In League with the Future: The First Fifty Years
History of the College of Saint Benedict
A Homecoming Address, Spring 1964
Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B.
Students of yesterday and students of today, faculty members and friends, welcome to our birthday party! We are celebrating the founding of our College, fifty years ago in the year 1913 - 14. I’m very happy that it has fallen to my lot to tell you the history of our College; it is an exciting and heartening record. Actually, I have been here forty-nine of those fifty years; so I have a good deal of first-hand information. I have read all the reports in the offices written by past presidents, deans and registrars. I don't know if this is true, but I suppose I am the only person in the world who has done that. Furthermore, I have interviewed everyone who is still alive and remembers something about our past. Actually, I have put in a few hundred hours preparing this history. I hope you are not expecting just a selection of funny stories. This is really history, and I am given only forty-five minutes in which to tell about fifty years, not even a minute per year, which means that I must leave out many things--so many wonderful stories which I would like to share with you.
The order of this history is chronological, yet occasionally I leap forward to make correlations which would be lost if they were not inserted at a certain point. The title of this talk, as you know is, In League with the Future. This quotation is from a letter by Henrik Ibsen to George Brandes, January 3, 1862, in which he said, "I hold that man is right, who is most closely in league with the future". Let us reflect a moment on the profound truth expressed here. Life and institutions always change, grow, and develop. The conservatives slow up this natural development because they are opposed to change. Progressive people are in league with the future because they promote change, progress, and development. And so Ibsen says very simply that these people are in the right.
Saint Benedict's was fortunate in having a prioress, Mother Cecilia Kapsner, who was in league with the future. Encouraged greatly by Sisters Dominica, Adelgundis and Olivia, she launched as early as 1911 vigorous planning for a college. This college was completed in 1913--with the erection of St. Teresa's Hall, the building in which we have met tonight, and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. These two buildings seemed as up-to-date and as remarkable in 1913 as does the Benedicta Arts Center or Mary Hall or Regina Hall today.
Perhaps more so, for the rotunda provided rooms with private baths, an unheard of luxury in the midwest of 1913. The chapel, inspired by the basilica as a place of impressive worship, was a show-place for tourists from far and near who came to marvel at its imported Carrara marble statue, its rows of impressive granite pillars, the array of many imported marbles in the sanctuary--pa1e yellow Convent Sienna and the richly streaked Pavanozza. Its type of architecture was quite perfect of its kind, baroque, a very moderate baroque. In accord with the requirements of baroque churches, the interior was very light pure white, in fact; the windows were milk-white glass; and the brass light fixtures with their triple electric candles featured with grace and appropriateness the s-curves distinctive of baroque art.
Saint Benedict's had in the past, ever since 1887, run a "female academy or finishing school" for girls. It seems to have been an accepted mode of development in the early 20th century for an academy to add on college courses so that a college developed slowly out of an academy. This was the procedure adopted in the fall of 1913 when freshman college courses were opened at Saint Benedict's for the first time.
First to arrive on the campus, August 25, was Josephine Misho from St. Cloud. She was a postulant, now Sister Olivette. She was soon followed by five other girls: Helen McDonald, Esther Muller, Margaret McKeon, Josephine Skluzacek, and Margaret Grant. Miss Grant carried only one college course since she was still a senior in high school.
What was life like in the infancy of the college? Stern discipline was the order of the day. In understanding it, historical perspective is necessary. Today we must try to accept in imagination what girls accepted as a matter of course in 1913 when they went to boarding school. Mail was censored, students wore net sleeve-lets from elbow to wrist if sleeves were only elbow length, they put a dickie in a blouse if it were cut lower than the collar bone, they marched in silence-- two by two-- to chapel, dining halls, dormitory. Prefects were incredibly accurate bookkeepers, who could account for every deduction in a disgraceful "seventy", in deportment. Some parents were dismayed and suspected their daughters of becoming juvenile delinquents until they discovered the real implications of the grade in deportment-- countless deductions for minute infringements.
A student spent practically the whole day in the study hall, this very assembly room, except for the classes she attended. Here Sister Leonissa exercised her duties as an exacting disciplinarian. She tiptoed from desk to desk asking: “Did you veesper?” “Did you veesel.” Now and then a daring girl whistled and Sister Leonissa could never tell from where the sound came. She felt it her duty to humble the pride of the girls. If a student entered the study hall decked out in a new dress and hair-ribbon, Sister Leonissa would signal by a violent hiss from her throne in the bay window and beckon the girl. Looking at the girl with scorn in her black eyes, she would exclaim, “Mary Peyton, you look chus like a herring.” She punished frequently by expelling a girl from the study hall which meant that the delinquent had to study standing at the windowsill in the hall. Even while she kept an eagle eye on the students, she managed to paint tiny pink roses on holy cards (to be presented with one was a great honor) and to visit pleasantly in a sibilant whisper with Theresa Heinz who would kneel by the hour on the step of Sister Leonissa's “throne.” She loved Theresa.
