St. Thomas Aquinas School & Catholic Association Hall

Catholic Association Hall (left) and St. Thomas Aquinas School photographed ca. 1892, photographer unknown. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

St. Thomas | 317 Second Ave. W. | Architects: Wirth & Traphagen | Built: 1886 | Lost

Association Hall | 315 N. Second Ave. W. | Architect: Oliver Traphagen | Built: 1890 | Lost

Four nuns opened the first Catholic school in Duluth in January 1881 in a former carriage house along the 100 block of East Third Street, but they were gone by September. Seven other sisters tried again in 1884, this time within the city’s former high school building along First Avenue East. They were much more successful. Two years later the St. Thomas Aquinas School opened at the southwest corner of Second Avenue East and Fourth Street across from the 1870 Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

A Gothic Revival building designed by Wirth & Traphagen, the wooden school featured two pyramid-capped square towers, lancet windows, and several art-glass windows in the shape of shamrocks representing the Holy Trinity. It contained four classrooms designed to accommodate four hundred children—but future additions to the rear of the building had already been planned.

The Duluth Catholic Diocese was organized in 1889, after which Sacred Heart became its cathedral and the school became known as St. Thomas Cathedral School, but was often referred to as Cathedral School. Soon after his arrival, Duluth’s first bishop, James McGolrick set upon the task of building Catholic Association Hall, located immediately south of St. Thomas School. McGolrick described the building’s purpose as “a central rallying point for Catholic temperance societies,” but it was also used by all Catholic societies and clubs. The Neoclassical building looked not unlike a church or school itself, with a large square bell tower capped with a pyramidal cupola rising above the central façade along Second Avenue West. Inside was an assembly hall that could be “utilized for concerts” with a stage “suitable for amateur performances of various characters.” The building was dedicated on May 1, 1890, McGolrick’s forty-ninth birthday.

In 1903, as the diocese was preparing to break ground on a new school to replace the 1886 building, St. Thomas Cathedral was moved next to St. Mary’s Hospital to make room for the new facility. It is unclear when St. Thomas Cathedral was ultimately demolished, but it was gone by the time the hospital made a large addition in 1922.

Likewise, Association Hall was demolished in 1907 to make way for the Christian Brothers Home. The gathering place was not replaced; instead, Catholic organization meetings and other events were held within the auditorium of the 1904 Sacred Heart School.