Bishop John Carroll

Bishop Carroll

I came to Montana with three leading ideas--the idea of a parochial school system, the idea of a cathedral and the idea of a college. - Bishop John Carroll

In 1883, the first bishop of Helena, John Baptist Brondel, proposed a Catholic college in Montana to help produce future priests for the soon-to-be diocese of Helena.  Unfortunately, he died before his plans could be realized. Pope Pius X selected as Brondel's successor a young priest from Dubuque, Iowa: John Patrick Carroll.

Prior to his appointment, Carroll was the president of St. Joseph's College in Dubuque (now known as Loras College).  He had been appointed president there just five years after joining the faculty.  Upon his arrival in Montana, the newly appointed Bishop articulated three goals: to establish a Catholic school system, to build a cathedral (pictured below), and to carry forward Bishop Brondel’s vision of the first Catholic college in Montana.  According to Carroll College historian Dr. Robert Swartout, “Carroll's most telling qualities were his deep and unwavering commitment to his faith, his intellectual breadth, his strong administrative talents (including his ability to stay focused on the primary task at hand), and his passion for Catholic education" (Bold Minds & Blessed Hearts, 8).

Snowy Photo of CathedralCarroll’s fervent commitment to Catholic higher education was driven by his desire to provide opportunities for the American Catholic laity.  He was convinced that with an education American Catholics could offer positive contributions to American society, especially at the higher levels of leadership.  

While he referred to the college as Capitol Hill College during his speech at the laying of the cornerstone, it would later be named Mount St. Charles College in honor of St. Charles Borromeo, Carroll College’s patron saint. It was named in his honor because at the Council of Trent he was the first Church leader to propose the idea of founding diocesan colleges.

"The aim of [this] College will be to give the young [people] of Montana a thorough, liberal education which will fit them for leadership in any vocation they may choose and at the same time, so surround them with a religious atmosphere that they will ever follow conscience as their king. Knowledge and virtue are the armor with which [this] College shall strive to equip students."

Bishop John Carroll at the laying of the cornerstone of Carroll College (September 27, 1909)

The first group of faculty consisted of eight priests and six lay persons, and right from its opening the College welcomed those from other faiths.  The 1912 Mount St. Charles Bulletin states, “While the College is conducted under Catholic auspices, and is intended primarily for Catholic students, still no religious test is required.  Difference in religion, therefore, is no obstacle to admission of students.  All denominations are respected, and no influence is brought to bear against the religious convictions of any student.”  In both of these ways, Bishop Carroll’s vision for Mount St. Charles College anticipated the Second Vatican Council’s language on the laity and ecumenism by over fifty years.

Bishop Carroll died unexpectedly in 1925. In 1932 the College’s board of trustes voted to change the name to Carroll College. Swartout notes, “While much would change in the one hundred years following Bishop Carroll's 1909 address, including the admittance of women to the student body and the gradual but steady decline in the number of priests serving on the faculty, it is nonetheless remarkable that the bishop's vision--his call to search for knowledge while holding true to virtue--would remain the hallmark of the college down to the present” (Bold Minds & Blessed Hearts, 18).

It gives me great pleasure indeed to participate in the laying of the cornerstone of this and other educational institutions. We are liberal enough in this country to assist in the promotion of the work of all religious denominations. The college you are building will be a blessing to Helena and to the whole state of Montana. The only trouble is we have not institutions enough of this kind in the United States."

William Howard Taft President of the United States at the laying of the cornerstone of Carroll College (September 27, 1909)