I think she really loved all of us. Did we hate Saint Benedict's because of the rigorous discipline? No. We loved the sisters, and we knew they liked us. There was something human and gracious in spite of the harshness--and this humanness we sensed unmistakably. To us at the time certain “recreations” did not seem outrageous. For instance, two or three times a week at 3:30 in the afternoon we would be carefully lined up two and two outside the front gate of the college to go for a walk through the streets of St. Joseph, Minnesota. We might speak to our partner in subdued tones, but we were not permitted to deviate, even by stepping, on the curb, from the route over which we were led by a sister at the head of the rank, another following after us.
If we ever thought we were really in trouble there was always heart-warming recourse to dear Sister Dominica. She had been directress of the academy since 1909 and remained directress of the academy and college until 1918. An ample, hearty, progressive, human soul she would sweep a weeping girl to her bosom, tell her by all means to return to Sister Leonissa's realm from which she had been expelled, present her with a shining red apple, and in two minutes give her the feeling all was right with the world.
Sister Dominica had amazing gifts in dramatics. Her plays attracted hundreds of enthusiastic theatre goers. She could cram this assembly hall and the two adjacent classrooms with an audience on three successive Sundays, many of them driving from the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Duluth to experience the magic of her plays. These plays were certainly not milk for babes. They included the great biblical dramas of Queen Esther and Judith of Bethulia as well as expert Shakespeare. If Shakespeare made-do with boys for women's parts, Sister Dominica turned her girls into men with such attention to character portrayal that to this day Shylock is still the touchingly human, partly comic, altogether wistful portrayal of him by Laura Browne and no subsequent Portia has ever seemed as right as was Luverne Fennessey's interpretation.
She clothed her characters in magnificent costumes made of costliest materials and expertly tailored by Sister Felicitas. Some of them are now in the magnificent collection of costumes at the Benedict Arts Center; it would be well worth your time to look at them as you tour the new facilities for drama.
Out of the original group of teachers at the College of St. Benedict, eight have died. Let me read their names with reverence:
Only one of the original group of teachers is still living, Sister Irma, who still teaches Latin.
Several old-timers joined the faculty very early: Sister Remberta, 1917 (she is still teaching), Sister Arsenia, Sister Urban, Sister Alfreda, Sister Marianne and Sister Claudette.
Let me return for a moment to one of our most beloved pioneers, Sister Vivia Nangle, who died in 1944, still a young woman, but one who made a glorious contribution to the college. Unusually poised, beautiful, socially apt, gracious and lovable, she used her influence as teacher and dean of women to mold courteous and graciously poised young Christian women. She insisted with great charm and sweetness on perfect manners at all times. She knew that only constant, daily practice could give that ease of social decorum which marks the perfect lady. An inspiring teacher of English, she turned out scores of students blessed with a life-time love for literature. One student who failed in freshmen English regards her having to repeat the course as one of the greatest blessings of her life, for she was put into Sister Vivia's division and ended up a dedicated lover of good literature for life. Sister Vivia sponsored from the very first year of the college a literary magazine, College Days in which essays, poems, and short stories made up the bulk of the magazine with only minimum space reserved for news of events in the college. This magazine was the forerunner of Saint Benedict's Quarterly, which first appeared in 1927 when Sister Mariella became faculty adviser. Its name signified that it would appear each quarter of the college year.
Sister Vivia sponsored a Reader's Guild, which helped many students to become dedicated readers. She inspired the St. Cloud Chapter with zeal to contribute generous sums for the best current books, obtained many more from her father, and created such an interest in keeping up with the best current publications that students fought to get hold of her books. She would bring an armful to class, comment briefly on the special feast offered by each, and “sell” every book for subsequent review. Students of her Reader's Guild became as extraordinarily competent reviewers and were often invited to review books by various organizations in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. We were known then as a community of alert readers.
When she died, twenty years ago, a light went out that was unique, beautiful, inspiring. She really loved everyone and took time to make everyone feel loved. Tonight we are honored to have with us one of our most faithful and beloved alumnae, Sister Vivia's sister, Mrs. Rose Reilly. As you know, Rose has been hospitalized for several months with a broken hip, but here she is tonight, in her wheel-chair, faithfully with us as always. Let's give Rose a big hand. (applause!)
