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“Gee! There’s nothing to do.” 100 years of snowy winters

By Anthony Caporale

A photo from the 1930s depicts SVC students playing ice hockey on the Saint Vincent Lake. (Source: Saint Vincent Archives)

Saint Vincent College experienced a snow-packed February in 2021. Just like the previous winters at Saint Vincent, when the snow starts to pile up, sleds start rolling down the campus hills. The history of Saint Vincent College packed with stories of snow and fun.

Now, during the cold Pennsylvania winters, students enjoy a handful sports like sledding, snowball fighting and ice skating. However, students are not the only ones who participate in these winter activities. Staff members and monks have a long history of enjoying winter activities too.

Br. Barnabas O’Reilly, O.S.B, explained that a sledding monk is not an uncommon sight to see in winters at Saint Vincent.

“I have gone sledding and snowman building with monks! It is especially fun to take some of our monks who have never gone before. Once we had a visiting Abbot here from a monastery in Brazil and we took him sledding for his first time ever,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly has one description for his favorite hills to sled on: “I’d say the safe ones!”

Saint Vincent hosts some very steep and formidable hills, and for the past several years, Student Affairs has erected numerous signs to prioritize student safety. The signs warn against and prohibit sled riding on the steep slopes around campus. For example, the area surrounding Chuck Noll field has signs prohibiting sledding.

However, years before Saint Vincent was coed and before the construction of the Rooney and Benedict dorms, students had less of a concern about safety.

SVC students sled in the winter of 1946. (Source: Saint Vincent Archives)

According to Guy Davis, the Saint Vincent archivist, “The steep hillside below Rooney and Benedict dorms was once a popular hill to sled down, and students would use cafeteria trays as sleds, much to the dismay of the cafeteria staff who needed the trays for mealtime.”

Davis also revealed that, hidden in the Saint Vincent Journal-Volume 31, there is a written account of an annual sleigh-ride of the professors. On Feb. 13, 1922, students were allowed a half-holiday. Classes ended early at 10am to allow everyone to go sledding for the day.

“Everyone who had any experience at all on a pair of skates found their way to the new lake” according to the journal.

The “new lake” refers to the Saint Vincent Lake. Davis explains that, when frozen over during winters, the campus lake “was once a very popular spot for ice skating and pick-up hockey games and was heavily used by students at Saint Vincent.”

In fact, in 1903, Willie Brennan started a hockey program at SVC that had its practices and games “on the spacious pound on the college grounds,” according to the Saint Vincent Journal-Volume 12.

Whether it is the winter of 1903 or of “the awesome 1990’s,” (in the words of Fr. Brian Boosel, O.S.B, the cold snow always seems to have a snowball effect on student attitudes.

As the Saint Vincent Journal of December 1946 says, “Many a free time is spent in a good snowball battle. Faces that appear not to have been washed for weeks are cleansed with the help of a friend in the freezing snow…. No, I don’t think anyone will say this winter, ‘Gee! There’s nothing to do.’”


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