Sister Joan Kain can tell sandstone from granite and limestone from brick, as quickly as a master gardener can name flora and fauna. This one-time St. Kate’s biology instructor loves rocks. She’s written three books on old-stone buildings and published her fourth just recently.
“I have been interested in buildings and in brownstones and quarries since about 1969,” says Joan Kain, CSJ, ’55, who turns 90 on February 11. “As a teacher, I wanted to share my interest with students. This started with Rocky Roots: Three Geology Walking Tours of Downtown St. Paul, and it continued into Brownstone Buildings of Minneapolis and Brownstone Tour of quarries in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.”
And now, she can add an online publication under her belt: Fitzgerald's Neighborhood: A New Look at the Brownstones and Mansions of the Historic Hill District (www.fitzgeraldsneighborhood.geosocmn.org).
Yes, Sister Joan is a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and works, “especially his short stories,” she adds.
In addition to historical snippets on the eight homes this American author lived in, in St. Paul, there is a photo of him at two years old and a photo of his friends and the local buildings that influence his writing.
Sister Joan received her Bachelor’s of Arts in elementary education and history at St. Kate’s in 1955, and earned master’s degrees in earth science from the University of Northern Arizona and in education from Marquette University in 1960. She taught in St. Kate’s biology department beginning in 1979 and upon retiring, jumped right back into work — for the next 30 years — as a reading/study skills coordinator at the O'Neill Center Academic Excellence on campus.
“She joined us in a volunteer capacity — first fulltime, then reducing her load little by little over the years until she retired for the last time back in November 2011,” explains Thelma Obah, O’Neil Center director. “Sister Joan is special for many reasons. She’s a long-time colleague of St. Kate's, a Sister of St. Joseph, a Katie and an active woman who has never stopped learning and researching.”
Books and brownstones…
Sister Joan wrote both — Brownstone Buildings of Minneapolis and Brownstone Tour — with help from St. Kate's faculty grants. Rocky Roots, a walking guide to stone used in downtown St. Paul architecture, was first published in 1978. It’s “a favorite of local teachers, students, geologists and those who are interested in the architecture of downtown St. Paul buildings,” according to the Ramsey County Historical Society, which commissioned it as a bicentennial project.
Brownstone is a type of sandstone that is characteristically dark. Its trademark color comes from the high amount of iron in the stone. According to Sister Joan, the 1870's through the 1890's were boom years for the local, Midwest brownstone industries.
Rocky Roots was revised and reprinted in 2007, and made the cornerstone in 2009 of St. Paul’s Rock, an international symposium of sculptors whose sculptures — all crafted from Minnesota rocks — are still on display in many public places across the city. Her book also inspired a 2003 gallery show, “New Stone Age,” in downtown St. Paul.
Today, Sister Joan lives in Carondelet Center, a stone’s throw from St. Kate’s. Mobility issues limit her visits to campus and to her favorite quarries, but she remains as curious about old-stone buildings and, notes Obah, “as intellectually sharp as she ever was.”
Happy 90th Birthday, Sister Joan!