Let me turn now to one of the problems of our college in its infancy. Current mores required the segregation of the sexes. Young men at Saint John's might call on no one but their sisters. And thereby hangs one of the funniest stories in our early history. Sister Vivia was on portress duty; her attractive young sister, Kathleen, was a college student. A fine-looking young man rang the door-bell and asked if he could please see his sister, Kathleen Nangle. Sister Vivia extended a hand of cordial welcome, “Do come in,” said she. “I am delighted to meet you. I, too, am Kathleen's sister.”
Another delightful example of the boy-girl problem at CSB occurred in the winter of 1918. Father Roger Schoenbechler, then a freshman at St. John's, came to call on his sister, Anne. A party was in progress in the gymn--girls dancing with girls. Soon Roger began to waltz with his own sister. Some outraged soul hurried with the scandalous news to Mother Cecilia. She summoned Sister Magna who was sent with supersonic speed to call the two Schoenbechlers off the dance floor. News of the scandal of male and female dancing together spread far and wide and it was savored with typical Puritan relish.
A year later Mother Cecilia was still getting letters from priests in the diocese who regretted that so unfortunate an incident had happened at Saint Benedict's.
Puritan feelings of outrage can cast a long shadow. Its darkness was not dispelled until early in the 1930's when Sister Claire was dean (1932-1941). Sister Claire knew that it was high time for the Bennies and Johnnies to have normal social relationships. Mother Louise was very reluctant to grant them. But Sister Claire was a diplomatic Irishman. Knowing the very great confidence Mother Louise had in Monsignior Keaveny, she asked him if he would be present at a Johnnie-Benny ball in St. Cloud and assume responsibility for the girls and boys. Indeed he would. Sister Claire chose a strategic moment just as Mother Louise was ready to leave on a long trip. Between the rush of putting last-minute articles into her bags and being confronted with the fact that no less an angel than Monsignior Keaveny would be responsible for the young people, she breathed a somewhat worried, “Yes.” Sister Claire waltzed down the hall elated to realize that the taboo of Victorian days had been banished forever.
But let us turn back now to the very early days following Sister Dominica's administration. Sister Jeanette Roesch became directress 1918-1921. On her appointment she declared, "I would rather jump over fences than be dean." No truer word was spoken. Sister Jeanette was sixty percent tomboy. She was never happier than when she took the girls on long hikes or wiener roasts. She was also forty percent rigid disciplinarian. When a girl put pepper into several dishes of prune sauce, she summoned the girl to her office and made her eat every bit of the peppered prunes.
Practical jokes were in those days the normal outlet for girls deprived of the company of boys. Today only freshmen will indulge in practical jokes--short-sheeting bed, for instance. The Dean of Women can cure them quickly by pointing out that this sort of nonsense was “in” fifty years ago. They grow up almost over night.
Gentle Sister Rita was directress from 1921-25 and Sister Leona followed her from 1925-27. Through her efforts the statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was erected --a seemingly insignificant event. Yet from the perspective of fifty years we know now how important it was. When you walk to Mary Hall take a look at it, bronze with pale patina of time and weather on it. Into the base of this statue was placed a long list of petitions: That our Lady would procure new buildings and great blessings on an expanded College of Saint Benedict and also among this litany of requests the moving one: That no one while living at St. Benedict’s would ever commit a mortal sin. When Mary Hall was built and in 1955-57, the architect, Mr. Greene fussed and fumed about her. She should be moved. No one could decide where. Then the sidewalk was laid to Mary Hall and it seemed right and good to leave Our Lady of Perpetual Help where she was, among the pine trees to the left of the walk, only turning her so that she faced the walk. In choosing the name, Mary Hall, for the new complex of buildings, no one thought of the statue or the great prayers still intact in the pedestal. But there she stands with all the new buildings around her, a visible answer to the faith of the pioneers.
Eddie Linneman of St. Joseph made the first donation to this statue, thus expressing two of his great ideals: confidence in our Lady of Perpetual Help and also his desire for a glorious and prosperous College of Saint Benedict. All this became prophetic. Last week I asked Sister Enid, dean from 1947-57, a very important question: “How do you account for it that after forty years during which no new buildings were erected, we finally build Mary Hall near the close of your administrations? What do you think brought about the change?”
