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Legacy Leads the Way

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.

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

Flag Raising Ceremony

On Friday, September 23, the Visitation community will participate in our annual opening Mass and flag-raising ceremony. Ms. Hansen shares how this tradition began at Vis. 

When did the first flag ceremony raising happen at Vis?
The first formal flag-raising ceremony was in November 1917 at the onset of World War I. The Sisters and students alike were keenly aware of the world-changing events happening outside of the Convent walls. They did this ceremony again in 1918 at the end of the war or Armistice day.  

Which Sisters were most involved with bringing the flag-raising ceremony to the school?
Msgr John J. Cullinan (1884-1986) whose sisters were Visitation Sisters Jane Margaret and Mary Rita, VHM entered the priesthood after years of study at Saint Thomas Academy,  St. Thomas College, and then in the Seminary. In 1918, he was trained in chaplaincy and joined the army. He served on the European front until he returned to St. Paul in 1919 after World War I ended. His Sisters wished to honor him and all other members of the military.

Did this tradition continue?
Yes and no. This formal ceremony gave way to a daily raising of the flag and recital of the pledge of allegiance when the Sisters and students were at the 720 Fairmount Ave location.

Are you sure 1917 was the date of the first flag-raising ceremony?
I’m not entirely sure. There is a brief mention of the school on Robert Street putting out a flag on the front of their school in the Record, the Visitation yearbook. It said that “the pupils of Robert street” purchased and raised the flag after the conclusion of the Spanish-American war in 1898.

Fun Fact: This flag was the same flag used when the Sisters held the 1918 flag raising ceremony on Armistice Day Nov. 11, 1918 –  the conclusion of World War I.  

So, why do we still do it today?  
In 1968, two years after the sisters moved to Mendota Heights, Msgr. John Cullinan donated a new flag pole to honor the war chaplains and the chaplains who served the Sisters over the years. The Sisters chose to dedicate this generous offering at the onset of the 1968-69 school year. From then on, it seemed to become an annual event and a new tradition. The flag-raising ceremony was officially added to opening Mass/reunion weekend in the 1980s. 

Has the flag pole always been in the same location? 
In 1968, the flag pole was first installed near the original Middle School entrance adjacent to the “blue door.” Due to the Middle School addition, it was moved to a new location still near the Middle School entrance. When the Heart was built in 2014, the flag pole was installed there where it is still today. 

Saint Thomas Academy students do something similar, did they ever participate?
Yes! In the spirit of camaraderie, since both schools were newly relocated to a “remote suburb” in the mid-1960s, the rifle squad and honor guard cadets were selected to participate in the ceremony. While they were part of the ceremony, the Vis seniors have always been responsible for the processing and raising of the flag.