2022 marks a significant milestone for one of Larson-Danielson’s earliest and, for the time, largest institutional construction projects. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ are celebrating 100 years of living and serving at Ancilla Domini Convent and Motherhouse. Today, the building and associated ministries are known as The Center at Donaldson.
The roughly 150,000 square foot convent building took approximately three years to complete and includes a Gothic style chapel on the second floor that can seat more than 400. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ moved into the Motherhouse in August of 1922.
“As the Poor Handmaid congregation grew in the United States, the Sisters needed a place to call home. So, when the opportunity came up to buy a resort with 63 acres of land, the Sisters found a place that would allow them to continue their life and service,” said Sister Shirley Bell, PHJC.
“This was a huge project for Larson-Danielson and remains one of our largest and most iconic projects,” said Brian Larson, President of Larson-Danielson Construction. “We are honored to be joining the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ in celebrating Ancilla Domini Convent and its legacy in Donaldson.”
In 1919, Larson-Danielson was awarded the contract for the first phase of construction for the Ancilla Domini Convent. A year later, we negotiated the contract for the superstructure, and later, for the interior finish. The Ancilla Domini project was a huge undertaking for our firm, which, at the time, was just 10 years old.
“The plans for the Motherhouse construction called for an E-shaped building with three divisions that included a medical center in between,” said Sister Shirley. “The building was to be five stories high with a tunnel and a tower.”
The resort the Sisters purchased was home to Lake Galbraith hotel, a dance hall, bowling alley and small chapel. During construction, some of the Sisters occupied the hotel building, and Sister M. Bertha Broemmel kept a day-to-day account of the construction progress.
“Sister Broemmel’s diary containing her observations and impressions provides us with many colorful details and stories. Without her, we wouldn’t have such a strong historical record of the Motherhouse building,” stated Sister Shirley.
Labor Concerns and a Cooking Debacle
Larson-Danielson planned to hire laborers mainly from the immediate vicinity. However, because of the size of the project, many workers came from as far away as Chicago.
All the mechanics, supplies, masonry, and wood had to be transported and about 30-40 workers were employed at one time. However, the jobsite was not easy to get to and could only be reached by way of a train going to Plymouth.
To make it easier for the laborers, one of the existing frame structures was repurposed as a bunk house. A second frame building was used as a kitchen and mess hall, and a local couple was employed to do the cooking.
“One story that we still like to tell is about the cook at the job site,” said Larson. “Most of the workers from Larson-Danielson were Swedish and preferred bland food, but the cook was Italian and liked her seasonings, especially garlic. One day when she went out, the workers including founder Emil Danielson, threw out her garlic and refused to let her have any more. Naturally, she got very angry. A compromise was reached so the cook could still use garlic and the workers could be satisfied with a bit less seasoning.”
The Ancilla Domini Convent was designed by Herman J. Gaul of Chicago. In 1989, the convent was recognized by the Marshall County Historical Society as a historical landmark. Next year, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the building’s dedication.