She looked a little startled. “I really don’t know,” she said. “One night in the winter of 1953-54 Eddie Linneman asked for an appointment with me and the all-college president, Marjorie Olson Lebrun. He handed me a purse and asked me to have a mass celebrated everyone month in honor Our Lady of Perpetual Help so that we would get some new buildings. After that, things began to happen very fast.”
I caught my breath in amazement. Like a cross-word puzzle everything fit together. The statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Masses in her honor, the sustained faith and interest of our loyal friend, Eddie Linneman-- no wonder a new period of development was born with the erection of Mary Hall.
Personally, I would like to have the next new dormitory, the third in the complex already contained Aurora Hall and Regina Hall, named Lady Hall in thanksgiving to our Lady of Perpetual Help who has done so much for St. Benedict’s.
But to return now to Sister Leona’s administration, 1925-27. At that time there were sixty-five sisters in college and she still bore the title: Directress of St. Benedict’s College and Academy. Under her was Sister Inez, dean of the college.
Sister Inez had been appointed by Mother Louise at the recommendation of Dean Schumay at the University of Minnesota, where Sister Inez had been doing excellent work. Sister Inez realized, which was certainly true, that the academy and the college ought not be under the same administration. It cost much for her to bring about an independent deanship. Sister Inez also inaugurated the use of proper records for student’s grades, a basic and important advance in administrative procedures.
After her Sister Adelgundis as dean worked with tremendous energy. Once she thought our chances for a blanket accreditation by the University of Minnesota would be improved by a new bulletin she stayed up all night to write it single-handed.
Proper accreditation for the college was sought from the beginning, obtained quickly for the junior college, and very soon after for six departments of the senior college. But the much desired general accreditation from the University of Minnesota eluded us for some time.
I must pause now to describe two staggering difficulties our college has had to surmount. If Our Lady of Perpetual Help had not been holding up the ship, it would surely have sunk. The first catastrophe hit the college through the building of the Saint Cloud Hospital 1926-27. Though we had only $6,500 on hand, we put into it $1,500,000. Today $7,000,000 would not pay for it. It was built in the hope that the income from the hospital would help finance the development of the college. Under normal conditions it would have, but in 1929 the depression struck. People could not pay hospital bills. They did not go to the hospital. We shouldered a staggering debt. Paying interest on the interest, we lived with the bare minimum of necessities, suffering uncountable privations. Hardest to bear was the spectacle of the many needs for college expansion for which there was no money.
Then after twenty years came the second staggering blow. In 1947 our convent decided break up into several priories because it vas much too large. Every sister was free to choose whichever priory she wished. We lost seven valuable faculty members:
1. Sister Claire, Ph.D., dean from 1932-41 and after that head of the Department of History
2. Sister Luanne, Ph.D., head of the Department of Latin and a strong leader in liturgical developments
3. Sister Anne, M.A., head of the Department of Sociology
4. Sister Irena, M.A., head of the Department of Art
5. Sister Jane, M.A., head of the Department of Business Education
6. Sister Jerona, M.A., Department of English
7. Sister Ardes, Department of Business Education
When I asked Sister Enid what was most significant about her administration, she said: “trying to fill the gaps left by the flight to the new priories.” Sister Benedice had been promised in the history department, but since she had volunteered for the foreign missions, she was sent to Japan, where she is still.
These two great handicaps we have surmounted. Let us turn back now to Sister Claire’s administration, 1932-41, and recognize that she did more than any other administrator to get the college off the ground. Up to her time the engines had reared up, the propellers had accelerated and the ailerone had been adjusted. But the ship never flew. Under Sister Claire’s administration, it soared like a strong bird. Sister Claire took over the standing gifts of leadership but was also a tall, beautiful, attractive, and friendly women. She knew the difference between the Status seeker, who tries to please everyone, and the real leader, who makes decisions for the common good regardless of criticism. Yet her charm of personality maintained a warm bond between her and her faculty. A hundred things needed to be done at once for the college and with astounding vigor she grappled with each one.
I asked her how she was able in the very first year of her administration to have the College of Saint Benedict accredited by the North Central Association. “By telling the truth,” she answered. She admitted every weakness in the college and also offered a clear blueprint for remedying the faulty situation. So manifest was the sincerity and vigor of her purpose that after granting a temporary accreditation in 1932, the North Central Association made the accreditation final in 1934.
The only way in which Sister Claire’s achievement can be realized is to tabulate a few out of the many innovations brought about by her. So many of them have become part of the continuous normal administrative machinery of the college that people now take for granted that things have always been that way. He should realize that they originated with Sister Claire. For instance
1. She organized regular monthly faculty meetings.
2. She organized the senior college as totally distinct from the junior college. No longer could a senior be in class with a freshman.
