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An oasis of silence and prayer at 18th and Howell

Historian Dotty DeCoster originally wrote this article for the Capitol Hill Times where it appeared in 2008 but it is not available on the Web. She is able to share her work with CHS and we’re happy to feature her take on the Hill’s history. We last featured DeCoster’s work in this piece: The vanished nighthawks of First Hill

We walked up to 18th Avenue to peer over the ridge to the east where it seemed as if you could almost touch the Cascades. No wonder this was called the Mountain View addition to the City.  We were standing in front of the Son Shine House at  the north east corner of 18th and Howell, and I remembered that the garden wall used to extend around the front at the entrance to the former convent.  But what was the convent and how did it come to be here?

St. Joseph Carmelite Monastery.  This was the first Carmelite monastery on the West Coast, brought here from Baltimore by a determined local father and an equally determined local bishop in 1908.  The story has recently been told by the Carmel itself in a new publication called “The Seattle Carmel; Our Story, Centenary 1908-2008” which appeared in the mail to Seth Dalby, Archivist of the Archdiocese of Seattle, just after I’d asked him about the building.  Here’s the story in brief.

Malcolm McDougal and his wife Mary McRae McDougal had come to Seattle from Canada in 1885.  Devout Catholics, they had prospered and raised a family first in Seattle and then further south near Tacoma.  Their daughter, Anna Albinus, choosing a religious vocation, entered the Baltimore Carmel in 1894.  Mr. and Mrs. McDougal visited her there annually.  When Mrs. McDougal died in 1907, Mr. McDougal wanted to sponsor a Carmel foundation on the West Coast.  He met Seattle Bishop Edward O’Dea, who had a desire for a Carmelite Monastery in his diocese.  By May of 1908, all were agreed to build in Seattle, and Mr. McDougal signed the  deed to a small property on Capitol Hill on May 9th, the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph.

Four nuns were selected to come to Seattle from Baltimore:  Prioress, Mother Raphael of Divine Providence (Adelaide Keating); Sub-Prioress, Sister Cyril of the Mother of God (Anna Albinus McDougal); Sister Agnes of the Immaculate Conception (Mary Agnes Kelly); and a postulant, Clara Bienlein who became Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus.

Mr. McDougal escorted the Sisters from Baltimore to Seattle by train in July of 1908 and they stayed at his home until construction was complete in December.  They took the “electric cars” north to their new home on December 7th and Bishop O’Dea blessed the house, St. Joseph’s Carmelite Monastery, on December 8, 1908.

 The Carmelites, a contemplative order, date their history to St. Teresa of Avila, Spain in 1562.  Dedicated to contemplation, silence is the general rule, along with study and, of course, the work needed to maintain the house and garden.  Mass was held in the chapel and the public was welcome.  The monastery was (and is) walled, but while the sisters were in residence, the wall extended across the front of the building and included a “turn”.  I remember it being used for retrieving lost balls.  A garden was maintained on the south side of the building, where the pavilion remains.  (You can see the tip of the roof over the wall.)  While St. Joseph’s was not the only monastery (convent) on Capitol Hill, it was the only one dedicated specifically to serve as an oasis of silence and prayer.

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At the time the building was built, there seems to have been some resistance from the neighbors.  The building permit was published in The Seattle Daily Bulletin on May 28, 1908 calling for a “2 ½ story frame assembly hall” and listing the owner as M. McDougall and the architect as F. F. Travis.  The Seattle Carmel reports of Mr. McDougal, “Afraid of the reaction of the neighbors to having a monastery in their midst, he let it be known that he was building a residence ‘for his sweetheart,’ leaving everyone free to think what they would and himself free to concentrate on the task at hand.”  Not-in-my-backyard in 1908!  The Seattle Carmel also reports that Mr. McDougal checked every piece of lumber and the other materials used for construction.  His care has left us with a building still sound after 100 years.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the site became too lively even for the patient Sisters.  Archbishop Connolly assisted the Carmel in locating property – an old riding stable just north of 145th Street in Shoreline – and land was purchased in 1956.  It was not until 1965, however, that sufficient funds were raised and construction completed on the new monastery.  The Seattle Carmel remains there.  A purchaser for the older building was found who planned to use it for a rehabilitation center for alcoholics.  The Sisters were pleased with the projected use of the building that had been their home for 57 years.

In 1988 the building was purchased by the Union Gospel Ministries, renamed the Son Shine House, and now houses the New Vision Recovery Program , a residential drug and alcohol recovery program established in 1991 “based on the biblical principles of grace, restoration, and transformation”.

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