Tales from the Archives: Lake Mennith and Mennith Hall

Not many people know that there used to be a lake at St. Thomas. Drained 110 years ago, Lake Mennith may come to be known to a new crop of students, faculty and staff. The red brick building situated between Dowling Hall and the Saint John Vianney College Seminary is now the lake’s namesake. The newly named Mennith Hall became the home of the Marketing, Insights and Communications (MIC) team in late spring.

Mennith Hall, the oldest building on the north campus, was constructed in 1905 to serve as the college’s infirmary. College and academy students were treated for illness and injury within its walls for over six decades. When Health Services relocated to Brady Hall in 1967, the three-story infirmary was repurposed as offices for the Catholic Digest magazine. In 2005, the Alumni and Constituent Relations (ACR) Department became the next tenants of the building. It was then renamed the Alumni Center. The ACR staff were housed in the building until 2015, when they moved to their current offices on Finn Street.

When the MIC team moved in, they brainstormed a new name. The name Mennith, suggested by MBC alumnus and Strategic Publications Editor Brant Skogrand, was chosen because it revives campus ties to the defunct Lake Mennith. Here is the backstory:

In 1887, a swampy area of what is now the lower quad was dredged and a dam was built across a small stream that flowed through the area. Archived records show that early students of the college recalled that the artificial lake was sometimes large enough to take small sailboats out on in warm weather and was a handy skating rink in the winter.

The lake covered a portion of the current O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library site, as well as part of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, some of Murray-Herrick Campus Center and the portion of the quad east of the main north-south sidewalk.

The lake was named in honor of Bishop Thomas Langdon Grace, the third bishop of the Diocese of Saint Paul. Upon his retirement, Grace was conferred by the Vatican the honorary title of Bishop of the Titular See of Mennith. Bishop Grace lived on the campus of the College of St. Thomas from 1890 until his death in 1897.  According to Joseph Connors in the book Journey Toward Fulfillment, Grace was remembered by faculty and students as a grandfatherly figure who would often be seen taking his daily constitutional around the shores of the artificial lake on campus named in his honor.

In 1909, the city of St. Paul built a massive sewer line under Summit Avenue. The sewer drained away much of the stormwater that filled the lake. The small stream soon dried up and Lake Mennith quickly lost its charming quality. In 1911, the college finally drained what had become a muddy spot in the landscape. While the rush of water sometimes heard from a pump in the sublevel of the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library is one of the only reminders of this former campus landmark, the Mennith name now lives on with the new home for MIC.