By Victoria McCargar, College Archivist
For 55 years, the ground floor of Carondelet Hall on the Chalon Campus has been known as the Casa. But its current purpose — as undergraduate housing — is just the latest in a list of functions it has served since it opened in February 1959.
"Casa" is shorthand for Casa Margarita, named for Sister Marguerite Ellard, CSJ, who founded the home economics department in 1932. When plans for the ultra-modern Carondelet Hall were finalized in 1958, they incorporated her vision for a state-of-the-art laboratory for senior home economics students.
The Home Management Lab was actually an eight-room apartment with its own entrance, and fitted with a large kitchen and the latest appliances, a dining room, an ocean-view terrace, and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace. Groups of four to six seniors and a CSJ faculty member spent several weeks each semester in the Casa doing their own cooking, shopping, budgeting, laundry and household chores. The budget was far from lavish, so students learned to create healthy, appetizing meals with limited funds. If friends dropped by unexpectedly for dinner, the Casa “family” was expected to provide it. Teas, receptions and dressy dinner parties were also part of the curriculum.
After home economics waned as a major the Casa still found plenty of special occupants. Honors colloquia, cooking clubs and summer sports camps all took their turn. In the mid-1990s, commuter students in the Adult Learners program could reserve a place to live and study during finals. As part of an experiment in "theme housing" on both campuses in 1999, the Casa became home to the “Community About Serving All,” a small group of students interested in service and social justice.
While many of its original amenities — including the fireplace — are gone, the Casa still lives up to its original role: a special home away from home.