Bishop Harkins Hall Maryclaire Henion
Bishop Harkins Hall is a four story Gothic revival building designed by the Boston architect Matthew Sullivan as the founding building of Providence College in 1917. Harkins Hall opened its doors on September 18, 1919 to seventy-one students and nine Dominican faculty members. The back wing addition groundbreaking took place on in November of 1927 and was opened for use in December of 1928.

Harkins Hall construction
Form and Structure:
Constructed of brick and limestone with a huge central tower, Harkins Hall most certainly demands attention. The six story central tower mimics those of Gothic cathedrals, and is predominantly made of limestone, interrupted by numerous windows. The pointed arch on the ground floor, which spans the width of four doors, rises through the second story. Above the four doors are gables and sculptures which display the torch, which is arch_closeup.jpgsymbolic of the Dominican emphasis
on education as well as St. Dominic's birth. Within the arch is the inscription “Bishop Harkins Hall” carved into the stone. Above, both the third and fourth stories of the tower contain six windows, and at the fifth story are twelve narrow windows. The sixth story culminates with a sculpture of Mary, and above her a cross at the very top of the building. The side wings of the building are simpler, constructed mostly of brick, forming a crescent shape. The windows within the wings are large, and are visually connected between the stories with lines of brick. Limestone is used as a visual accent above the windows, as well as along the stringcourse division between the third and fourth stories. A rectangular, four story addition extends behind the main crescent shape, which is completely invisible when viewing the building from the front.

An architect without formal training, Matthew Sullivan served as an apprentice for the Boston architect Edmund M. Wheelwright. In 1901 he became a founder of the firm of Maginnis, Walsh and Sullivan, and his interest in church architecture grew. He remained with the firm until 1930, when he withdrew to carry on independent work, designing many ecclesiastical buildings and educational structures for the Roman Catholic Church (Canton Journal, PC archives). His expertise on medieval Gothic architecture regarding structural form is made apparent in Harkins Hall. The addition was constructed in 1927 by the Springfield architect John W. Donahue.

The property for Harkins Hall was acquired by Providence College on March 10, 1917 from a land grant from the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence, Matthew Harkins, D.D., who wanted to create a center of advanced learning for the youth of Rhode Island. The area of land was originally part of the Bradley estate, which was called the "stated commons", and it was sold to the Bishop by Jane Whitman Bradley in 1910 (Harkins Hall, PC archives).


As the founding building of Providence College, Bishop Harkins Hall served all of the necessary functions to run the college. Harkins Hall was not only home to students, but also to the Dominican faculty. Additionally there were classrooms, a library, gymnasium, the Friars’ chapel, and a student chapel. Over time, the specific functions of the rooms on each floor have changed numerous times. In a document from July 1, 1958, it was reported that the auditorium and stage were on the basement floor, the bookstore and stock rooms for it, as well as the boiler room, meter room, paint room, and locker rooms. The first floor consisted of the foyer, auditorium balcony, the “Cowl” editorial room, a sacristy, oratory, Chaplain’s office, phone room, adult education and English offices. On the second floor were the rotunda, reception area, the President’s secretary’s office, Dean of Discipline’s office, and Bursar’s office, as well as rooms for theology, philosophy, and an art room. The third floor was home to the library reading room and reference room and a work room, as well as other miscellaneous rooms. The fourth floor consisted of the oratory, the Fathers’ library, dining room, pantry, kitchen, recreation room and thirty-six sleeping rooms. Lastly, on the fifth floor, was the chapel, containing the altar, pews, organ, sanctuary, and small sacristy. Currently, Harkins Hall is home to the department of Education, the Graduate Studies department, the majority of college administrative offices, the Balfour Center for Multicultural Student Affairs and classrooms (Harkins Hall Floor Plan, PC archives).

Maginnis and Walsh, Gasson Hall, Boston College, 1913
Harkins Hall is set at the entrance gate to Providence College on River Avenue, recently dedicated as Cunningham Square. Upon entering the campus, it is the building at the head of the drive, serving an important and impressive presence to welcome individuals to the college. Located close by is the Phillips Memorial Library, Albertus Magnus-Sowa-Hickey Complex, and the St. Thomas Aquinas Priory.
A.J. Davis, Washington Square, New York University, 1832-1837


The Gothic revival style was the prominent style for collegiate buildings during the early part of the twentieth century. Ralph Adams Cram particularly advocated for a reestablishment of Gothic architecture, yet one which adapted to the needs of the changing society. He believed that "Gothic architecture was not so much a collection of details as it was the embodiment of principles of truth in responding to function and structural integrity" (Roth, 355). This exemplifies why the Gothic style was a wise choice for the foundation building of Providence College, whose motto is Veritas, or truth. The style most certainly reflects the values of a Dominican institutio
n. Many other collegiate buildings are of this style as well, such as the Harkness Tower and Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, Gasson Hall at Boston College, and the building at Washington Square at New York University. The idea of a high tower is apparent in each of these buildings, as the Harkness Tower building is clearly a tower in itself, its function to house the Yale Memorial Carillon. In contrast, Both Gasson Hall and Washington square each incorporate the tower into the rest of the building, just as seen in Harkins Hall.

