A Brief History: 1852 – The Present The DeKoven Center began as Racine College, founded in 1852. Its first building was built that same year and is now part of The East Building, paralleling Lake Michigan. In 1859, Dr. James DeKoven came from St. John’s School in Delafield to become Warden of the College. It was he who gave the campus its focus, modeling the quadrangle on Radley College, Oxfordshire, England, with faculty and students living together in dormitories, worshipping daily in St. John’s Collegiate Church, and eating together in a common Refectory, today known as the Great Hall. Under Dr. DeKoven’s leadership, Racine College became a prominent institution of higher learning, attracting excellent faculty and good students. Ralph Waldo Emmerson, the great essayist and poet, lectured here, and General Billy Mitchell was a graduate. Dr. DeKoven himself gained fame as a preacher and writer, and is commemorated on the church calendar each March 22nd. Dr. DeKoven also assisted in laying the cornerstone of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and was instrumental in founding The Taylor Orphanage and St. Luke’s Hospital, all in Racine, WI. He died in 1879, and the school continued in one form or another through the Great Depression.
In 1935, Bishop Ivins of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee assisted in making arrangements for the Community of St. Mary, the oldest women’s Religious community of the Episcopal Church, to take title of the property. In search of a Summer home for dependent children from Chicago, the Sisters of St. Mary began to make use of the property as a summer camp and eventually formed The DeKoven Foundation for Church Work, a retreat and conference ministry. In 1938, a gift from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church enabled the Sisters to create a small chapel in Taylor Hall. With the creation of St. Mary’s Chapel, the year-round use of Taylor Hall began. In 1985, the Sisters transfered the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. The Diocese turned over the management of the Center to an independent board of directors which has full authority to run the site.
The old college motto,”Vigeat Radix” (May the Root Thrive) is as appropriate today as it was in the early 1850′s. The work of the Foundation thrives today with Taylor Hall as its retreat center. St. John’s Chapel stands in the middle of one of the oldest intact collegiate quadrangles in America and hosts numerous weddings and services each year. Each Tuesday at noon, a service for visitors and guests is held in St. Mary’s Chapel with its striking carved wood reredos and altar, and unusual clear-glass Gothic windows. The DeKoven Center continues a legacy of education, spiritual reflection and recreation, sponsoring monthly retreats and quiet days, hosting quarterly retreats and conferences led by nationally known speakers, and promoting a variety of events and programs in the arts. The Center also has a full range of gym and pool classes and activities. We invite individuals and groups of all faiths to visit and use our historic campus and its unparalleled facilities.