Benedicta Arts Center

Benedicta Arts Center Benedicta Arts Center Benedicta Arts Center outside photo Benedicta Arts Center
Benedicta Arts Center (BAC), 2007 (click thumbnails for larger image)
For historical photos, click here.

The Benedicta Arts Center was named after Mother Benedicta Riepp, the foundress of the Benedictine Women of the United States. The BAC holds the Art, Music, Theater, and Dance Departments.

The building committee had been planning and designing the structure from 1959 to 1962. Originally, plans were only made for the building of an auditorium with an additional small theater. However, the architects for the project, Dick Hammel, Curt Green, and Bruce Abrahamson persuaded otherwise. Curt Green took the building committee, chaired by Sister Mary Patrick Murray and staffed by Sr. Firmin Escher, Sr. Colman O’Connell and Sr. Jacqueline Dubay, to six different states to tour campus art facilities. He encouraged them to build with the future in mind. From this excursion, the auditorium became a 3 in 1 Arts Center. The groundbreaking for the $3 million BAC took place in November of 1962, a ceremony blessed by Reverend Gunther Rolfson, OSB. A small effort was mounted by the religious community and the college, each contributing half the cost. The BAC was designed to have:

The cornerstone was laid on March 17, 1963, with the honors done by the Prioress of the Monastery, Mother Henrita Osendorf, OSB. Two years after the groundbreaking, the Benedicta Arts Center was completed. The blessing of the Arts Center took place on July 19, 1964 by Bishop Peter Bartholome. The BAC would be the first of its kind in the Midwest. To commemorate the completion, the BAC hosted the premiere of Emmet Lavery’s The Ladies of Soissons.

Along with the premiere, the structure of the BAC, designed by Hammel and Green, was hailed by architects and the arts community as one of Minnesota’s finest cultural resources. In 1965, the BAC received an honorable mention from the Minnesota Society of Architects. Articles about the Arts Center would appear in the country’s leading architectural magazines, Progressive Architecture, as well as the Ford Foundation’s The College Newsletter. In addition to this acclaim, the design for the Center was acknowledged by the New York Journal of Architecture and also included in the “Ideal Theatre” exhibit in the Lincoln Center section of the New York Library.

The year the BAC was finished, 1964, there were nine students majoring in the Fine Arts. The construction of the BAC encouraged students to pursue the arts, and by 1974 there were over 200 majors in the Fine Arts.

In 1977, thirteen years after completion, the Benedicta Arts Center underwent slight renovations. These were funded by foundation grants and individual pledges. The renovations included:

In 2003, as part of a comprehensive campaign, $10 million was sought to renovate the BAC to add new construction and to build an endowment to subsidize Fine Arts programming. A lead gift of $3 million, a donation from Tom Petters, a member of the Board of Trustees for the College of St. Benedict at that time, led to the Auditorium being named after his parents, Fred and Rosemary Petters, in 2006.  In 2009, in consultation with Fred and Rosemary Petters, the Auditorium was re-named in honor of S. Firmin Escher.

 A second lead gift of $3 million from Ben and Dorothy Gorecki from Milaca named the Forum theater, the gallery and the new garden space.

In addition to the renovation, new construction created a music rehearsal space, a dance studio, a black box theater, an outdoor amphitheater, an enlarged lobby, and additional office space. Renovations included elevators, air conditioning and bringing the original building up to current codes.

The groundbreaking for the BAC expansion was in May, 2005 and it was completed during the summer and fall of 2006. A dedication and blessing of the new spaces was held on September 16, 2006.

Since the renovated BAC opened in September of 2006, it has received four awards for its architectural and interior designs.  The Honor Award was presented by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota in December 2006.  The International Interior Design Association’s Northland Chapter named the renovated BAC the “Government/Institutional Award Winner” and awarded the building a “Fresh, Artistic, and Brilliant” Award on April 19, 2007.   The third award was given on July 9, 2007 by the Society for College and University Planners with the American Institute of Architects-Committee on Architecture for Education, which presented the project with an “Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture for a Building Addition.” The fourth and final award was presented in April of 2009. This award was given to the College of St. Benedict for the BAC’s courtyard garden. The award was in the category of private landscape design from the American Society of Landscape Architects of Minnesota. The garden was created to appear as a sculpture of its own, by Jean Garbarini.

Selected Bibliography

Kosik, Mike, “Benedicta Arts Center,” The Enterprise, May 14, 1974.
Berg, Lori, “Renovations Change BAC,” The Cable, October 10, 1977, p. 5.
Escher, S. Firmin, OSB, “Commemorating 25 Years at the BAC,” Saint Benedict’s Today, Fall 1988, p. 10-11.
Nowak, Kristen, “Petters Gives to BAC,” The Record, February 2, 2003, p. 1.
Mack, Linda, “St. Ben’s Arts Showcases Just Keep on Growing,” Star Tribune Staff Writer, September 5, 2004, p. 3F.
Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict Wins Award for Architectural Excellence,” December 1, 2006 [news release].
Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict Wins Two Additional Awards for Architectural and Interior Design Excellence,”  July 10, 2007 [news release].
Schook, Schuler, “Benedicta Arts Center Expansion – Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture for a Building Addition,” A Tribute to Achievement and Excellence, October-December 2007, p.90-91.
Baumbard, Mary. “St. Ben’s to return $2 million Petters gift,” The Record November 19, 2010, p. 2.
Gustafson, Kelsey. “Auditorium to receive formal renaming,” The Record January 29, 2010, p. 1.


Completion of South Side
Inside New Gallery
Laying of the Corner Stone
S. Dennis Frandrup’s Ceramic Sculpture

See also:

What’s in a Name?: Buildings at the College of Saint Benedict Named after Sisters
The Death of Mother Benedicta Riepp

Special thanks to Sara Trent ’08 for drafting this text.