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The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Wilkes-Barre in 1875. Once here, they lost no time in establishing a parish school, enrolling five hundred children in the first week. Night and weekend classes soon followed for mine working youth and adults. By the beginning of the 20th century, the community had grown, along with the need for more nurses and teachers. Public school teachers needed professional certification. The Sisters saw that women entering the Mercy Order needed undergraduate and graduate degrees so that they could train others. They saw that laywomen wanted the same opportunity, and that a liberal arts college could accomplish these ends. Enlisting the help of Catholic laymen, they began collecting for a college that would answer these needs. Despite the Great War of 1914, social prejudice, and a tragic fire that claimed their convent and the life of their Superior, the sisters persevered.
Philadelphia architect F. Ferdinand Durang, one of the most highly regarded architects for ecclesiastical design, was engaged to design their new home and women's college at Villa St. Teresa. On August 15, 1924 a large crowd attended the dedication of the first college in Luzerne County. Local papers reported the event, praising the sisters, their high educational standards, the beautiful Tudor Gothic building, and the faculty of "established excellence." Classes began the following month and continue to present day.
The Roman Catholic college was open to women of all creeds. One in five of its early graduates were of other faiths, yet students and sisters witnessed periodic cross burnings on the campus in its earliest years. The newcomers earned the acceptance and praise of their neighbors, and the vital relationship continues to prosper with the present-day coeducational, Roman Catholic college serving more than 2,000 students of all ages.
Additional information on the founding and growth of the college is available on the college website and in the library and archives.