One of the first stops at the beginning of the “100 Oaks Project“, when I set out to relocate and document the founding member trees and the 100 largest oaks registered with the Live Oak Society, was a return to a favorite photographic location: a serenely beautiful grove and alley of live oaks whose moss-draped canopies arch above the path between the Academy of the Sacred Heart and the former St. Charles College, a Jesuit school for young men (now St. Ignatius School).
History: The alley of live oaks was reportedly planted around 1840 by Father Nicholas Point, the founder and first Jesuit rector of St. Charles College, to shade his daily route to the chapel at the Academy to celebrate mass:
The Jesuit priests served as chaplains for the cloistered nuns and the Academy students, and the trees were planted to protect them from the intense summer sun as they rode back and forth between the two schools. Today, the college is used as a Jesuit seminary and spirituality center .
Father Point’s dedicated service to the Jesuit order continued well beyond his time at St. Charles College. His subsequent work with the Flathead and Coeur d’Alene Indians, as well as his artistic abilities and contributions, are recognized and documented in the North Dakota Council on the Arts Online Artist Archive in an article contributed by Ken Rogers:
A gifted amateur artist, Point’s pen and ink and pencil drawings are strong; his paintings are reminiscent of George Catlin’s work, spiced with the addition of Christian fervor.
In the spring of 1847, after spending six years with the Flathead and Coeur d’Alene Indians, Point traveled by barge on the Missouri River from near its confluence with the Marias River to Fort Union in present-day North Dakota, and down river aboard the steamer Martha to St. Louis.
Collections of his drawings include scenes at Fort Union, Fort Berthold and the Missouri River near what’s now Bismarck-Mandan.
Registration & Measurements
Three of the trees in the grove and alley across the road from the Academy of the Sacred Heart were substantial in size (clearly over 16 feet in circumference) and warranted a measurement:
The circumference of the two largest live oaks measured was:
Oak # 1: 23 feet, 5 inches
Oak #2: 18 feet, 6 inches
A third live oak, which I made several images of, was also more than 18 feet in circumference. Located near the side of the road, the well-formed tree provided cool shade and a pastoral backdrop for the wedding party being photographed beneath its branches. While waiting for their photo session to conclude, I explored other compositions, re-photographing the oak alley and individual trees within the grove, which I have photographed on several visits over a period of 25 years for my personal portfolio and a variety of publications.
Some of the resident trees at Sacred Heart are registered with the Live Oak Society, whose records are maintained by the only non-tree member, its current chairman and “registrar,” Coleen Perilloux Landry. In the society’s records dating from 1934 – 2009, the largest trees recorded in Grand Coteau are:
#52 – “Coteau” – circumference 20 feet, 3 inches when registered; sponsor Mother Mary J. Lynch
#3381 – “O.O.O.” –circumference 16 feet, 4 inches when registered; sponsor Ruth Oliver Alba
#4164 – “Duchesne Oak” – circumference 21 feet, 3 inches when registered; sponsor Academy of the Sacred Heart
#6114 – “Ivy” – circumference 18 feet, 6 inches when registered; sponsors John & Nicole McDaniel
Cyndi’s Travel and Nature Notes
While Bill photographed in the grove, I was drawn to the steeple of the historic St. Charles Borromeo Church, which towers above the trees, appearing to pierce the sky. The church architecture and art  reflect the serene beauty of the natural setting, planted by human hands but sculpted by nature over time. The alley and grove were quiet, shady and cool in the fading light of a late afternoon in November; and the low angle of the sun’s rays and depth of color in the green grass were ideal conditions for Bill’s large format black-and-white compositions. An occasional comment from a busy squirrel, the rustle of leaves in a light breeze, and conversations between the birds were the only exceptions to the quietude until a lively, curious Boston Terrier ran up to Bill, visited for a bit and then darted off. The small black-and-white dog found Bill again at the next photo stop (greeting him like an old friend); and we met his owners, who paused as they jogged by to introduce us to Woodrow. Woodrow’s visit has a permanent place in the “tree travel diary,” as we now refer to the large oak Bill was photographing at the time as “Woodrow’s oak.”
The front of the Academy was beautifully lit at that time of day, so we took a few photos of the landscaped gardens and statue, before heading to Lafayette to visit the St. John Cathedral Oak, 2nd Vice President of the Live Oak Society (and one of the “Top 100 Oaks” on the Society’s 2003 list).
Originally published under the title “Sacred Heart in the Big Sky” in Lewis and Clark: Art of the Upper Missouri. (Ken Rogers, Tim Fought, editors. Jim Bridges, publisher. Bismarck: The Bismarck Tribune, 2000.)