The Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostles was founded in 1858 with the purpose of converting non-Catholic Americans to Catholicism. To this end, the Paulists established their own educational curriculum to ordain priests at Saint Paul the Apostle Church in New York. Upon the establishment of the Catholic University of America, the Paulists transferred their seminary to DC, building Saint Thomas Aquinas College on the university grounds. In 1911, with a desire for independence from the university and a need for more space, the Paulists purchased twenty-five acres near the school, known as the Stewart property for its nineteenth-century owner. The new Saint Thomas Aquinas College opened in 1914. It was formally dedicated in 1916, at which time it was renamed St. Paul’s College. Students lived, studied and worshipped in the building according to a rigorous discipline.
This original building was designed by the firm of Frederick V. Murphy (1879-1958) and Walter B. Olmsted (1871-1937) and was one of the architecture firm’s first major commissions. The firm would go on to establish itself as a prominent practice, gaining notoriety primarily for its work with the Catholic Church and associated institutions, including numerous buildings on the campuses of the Catholic University and Georgetown University. In addition to Murphy’s and Olmsted’s work at Catholic University, where they designed at least eight educational buildings, dormitories, the gym and the library, the firm produced many other churches, convents, and government, commercial and residential buildings in DC and beyond.
As St. Paul’s work expanded during the next decades, so too did the college building. In several phases of construction, beginning in the 1930s, the school extended its main block and added perpendicular rear wings, forming the building footprint that exists today. These wings accommodated a convent, additional residential quarters, a new chapel, and a dining area. All were designed by different architects whose designs were deferential to the original Murphy and Olmsted building.
DC Inventory: November 16, 2017
National Register: September 13, 2018