KXLY’s Extreme Team renovating home of Spokane’s Singing Nuns
SPOKANE, Wash. — For 100 years, it has loomed on the bluff overlooking east Spokane. But, many in Spokane have no idea what’s inside the historic Mt. St. Michael. Now, as inhabitants celebrate the building’s centennial year, KXLY’s Extreme Team is stepping in to make life easier inside what’s known as “The Mount.”
187,000 square feet, 177 doors and two and a half million bricks make up the physical structure. But, the real heart of Mt St Michaels lies in its most beloved residents: Spokane’s famous Singing Nuns.
Officially, the 35 sisters who live at Mt St Michael are members of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. They wear traditional, full-length blue habits, observe the most traditional Catholic teachings and still observe mass in Latin. But, they’re not as old school as you think.
“We’re not weirdos or anything like that,” explains Reverend Mother Mary Agnes. “We keep up with modern technology, we have email, we have cell phones. We’re just trying to live our faith as we feel it was taught to us as children.”
And, they’re living that traditional life in the most traditional place. The mount was built by Jesuits in 1915; it’s filled to the brim with Catholic history. Thousands of books date back centuries and line the walls of the St. Ignatius Library. The chapel Jesuits built still features the stained glass windows they designed.
But, this is much more that just an old convent.
The sisters spend their days teaching the 130 students, kindergarten through 12th grade, who are absorbing this traditional Catholic education. Latin is a requirement, but so is recess. And, the rulers nuns were known for in the 1950’s have been replaced by a different kind of discipline.
“They know [they’re in trouble] if they get ‘the look,'” says Reverend Mother Mary Agnes. “My favorite is just to stand there quiet and pretty soon they know something’s wrong.”
The sisters and the students know it’s an incredible blessing to be able to live and learn in a building with such incredible history. But, trying to operate in a 100-year old building is also their biggest curse.
“It’s a huge building, so it’s starting to show it’s wear and tear,” explains the Reverend Mother. “It’s very difficult to heat in the winter. In the summer, it’s very hot.”
It costs more than $50,000 a year to heat the mount. They wear layers and stay out of certain areas of the building to save money and conserve energy. But some repairs, like the old kitchen used to cook for the school children and parishioners that come to mass here, can’t wait.
“It’s just not user-friendly at all,” says Reverend Mother. “The oven works, but it’s temperamental. It works when it wants to work, but not usually when you need it. There’s not enough burners, there’s not enough room, the appliances are so old.”
This week, the KXLY Extreme Team is renovating that kitchen, just in time for Thanksgiving. As for the rest of the building, they’ll repair what they can, when they can. There are no plans to leave this historic place; too much history remains. For example, the old cemetery that sits on the edge of the bluff serves as the final resting place for dozens of Jesuit priests, dating back to 1888. Among the headstones, a yellow bouquet adorns the grave of Fr. Joseph Cataldo, the missionary who founded Gonzaga University.
Even as the sisters continue to adapt to modern life inside this historic building, they’ll remember and honor the traditions on which The Mount was built. And, share their gift of singing with our community for decades to come.
To visit Mt St Michael and hear the Singing Nuns, click here for information about their upcoming Christmas concert.