3. She introduced a batter of national tests for the freshmen.
4. She appointed faculty committees--six of them to begin with, and required competent work from them.
5. She introduced a suitable freshman orientation program.
6. She organized a board of lay advisers. The initiation of a building program finally came from these lay advisers.
7. She launched a strong public relations program in order that through hundreds of good news stories and pictures a favorable image of St. Benedict's might be given to the public.
8. She set up a brilliant program for convocations, importing a galaxy of renowned speakers. In a four-month period alone, October to February 1935-36, the following appeared on the stage:
Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher
Virgil Michael, O.S.B., liturgist
Carl Sandberg, poet
Dorothy Day, Catholic social worker
Peter Maurin, Catholic social worker
Helen White, novelist
Christopher Bollis, biographer and historian
9. She founded at the College of St. Benedict Omega Chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma, a National Catholic honor society. Sister Claire was one of the founders of the society.
10. She brought it about that every department granting a major administered comprehensive examinations in that department.
11. She organized the alumnae association, saw to the opening of vigorous local chapters and provided professors from the college to speak at chapter meetings. Through the alumnae association nine scholarships were founded for the college, its own publication, the Benet, was established, and the Building Fund, under the able direction of Sister Itargretta was launched. To date the Building Fund has collected $720,000.
12. She saw to it that philosophy was replaced in the curriculum with credit. Our eagerness to please the University of Minnesota had influenced us to sacrifice an emphasis on philosophy.
13. She established a teacher placement bureau. By 1940, it was placing eighty-four percent of the graduates.
14. She stimulated the faculty to give many public lectures, to attend national meetings to attend summer school classes and earn higher degrees. Under her administration, they began publishing, articles and books.
15. She took a strong stand in favor of Christian race relationships. The College of St. Benedict was the first college in the U.S.A. to accept Negroes as boarders. Overriding strong protest, Sister Claire welcomed all races: Negroes, Indians, Japanese, Chinese and others.
16. She gave strong support to Christian social principles. Under Sister Anne's leadership, students went to assist Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker and two students, Betty Schneider and Josephine Zehnle were for many years national directors of Friendship House.
17. She gave strong support to the Liturgical Movement. Under Sister Luanne's progressive leadership, Saint Benedict’s had its own Liturgical Week in 1941 at the same time that the National Liturgical Week was held in Saint Paul.
18. She gave support to the creation of the pageant So Let Your Light Shine performed annually since 1934 as an induction ceremony for freshmen. Written by Sister Marie1la with dances by Constance Zierden, this unique pageant portrays the contribution of the Benedictines to western culture through the past fourteen centuries. While the freshmen receive from the great Benedictines of the past fourteen flaming torches, they pledge their loyalty to carry on the light.
19. Sister Claire worked fruitfully at increasing the enrollment of the college. When she took office in 1932, there were 114 students. Immediately she hired taxis to bring the day students from Saint Cloud. In 1935, she bought the first Benny bus. In five years the enrollment was up to 205--almost double.
By the spring of 1940 the enrollment was regularly between 250 and 300. In the dean's report for that year occurs an interesting comment. It is pointed out that the enrollment has now reached the absolute limit of the housing facilities. There is not room for further expansion. “Nor is an expansion desired” reads that amazing report. “It is believed that there is a place for a college of 250, that a college of limited enrollment can offer advantages that cannot be had in a larger institution.”
In twenty-five years, our thinking has changed. Perhaps we still want to be small, but smallness is a relative term. This year, 1964, the answers to an opinionaire presented to faculty members, bore the following interesting answers to the key question: what should the maximum enrollment be at the College of Saint Benedict?
14 faculty members put the number between 1,200 and 1,500
12 faculty members put the number between 1,000 and 1,200
Only 2 thought in terms of 800
And 3 thought we should not set a maximum.
Perhaps they thought the sky is the limit.
The partial list of nineteen key changes inaugurated by Sister Claire gives only a faint idea of her fire and drive as an administrator. We called her a slave-driver, but only we said it with admiration, affection-- and perhaps a little exasperation. She drove herself harder than anyone else.
