sisters had been students at Vis before becoming a VHM Sister and had fond memories of skating and other winter activities that donning a habit didn’t mean they had to stop doing those things!

That must have been cold! How did they stay warm?
Lots of hot chocolate!  But also a warming house.  At the 720 Fairmount campus, they had a structure that the Sisters and the girls referred to as “San Jose."  It was an old garage that was left on the neighboring property which the Sisters eventually were able to purchase after moving in. When I asked Sister Mary Paula McCarthy about the name San Jose, she replied, “I really don’t know other than San Jose is a warm place! It was always called that!”  


As part of our Legacy Leads the Way, we will periodically spotlight a story from our archives. Colleen Hansen, Mendota Heights Visitation Archivist, has enjoyed collecting, preserving and sharing all things Visitation since 2019. 

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