A Summit Avenue building that has been part of the University of St. Thomas since World War II has a new interior, a new name and a new purpose.
The building on the northeast corner of Summit and Cleveland avenues was formerly called Chiuminatto Hall and for more than half a century was home to the university’s music programs.
Following a renovation that began last summer, the facility is the new home for the university’s Center for Catholic Studies. The building also has a new name, Sitzmann Hall. The name honors a St. Paul couple, Eugene V. and Faye J. Sitzmann, for their support of the Center for Catholic Studies and the renovation project.
The new home for the Center for Catholic Studies means that, for the first time, all of the center’s 13 faculty and two staff members can work in the same campus location, according to the center’s director, Dr. Don Briel.
Eugene Sitzmann, a longtime accountant and entrepreneur, is a 1947 St. Thomas graduate. “We are grateful for the opportunity to help the center,” the couple said. “This is a gift from our hearts.”
“The Sitzmanns are deeply committed to their Catholic faith,” Briel noted. “Their support of our work has been marked with a quiet and unassuming generosity. This is a wonderful opportunity to be able to name our new home in recognition of that support.”
The center staff and faculty moved into their new offices in January. A number of them moved from the center’s old headquarters, a crowded former home at the corner of Portland and Cleveland avenues.
In addition to faculty members whose primary appointment is teaching Catholic studies, the center includes faculty and staff who produce the Catholic studies journal Logos, those who oversee vocation-related programs funded by a Lilly Endowment grant, and those affiliated with the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought.
The Sitzmann Hall renovation cost more than $1.25 million. The facility has 7,800 square feet on four levels, including a classroom that was created from a former three-stall garage. In addition to office space, Sitzmann Hall has a conference room; computer lab, library and resource room; a lounge and meeting area; kitchen and break facilities; and a small chapel, with altar and tabernacle, that can be used for Masses or as a meditation room.
“Our new home brings together all of the center’s programs in a single location,” Briel said. “And its classroom and gathering spaces allow us to host many of our meetings, lectures and other activities right here in Sitzmann Hall.”
The exterior of the building had to meet renovation criteria because Summit Avenue is in a historic district. Other than a new sign over the door, and a sign on the front lawn, the building’s exterior is little-changed in appearance. The tile roof, brick walls, windows and woodwork all have been restored. Inside work included the installation of a central air system, total basement waterproofing and the addition of code-required stairs and doors. Some of the features of the center, dating to its original design as a stately home, include four fireplaces and stained-glass windows.
The structure was built in the late 1920s and served as a family home until it was purchased by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1943. At that time it was used as aresidence for St. Thomas Academy (high school) students who were moved from the main St. Thomas campus to make room for men in the Navy V-12 program during World War II.
Following the war, the building became a residence for St. Thomas faculty and staff, and some of its rooms were used for classes. One of those faculty members was Dr. Anthony Chiuminatto, a native of Italy and graduate of the Verdi Royal Conservatory of Music in Turin, Italy. He was the first chair of the St. Thomas Department of Music, serving from 1946 until his unexpected death in 1973.
While other residents of the building moved out, Chiuminatto and his family continued to reside there and the home served as headquarters for the Department of Music from 1946 until 1988, when the department moved to its present location in Brady Educational Center. One of the two new buildings the university is proposing for the south side of Summit Avenue, between Cleveland and Cretin avenues, is a new home for the Department of Music.
More recently, the building had been home to the St. Thomas Conservatory of Music, which has since relocated to downtown St. Paul and has become the St. Paul Conservatory of Music.
“With an entirely new purpose for Sitzmann Hall, it is fitting that it receive a new name that reflects its mission,” commented Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. “Anthony Chiuminatto had a tremendous influence on the cultural life of St. Thomas. His name will continue to be honored and remembered in the title of a newly established professorship, called the Chiuminatto Distinguished Research Professor in Music Education.”
The professorship will be held by Dr. Carroll Gonzo, who joined the St. Thomas faculty in 2001. Gonzo teaches research, supervises the writing of graduate theses and conducts the Women’s Choir. Gonzo has taught at universities in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Texas; has contributed to many research journals and three textbooks; and is editor of the American Choral Directors Association’s Choral Journal.
The Chiuminatto Distinguished Research Professor in Music Education is the first named professorship in the Department of Music.
The general contractor for the renovation project was the McGough Construction Co. of Roseville. The Center for Catholic Studies is planning a celebration and open house for Sitzmann Hall in the spring.
Established in 1996, St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies is recognized as a national model. Its programs include a master’s in Catholic studies and the largest and oldest undergraduate program in Catholic studies in the United States. Briel, its director, is a professor of theology and holds the Koch Chair in Catholic Studies.