One of her major gifts was the ability to needle people into exceeding their best. Let me give a personal illustration. Near the end of her administration, she passed me in the hall one day and asked, “Why doesn’t Saint Benedict’s ever win any prizes in creative writing-national prizes that have great prestige?” The question filled me with rage. I had consistently kept the college literary magazine at a top level where it had annually been awarded All-American rating by the USPA. I was physically exhausted from having created and produced under staggering adversities the annual pageant. I had never earned enough money on the college magazine to buy an electric organ for the pageant. Was there never enough success to satisfy Sister Claire? But after my rage subsided, her question remained. There was only one answer: I had not worked at it. So the next fall I prepared to have the students enter the most challenging contest in the USA--that conducted by the Atlantic Monthly. We won first place through "The Hankie and the Sins,” a short story by Bernadette Loosbroek Taylor, 1942, which not only brought her a check for $50.00 but also a scholarship for herself and her teacher to the famous Breadloof School of Creative Writing in the Green Mountains of Vermont. We won first place again, two years later, for Mary Thomes Locke’s essay on St. Benedict's, “These Gentle Communists.” So many of our girls were listed annually among those who had contributed top papers that St .Benedict became known as a center for well-trained creative writers.
One of the consequences of our reputation for good writers was the fact that a number of national magazines printed articles from the Quarterly, including the Catholic Digest, Living Parish, the Sign, and Today. In the Living Parish for June 1945 occurred the following heartening statement:
“We vote Saint Benedict’s Quarterly among the very best magazines issued by women's colleges. It is refreshing (after the stuffy intellectualism and secularism of many) to come into contact with reality with Christian culture that goes, through Benedict, to the roots of Christianity. The technical excellence of its writers is attested by the frequent reprints in general magazines.”
One of our students, Lois Schumacher, was immediately offered a job on the editorial staff of Today on the basis of her writing in St. Benedict's Quarterly.
I can tell all this without embarrassment because all the credit belongs to Sister Claire for her needling of another into making her grasp higher than her natural reach. It is significant that she was out of office when all the prizes were won. Like so much that she did, the sheer momentum of her leadership carried far beyond the spring of 1941 when her term as dean expired. It is still with us.
And though subsequent deans and presidents, all excellent leaders, have not left quite so spectacular a record as Sister Claire, it is likely because the house had been built and put in order. Keeping it in order and continuing its upward development were the next two deans, Sister Incarnata, 1941-47, and Sister Enid, 1947-57.
A quickening of pulse was felt in an increase of faculty publications. Sister Luanne's translation of a part of St. Augustine appeared in the Fathers of the Church Series. Sister Margretta's translation of Muenster's Die Hocl1zeit des Lammes was published by the Liturgical Press. Sister Grace published a full volume history of St. Benedict's Convent, With Lamps Burning for the 1957 centennial celebration of the coming of the Benedictine sisters to Minnesota. Between 1942 and 1950, Sheed and Ward published three anthologies of quality Catholic short stories edited by Sister Mariella Gable with her critical introductions. Sheed also published her collection of critical essays entitled This is Catholic Fiction. Sister Andre Marthaler stimulated the students to cooperate with Harold B. Allen at the University of Minnesota in his search for proverbs in use in Minnesota. When they submitted 2,800 proverbs he commented, "Magnificent--largest made by any unit in the state.”
In the early 1950's came the golden age of opera sponsored by Sister Firmin at St. Benedict's and Father James Kelly at St. John's. Remembered with nostalgic enthusiasm are their joint productions of LaBoheme in 1953, Lucia de Lammermoor in 1955, and Menotti’s The Saint of Bleeker Street in 1956.
One of the clear indications of a vigorous intellectual life was the fact that the faculty members won frequent important scholarships to study abroad. There were five such Fulbright awards in the last ten years, 1954-64. These awards sponsored:
Sister Mary Grell at the Max Planck Inst., Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 1953-54
Sister Margretta Nathe, to Germany, summer 1957
Sister Etienne Flaherty, at the U. of Dijon, France, 1958
Sister Johanna Becker, to a summer in the Orient, 1963
Sister Emmanuel Renner, to a summer of Oriental Studies in Formosa, 1964.
There have been twenty grants from the National Science Foundation in the last five years awarded to nine sisters and two lay faculty members. Out of this number, Sister Paschal and Mr. Zaczkowski have each been awarded three of the summer scholarships.
The most tangible evidence of growth and development lies in the astonishing number of new buildings erected in the past ten years. On June 4, 1953, the forty year dormant period ended when the Board of Advisers met, with Sister Enid presiding: and Dr. J. Gaida proposed that the college consult Mr. Breuer, the world-famous architect, who had mapped the one-hundred year plan for expansion at St. John’s. In the ten years, which followed that proposal, the following new buildings have been erected:
1. A new power house. No other buildings could be erected until expansion was made in our capacity to furnishing heat, light, and water.
