Mother Kernaghan’s Collections

In Kernaghan Hall, antique cabinets display relics of Maryville’s past

by Emma Prince

Reading time: 2 minutes

On the top floor of Maryville’s University’s Kernaghan Hall are two enormous, wooden display cabinets—three doors wide and so tall they barely fit in the hallway. The antique furniture pieces contain an extensive collection of rocks and minerals. A third display cabinet is filled with vintage physics instruments. The contents all trace back to one woman: Mother Kernaghan.

In 1979, a student working on an article for the student newspaper, then called “Summit,” interviewed Mother Marie Kernaghan, RSCJ, and inquired about the cabinets and their contents. Mother Kernaghan explained some of the minerals were already at the college when she arrived in 1915 and others were collected over the years in Colorado by sisters and students. “They were worth saving,” she said.

Mother Kernaghan taught at Maryville for more than 60 years. Born in New Orleans, she attended Maryville Academy of the Sacred Heart and graduated in a class of three in 1907. After graduation, she joined the Order of the Sacred Heart and took her final vows in Rome in 1916. She went on to earn her doctorate in physics from St. Louis University — becoming the first woman west of the Mississippi to earn a PhD.

A glass display case located between the two rock cabinets holds science instruments Mother Kernaghan used to teach physics, including a rheostat, a volt meter, a tuning fork and resistance boxes. She would have bought the instruments early on in her teaching career, probably in the 1920s or 30s. She headed up Maryville’s science department for 50 years, from 1925 to 1975.

Also in the display case is a small personal notebook dated 1964. It contains answers to problems Mother Kernaghan assigned for homework. She was known for her thriftiness; the notebook was a giveaway from an insurance agency and featured ads on each page.

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Many materials from the University Archives are available online, including class composites, yearbooks, student newspapers and other historical photographs and documents.