Creativity continues after 50 years

Students use Saint John’s Abbey and University Church in individual styles

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October 18, 2011

By Ben Besasie '12

Westminster Cathedral Choir photo by Simon Tottman

As an enduring presence throughout the four-year undergraduate experience, Saint John's Abbey and University Church has inspired student creativity.

From the trapezoidal assembly, to its pleated roof, to the arm-like balcony supports and iconic banner bell tower, the church designed by renowned architect Marcel Breuer hits the half-century mark this year. Saint John's celebrated the 50th anniversary of the church with a candlelight vigil service on Oct. 22, a special morning anniversary Mass and a concert by the Westminster Cathedral Choir on Oct. 23.

Architecture Minnesota describes the church as "one of the most revered examples of modern religious architecture in the world," in its September/October 2011 issue.

For students, the church plays a different role. It offers a variety of creative opportunities in areas of theology, music, art, reflection and even the occasional Bennie/Johnnie rendezvous.

Joe Dzurik, SJU '12, found that it was a great place for a romantic date. Beyond the cheese, crackers and sparkling juice, he won over his date with the bell banner as a backdrop.

"It was such a beautiful sight to see the moon travel through the opening of the banner and appear on the other side," Dzurik said.

Art students use the church for photographic and artistic subject matter, capturing a sense of faith, comfort, place and strength. Nick Streine, SJU '12, has noticed a recurring theme throughout his art classes, with the church and bell banner serving as a familiar representation of Saint John's.

"It has been a focus at some point in almost every one of my art courses," Streine said. "It is an internationally known structure that has an honest use of materials." 

The church reaches beyond the realms of creativity and theology, and represents the spirit of the campus community. It is the students' first and last view of Saint John's. First-year students experience community in the church during convocation, while seniors gather there one last time to bid farewell at graduation.

Philip Adelman, SJU '15, was awestruck by the church when first visiting campus. He continues to appreciate it during special ceremonies such as convocation.

"I feel like the Abbey Church is a place of gathering for the Saint John's community where everyone gets together, and I feel part of a family because of it," Adelman said.

After 50 years, Saint John's Abbey and University Church continues to have a creative presence on campus during the four-year undergraduate experience. Perhaps, some will celebrate it with cheese, crackers and sparkling juice. Or maybe even a loaf of Johnnie bread.