James Gamble Rogers, Harkness Tower, Yale University, 1931

James Gamble Rogers, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University

Timeline: Jane M. Jackson, July 24, 1984, Phillips Memorial Library Archives
March 10- Land grant from Bishop of Diocese of Providence acquired by Providence College
June- Groundbreaking, Construction, originally contained Fathers’ Residence, Fathers’ Chapel, Fathers’ Kitchen, Fathers’ Recreation Room, Refectory, Dormitory for Dominican Students, Students Chapel, Sisters’ Residence, Sisters’ Chapel, Classrooms, Observatory, Laboratories, Gymnasium, Auditorium, Students’ Lounge, Cafeteria, Rotunda, Library, Bookstore, and College Administrative offices
September 18- Opening
March 23- Fire outside
June- Dormitory for Dominican Students closing, pre-ecclesiastical students moved off campus
May 30- Flag pole dedication
November- February 1929- Addition Construction, Cost $500,000, many changes in floor plan, included construction of Harkins Hall Garage
March 30- St. Pius Parish use of Students’ Chapel closing

August 31- First full time pastor of St. Pius Church, William A. Sullivan, O.P., moved over to the Rectory, a remodeled house across Elmhurst Avenue from the new St. Pius Church
February- Rotunda Four Evangelists Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Addition, Artist Joseph John Sullivan O.P.
September 21- Flag pole, Penthouse and Sisters’ Walk destruction by hurricane, cost $5,000 including Hendricken Field and Martin Hall damages
September-October- Renovations, Students’ Chapel moved to Aquinas Hall, area converted into Laboratories
January 21- fire, smoke damage throughout building estimated at $6833.50
Students’ Chapel Opening
Summer-Fall- Students’ Chapel dedication; Blessed Sacrament Oratory $1000 donation from James F. Gannon, in memory of Mary Veronica Gannon; sacristy renovated, Stations of the cross added and hand carved oak kneelers later installed
July 7- Infirmary and some teaching facilities moved to Aquinas Hall

1943-1944- Rotunda remodeling, doors added
Spring- WDOM Radio Station Opening
April 21- Students’ Chapel fire, room had to be completely rebuilt
September 19- Telephone Switchboard Intercommunicating Dial Telephone System Installation
Spring- WDOM radio station closing

September 1- Sisters’ Residence Closing, Blauvelt Dominican Sisters conclude their service on the domestic staff

Summer 1948-April 1949- Remodeling, Laboratories and Science Library moved to Albertus Magnus Hall, space converted into lay faculty member’s lounge, new Students’ lounge, Library addition and college administrative offices
October- Rotunda remodeling, benches added, donated by Durastone Company, Lincoln
Observatory closing, 6th floor last used for Mechanical Drawing classes, left vacant for many years
February-March- Students’ Lounge renovation
May- Walk to Antoninus Hall Construction
July 9- September- faculty lounge relocated, Students’ lounge moved to Alumni Hall, converted into College Administrative Offices; Cafeteria moved to Alumni hall, converted into Bookstore; Infirmary and athletic complex moved to Alumni Hall, converted into College Administrative Offices
Summer- faculty lounge relocation, space converted to classroom
June 7- Fathers’ Kitchen Fire
June 14- Statues Addition to façade, Designer DePrado Company, Boston, MA; 5 statue of Istrian stone; Cost $6000, 1927 Class Gift and donations of College alumni physicians and dentists
October 29- November- Observatory Renovations; Art Club cleaned up long vacant area last used for Mechanical drawing class
December- January 1964- Rotunda remodeling, plaques with names of donors to statues erected; Designer John F. Cavanagh ‘35
Summer- Print room moved to basement, space converted into College Administrative Office
Summer- Transfer of Art Collection to Joseph Hall Fine Arts Center
April 6- October- 6th floor renovations; Architect Robinson, Green and Beretta, cost $13,685, alterations to long vacant are, originally the observatory, require for phases in operation of the Telephone Switchboard Centrex System
Fall- bookstore remodeling, cost $30,000
December 19- library closing, moved to new Phillips Memorial Library
December 27- Summer 1969- Renovations, Cost $66,135; former library space converted into classrooms and offices; included faculty lounge relocation and other changes in floor plan
Renovations, cost $40,000; included Elevator replacement and bookstore improvements
May- doors replacement
Summer- Bookstore remodeling, reorganized into bookstore and Slavin Center campus store
Summer- president’s office renovation, cost $7,273
Students’ Chapel Renovation
Publication’s office renovation
Summer- fire detection system upgrade and installation of ramps for the handicapped
April-window replacement
May- doors replacement
Flag pole replacement; fathers’ recreation room renovation
August 31- bookstore closing, moved to Slavin center
Fall- auditorium expansion from vacated area of bookstore
January 18- Noel faculty lounge opening and dedication
May 27- auditorium closing
May 28-October 14- Theater construction, auditorium converted to theater, designer Dana Newbrook of Robinson, Green and Beretta, cost $200,00+
October 15- Theater Opening, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, theater named “The Blackfriars’ Theater’ for
the theatrical world’s long association with the Order of Preachers, Dominican friars wearing black and white habits, dating back to the Reformation, when the Blackfriars’ Convent near London was used for dramatic productions, to the 20th c. establishment of an association of Catholic experimental theatrical chapters throughout the U.S., the Blackfriars’ Guild.
June 20- August- Harkins Circle Reconstruction, parking lot eliminated


ArtStor. <>.

Canton Journal Newspaper. Phillips Memorial Library Archives. January 27, 1994.

"Harkins Hall Floor Plan", Phillips Memorial Library Archives. July 1, 1958

"Harkins Hall", Phillips Memorial Library Archives, March 1, 1984

Jackson, Jane M. "Harkins Hall". Phillips Memorial Library Archives. July 24, 1984.

Roth, Leland M. American Architecture A History. Westview Press, 2001.