The demise of Nazareth College in Kalamazoo has been coming for a long time, but reached a sad finale this week with the demolition of the historic Sisters of St. Joseph motherhouse.  Local citizens organized, demonstrated, gathered petition signatures and prayed.   But there was no way to save the massive 237,000-square-foot building.

Borgess Motherhouse-Google Street View

In 1889, eleven Catholic nuns came to Kalamazoo from Watertown, NY, to build Kalamazoo’s first hospital.   It evolved into what is now Ascension Borgess Hospital.  The sisters added an orphanage and a school.  Nazareth Academy opened in 1897 and Nazareth College opened in 1913. By the 1960s, the sisters were 1000 strong, serving communities all over Michigan.  They had their own post office: Nazareth, MI  49074.  That post office is being moved to 5073 Gull Road, and should re-open in May.

Starting in the 1970’s, fewer women were choosing the vocation.  The average age of the sisters running things got older and older, and their numbers dwindled.   Nazareth College closed 28 years ago, in 1992.

60 acres were of land were donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy in 2007.

Last fall, demolition started as former Nazareth College dorms were razed.  The library is now gone.  So far, the Dillon Hall apartments, still operating and sponsored by the ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph have been spared.

Dillon Hall-TSM Photo


Area Catholics would come to the motherhouse to pray on the Holy Stairs, said to be a replica of a similar staircase in Rome.  Those 28 stairs have been transferred to the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo.  Some other artifacts may find a home at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.   The cupola that towered high above the motherhouse was taken down just before Christmas.   It remains at the site, presumably to be saved, but nobody is saying how or by whom.

The motherhouse served as the start and finish line for the annual Borgess Run for 40 years.  This year’s event will have a new location.

There are some great photos and remembrances at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Facebook page.

Nazareth Motherhouse Demolition, March 2020