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Tucson - Casa Elizabeth Seton Kindergarten and Novitiate

In 1953, the Sisters of Charity purchased the old Potter School, a 8,696 square foot residence that had previously served as a college preparatory school, to accommodate “Casa Elizabeth Seton,” a new novitiate for postulants of the order and a new kindergarten. The 1924 building had to be updated and refurnished.

Sr. Vincent de Paul Baker was transferred from Ajo to be the Sister Servant in the new home. Several of the Sister faculty members of Salpointe High School would live at the Casa. Sr. Christine Marie McElhinny became the kindergarten teacher.  Sr. Theodosia Murtha was appointed Mistress of Postulants.  

The Casa Elizabeth Seton as viewed from the right side of the front lawn.  The fish pond is seen at the right edge of the photo

1950s, The Casa Elizabeth Seton as viewed from the right side of the front lawn.  The fish pond is seen at the right edge of the photo

Before opening the new novitiate, Mother Claudia Glenn wrote to every priest in the Diocese of Tucson that “the few postulants who have come from the west since we opened our first mission in Tucson have all proved very desirable subjects and we would like to increase their number a hundredfold” (Personal Correspondence, 1953).  Miss Ramona Felix, Miss Maria Consuelo Pacheco, and Miss Joan Pate were the first postulants in the new home. They were followed shortly thereafter by Miss Madeline Kleman.

1953.  Western Postulancy at Casa Elizabeth Seton, Tucson.  Three Postulants enjoy a cookout with the Professed Sisters.  Miss Ramona Felix, Miss Madeline Kleman, Miss Consuelo Pacheco toast marshmallows.  Professed Sisters are Srs. Mary Joachim Graffius (w), Christine Marie McElhinny, Rebecca Kelsey.

1953, Western Postulancy at Casa Elizabeth Seton, Tucson. Three postulants enjoy a cookout with professed Sisters. Miss Ramona Felix, Miss Madeline Kleman, Miss Consuelo Pacheco toast marshmallows. Professed Sisters are Srs. Mary Joachim Graffius (w), Christine Marie McElhinny, and Rebecca Kelsey. 

The kindergarten offered half-day classes in the mornings and afternoons for 4 and 5 year old children. The Sisters used the ballroom as “the most beautiful and best kindergarten in Arizona” (Annals, 1953).

Nineteen Sisters of Charity ministered at the Casa Elizabeth Seton Kindergarten including, Srs. Vincent de Paul Baker, Margaret Anne Hanley, Christine Marie McElhinny, Jean Agnes Fallon (Irene), Columba Henry, Rebecca Ann Espinosa, Jane Elizabeth Petrak, Mary Esther Dolan, Antoinette Bosco, Edward Mary Hendricks, Mary Inez Clark, Mary Michael Burns, Ann Agnes Kilkeary, Rita Ann Woods, Marie Dismas Kirsch, M. Harriet Omlor, Anna Marie Miller, Mary Timothy Adams, and Ann Patrick Adams.

c. 1954-55.  Sr. Christine Marie McElhinny and child, three women sitting outside.  Photo was used in the Citizen to promote card party for the Casa Kindergarten.

c. 1955, Sr. Christine Marie McElhinny and child, three women sit outside the Casa Kindergarten. 

c. Early 1960's.  Children gather around statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and present flowers

Early 1960s, Kindergarten children gather around statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and present flowers.

“As for the value of the Elizabeth Seton Kindergarten much can be said. It did not take long for this school to be held in high regard throughout all of Tucson. Its excellent reputation constantly merited for it a full enrollment in both the morning and afternoon sessions,” wrote Sr. James Marie Malone, The Sisters of Charity in the Southwest.

1959.  Rodeo parade in Tucson.  Students on float are dressed as Sisters, priests, Indians, cowboys, etc.

1959, Rodeo parade in Tucson. Casa Elizabeth Seton students are dressed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of parochial schools in America. 

By 1961, there were few postulants coming from the West, but the Casa was used still used as a convent and kindergarten.

The Sisters enjoyed local sightseeing while staying at the Casa. “With some trepidation concerning immigration laws the Sisters ventured several miles south of Nogales, Mexico. The remains of Father Eusebio Kino, the famous priest on horseback of pioneer days, were very recently excavated in Magdalena….Then Padre Kino’s entire skeleton, some parts of his coffin, and a crucifix green with age were discovered. These remains though now covered with glass are displayed for pilgrims. We considered ourselves highly blessed to witness the results of this excavation” (Annals, July 9, 1966).

The Casa was closed in 1971 and the furnishings were donated to needy individuals, including the Yaqui Indians. Mr. John Greenway, owner of the neighboring Arizona Inn, bought the property to build residences and luxury condominiums but that plan was never realized.

1971.  Nov. 5.  Sale of Casa Elizabeth Seton. Witnessing the final signing for sale.  Seated: Sr. Mary Timothy Adams, John Greenway. Standing: At right, Ralph Little, employed by Sisters of Charity as consultant.  Greenway purchased the property

1971, Sale of Casa Elizabeth Seton. Seated: Sr. Mary Timothy Adams, John Greenway. Standing at righ: Ralph Little, employed by the Sisters of Charity as consultant.

The Casa Elizabeth Seton Kindergarten was moved to the Cabrini School Building of Saint Frances Cabrini parish, but the state of Arizona began, around that time, to consider kindergarten part of the public school system, so enrollment quickly dropped. Srs. Ann Patrick Adams and Mary Timothy Adams were the last teachers in 1972.

A few years later, Seton House of the West would become the site to foster vocations in the West with an affiliate program. Srs. Sue Yochum, Mary Lawrence, and Penny Cunningham would be welcomed into the Sisters of Charity through this new vocational program in the West.

FUN FACT: The Potter School/Casa Elizabeth Seton property was originally purchased by real estate investor James W. Wheeler when he came to Tucson to recover from tuberculosis in the early 1900s. He bought the property on East Elm Street to form a ranch and, as part of his plan, he built the largest swimming pool in Tucson. Industrialist Leighton Kramer bought the property and built the imposing structures that would become Casa Elizabeth Seton. In those early years, Kramer hosted Tucson’s first rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Before 1950's.  Potter School before Community acquired it for Casa Elizabeth Seton.  Swimming pool.

1940s, Potter School swimming pool before the Sisters of Charity acquired the property. When built in the 1900s, it was the largest pool in Tucson, perhaps in all of Arizona. 

Tucson - Casa Elizabeth Seton Kindergarten and Novitiate