2. A new gymnasium. Built so that the old gymnasium might be used for library stacks.
3. The Mary Hall Complex:
Aurora Hall - 193 beds
Regina Hall - 150 beds
4. Benedicta Arts Provides magnificent accommodations for music, drama, and all the plastic arts: painting, ceramics, metal work, mosaics, etc.
Even though this arts center cannot be matched by anything in the midwest and by very few colleges anywhere, it is well to remember that it provides space for only three majors while the college is offering majors in seventeen departments. Yet through the cultural programs it offers, the college hopes to lift the general taste of the public in the area to a marked degree.
As new buildings go up the renovations of old buildings for new purposes absorbs effort and money. The largest of these include the library expansion and the converting of tile whole first floor of Loretto Hall into the Education Department. All concerned are working intensively at the moment for accreditation of the Department of Education next fall by NCATE. This recognition is of primary importance since the Education Department has the largest number of majors in the college twenty- three at this June's commencement. (The next highest number is eighteen in English.) Next year 1964-65 will see the installment of a language laboratory in that used to be the History Department.
Various grants to the College of St. Benedict are another indication of public confidence in it as an educational center. In 1956-57 the Ford Foundation gave $105,500 to be invested for ten years, the interest to provide an increase in faculty salaries. In 1962, the Kellog Foundation gave $10,000 for library books and between 1960-64 the American Library Association gave $2,250 to the library. In 1959, the National Science Foundation gave $9,480 and in 1963, the Atomic Energy Commission gave $3,500 for a radiation laboratory to be used by chemistry, physics, and biology. Other small grants came from Gulf Oil Corporation ($2,476.24) and from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Other financial support came from “shaking the little tin cup”--the calls made by all the presidents of private colleges in Minnesota on various corporations. In the eight years since the Minnesota Private College Fund has been collected the amount allocated to CSB has been $158,981.95.
In 1958, Mother Richarda Peters decided upon a basic change in the administration of the college. Up to that date it had been customary for the prioress to be president of the college ex official. Sister Remberta Westkaemper was named the first president of the college other than the incumbent prioress. Ably assisted by Sister Johanna Becker as dean, she took office in August 1958. Though she protested to Mother Richarda on her appointment, "I am already four years past the age for retirement,” she embraced her office as president with youthful vigor and a thoroughly progressive spirit. Her administration, 1953-1961 was marked by a firm forward thrust.
1. Looking forward to this celebration of our first fifty years, she immediately appointed a committee to plan the Benedicta Arts Center, of which we are so proud on this occasion.
2. She worked zealously and against irritating resistance for the successful formulation of the Tri-College Program. This program is the only cooperative plan in the whole country in which a state college and church related colleges work together toward a common goal. This particular goal was to present the better students at St. Benedict's, St. John's, and St. Cloud State College with a suitable challenge to the gifted as well as to open up to faculty members opportunities for growth and improvement. The excellence of the program was attested to by the willingness of the Louis and Maud Hill Family Foundation to underwrite the costs amounting to $176,000 to the three institutions over a period of six years. Of this amount, $28,333 came to the College of St. Benedict for faculty improvement. It paid for a trip around the world for Dr. Davidson, Sisters Jeremy, Johanna, and Mary and for summer travel and study in Europe for Sisters Cathan, Enid, Jacqueline, Jeremy, and Remberta. In the summer of 1964 it takes Sisters Aaron and Clarus to South America and Sisters Joanne and Paschal to Washington and New York.
3. Another achievement of Sister Remberta's administration was a program for graduate work at CSB leading to the MA degree. The Benedictine Institute of Sacred Theology, popularly called BIST, was founded in close cooperation with St. John's University to provide for major superiors, junior and novice mistresses, and all others wanting suitable studies in theology, Scripture and sacred studies. They spend five summers at St. Benedict's studying under the best professors obtainable in Europe and the USA. These have included such scholars as Jean Leclercq and Ignatius Hunt, O.S.B, and the whole program has strengthened the Sister Formation Program among Benedictines. St. Johns' University confers the Master's degree on the graduates.
In connection with this program, it might be remarked that St. John's and St. Benedict's continually cooperate in a program to share professors and students. This year thirty-six girls took courses at SJU and thirty-eight boys at CSB. Professors regularly teach at both institutions.
4. To continue with Sister Remberta's administration, her vigorous efforts brought about the affiliation of CSB with the American Association of University Women.
5. Moreover, she threw herself vigorously into supporting Educational Television with the other Minnesota colleges. Several faculty members presented TV courses for credit, including Sisters Inez, Mary Joanne, Colman and Johanna. This activity continues with Sister Johanna at present giving a course in oriental art. The music department and the drama department contributed many extra ETV programs.
