Heritage Week will celebrate the legacy of the late I.A. O'Shaughnessy

Alumnus, trustee, benefactor: I.A. O'Shaughnessy.

Heritage Week will celebrate the legacy of the late I.A. O'Shaughnessy

St. Thomas will celebrate the legacy of the late I.A. O’Shaughnessy, a 1907 alumnus, trustee and benefactor, during the university’s annual Heritage Week in early March.

A symposium on O’Shaughnessy’s life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 5, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium, and an exhibit of O’Shaughnessy photos, stories and memorabilia will be on display in the OEC foyer.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy views the auditorium in O'Shaughnessy Educational Center.

A video on O’Shaughnessy will be shown during the symposium, and the public is welcome to attend. Panelists will discuss how O’Shaughnessy became the nation’s largest independent oil operator, amassed great wealth and gave most of his money away – with St. Thomas and the University of Notre Dame as primary beneficiaries.

Panelists will be:

  • Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame. Hesburgh was president of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987 and was a close friend of O’Shaughnessy, who contributed generously to a liberal arts building and a library there.
  • Lawrence O’Shaughnessy, I.A.’s son. He studied at St. Thomas for two years, taught here for three years, served on the Board of Trustees and helped establish the Center for Irish Studies at the university in 1996.
  • John O’Shaughnessy Jr., I.A.’s grandson. He studied at St. Thomas, has served on the Board of Trustees since 1991 and is on the board of directors of Lario Oil & Gas Co., which his grandfather founded in Kansas.
  • Patrick O’Shaughnessy, John’s brother. He has worked for Lario since 1969 and is chairman of the petroleum and natural gas company.
  • John Lindley, a historian. The Northfield resident is editor of Ramsey County History, a magazine published by the Ramsey County Historical Society, and wrote a story about I.A. O’Shaughnessy for the magazine’s Winter 2004 issue.

O’Shaughnessy was born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater shoemaker and homemaker. His full name was Ignatius Aloysius, but he went by I.A., or Nashe with close friends.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy stands before O'Shaughnessy Library, now part of the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., expelled O’Shaughnessy in 1902 after he was caught drinking beer. On the way home, he stopped at St. Thomas and told his story to Father John Dolphin, president, admitting he had made a mistake at St. John’s. Dolphin accepted O’Shaughnessy as a student, and he went on to star on the football team, graduate in 1907 and serve as the president’s secretary.

O’Shaughnessy tried his hand in several businesses before turning to the business – oil – that made his fortune throughout the Great Plains area. His success led to his industry nickname as “King of the Wildcatters.”

He became more involved at St. Thomas in the 1930s, joined the board and contributed $400,000 to pay for construction of O’Shaughnessy Hall, which opened in 1940. Subsequent gifts led to the construction of O’Shaughnessy Stadium (1946), O’Shaughnessy Library (1959) and O’Shaughnessy Educational Center (1971)

O’Shaughnessy also supported other projects at St. Thomas – both at the college and the academy, which was on the Summit Avenue campus until it moved to Mendota Heights in 1965. Over 35 years, his gifts totaled $8.5 million – or $90 million in today’s dollars.

Since his death in 1973, the family foundation that he established has been generous to St. Thomas, including support for the Center for Irish Studies and $3 million for the construction of O’Shaughnessy Science Hall in 1997.

O’Shaughnessy occasionally talked about why he gave away his money, once joking that “money is like manure. It doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around.” He addressed the matter in a more serious vein at the 1959 dedication ceremony of O’Shaughnessy Library.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy turned "visions into reality" on the St. Thomas campus.

“The bond of loyalty between any alumnus and his alma mater depends primarily on whether the school did for him in his youth what it promised to do,” he said. “If in his mature years, he finds by experience and competition that his early instruction was sound and his youthful formation was complete, his appreciation for the school in which he was trained, and shaped, and made aware, will grow with the passing years.

“On this happy public occasion, I can say with pride that in my youth on this campus, this vision of what was possible, for a man to attain by means of effort and grace, was put before my youthful imagination. And I shall always be grateful for the spiritual formation, intellectual discipline and the manly example that were offered to me and to my generation at St. Thomas as the means available for turning such visions into reality.”