During Sister Lineas's short administration, 1961-63, the college was incorporated as a separate institution--no longer just a part of the Motherhouse. Also, Sister Linnea achieved a marked increase in the number of lay faculty members-- almost one-fourth of the total faculty roster of fifty-five professors. Among these distinguished lay teachers is a practicing playwright, George Herman, who recently won the McKnight award of $1,000 for the best play written by a resident of Minnesota. We need a great deal more of this kind of success to make CSB better known.
Coming into the office of president in September 1963 Sister Mary Grell has already given the college a forward thrust by hiring a full-time Director of Public Relations and Development, Paul Mulready. At present he is concentrating on obtaining grants. Thursday this week Sister Mary received notice of a grant of $8,800 from the Warren Foundation to cover the costs of the formal opening of the Benedicta Arts Center in the fall of 1964 when the Minneapo1is Symphony Orchestra will play in the new auditorium.
Let me conclude very quickly with a brief glance at six important aspects of student life as they now are.
1. The religious life of the students is very satisfactory without the strains which in the past accompanied a rigorous monastic horarium. The daily Mass is at noon from Monday through Friday. For their night prayer the students still sing Compline-continuing a practice of twenty-five years. St. Benedict's has since 1962 its own affiliate for Oblates who make their profession of stability to St. Benedict's Convent rather than to St. John's as they did in the past. It is the Oblates, now 201 of them, that we can thank for the beautiful custom of saying an abridged Office of the. Dead at the wake of each departed Sister, a touching ceremony which is completed in about ten minutes. Very likely our alumnae would generally prefer to use this more appropriate service rather than saying the rosary at their local wakes. Copies of the Office of the Dead on convenient prayer cards can be had from the Liturgical Press at Collegeville for $.10 apiece-less for quantities.
A revealing fact about the spiritual life of the students is the large number of vocations to the religious life. Almost exactly one out of five sisters in our convent were students in the college first.
Further, the college sponsors a vigorous CCD unit. As you know, the CCD aims to bring a living education in religion to children not in parochial schools. This year the Bishop of St. Cloud gave sixteen certificates to students who had completed the work in CCD. Besides, the students show a strong desire for apostolic work, which requires great sacrifice. At the moment we have four girls in the Peace Corps with three awaiting acceptance for next year. Two have been contributing their services in Puerto Rico for two years and two more are waiting to take their places. Two of our graduates this June will go to Bogota to assist the missionary effort.
2. The social life of the students seems exactly right. Our co-recreational program with St. John's brings the girls and boys together for healthy, joyous play together. I wish you could walk over our campus any evening. You would find the boys and girls engaged together in noisy ball games, tense target practice, agile tennis matches. There are four formal dances a year. Almost every Friday night there is informal dancing for the Bennies and Johnnies in either the new gym or the commons.
3. The intellectual standards are very good and constantly improving. The college has membership in eleven important accrediting agencies. A major is offered by seventeen departments.
4. The enrollment during the past year was 626 students. We began with six students fifty years ago. This year in the June and August commencements 106 degrees will be conferred. Our first degrees, just two of them, were conferred in 1917 on Sisters Claudette and Marita.
5. The cost for one year at the CSB including board, room, tuition, and fees is now about $1,500. This is low in comparison with other colleges. Not long ago Sister Enid made a study of 111 college fees and found that our costs were lower than the average. However, one-third of our students ask for financial assistance. This continues to pose a serious problem. It is amusing to note that fifty years ago the total cost of a year at CSB was $160.
We have come a long way fifty years. But I do not wish to end on a note of triumphalism Only those who are not quite sure of their status brag about it. Our faculty is now so thoroughly in league with the future that we are all conscious of the need for further growth and development. We know that we must in the next fifty years do two things
1. Continue to expand physically, at least at the pace we have established in the last ten years. This is particularly necessary for us because the lean years of hardship we fell so far behind other colleges.
2. Build up a strong, creative faculty whose contributions will make us known for specific, outstanding areas of excellence. He must set a premium on creativity in education. “If you write a better book, or preach a better sermon, or build a better mousetrap than your neighbor, the world will make a beaten path to your door.”
We look forward to several such beaten paths. And when the students arrive by these paths at our door, may they discover inside that door the blessing which has now marked our education for fifty years and has marked Benedictine education for fifteen hundred years. May they discover:
Peace (Pax), the peace of a strong, firm, loving Christianity which gives meaning to all education and to life.