Gene Sitzmann '44, who with his wife Faye was a longtime benefactor of St. Thomas, passed away on Sept. 16. The Sitzmanns are the namesakes of Sitzmann Hall, the building on the St. Paul campus that is the home for Catholic Studies.
The Sitzmanns began their support of the Center for Catholic Studies in 1998 when they provided the gift that purchased the Christopher Dawson Collection for the center and for the university. Several years later, they contributed the funding to renovate the building at the corner of Cleveland and Summit avenues that became Sitzmann Hall.
St. Thomas later decided to expand Sitzmann Hall. Benefactors, including the Sitzmanns, paid for the $4.2 million, 4,700-square-foot addition, which provided more office and classroom space, a chapel and an elevator. Sitzmann Hall reopened in 2009, and the expansion won a “New Addition to a Historic Building” award from the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.
Yet, Sitzmann Hall continues to be much more than a building for hundreds of students. For Catholic studies students, who come from a range of other academic disciplines and professions around campus, the building, foremost, provides a home where they can come together for study, prayer, classes and other activities. “We believe that the hallmark of the St. Thomas Catholic Studies program has always been our ability to model and cultivate a deeply integrated life of study and faith. And, Sitzmann Hall has played a foundational role in creating this distinctive, transformational experience for students,” said Dr. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies. “Gene Sitzmann was a wonderful friend of St. Thomas and Catholic Studies, not only in his generous contributions but also in a life well lived. He was a model not only for us but for our students.”
Gene was honored with the inaugural Catholic Studies Truth and Life Award in December 2018 at the Catholic Studies 25th anniversary celebration. In speaking about Gene at the celebration, Chair of the Department of Catholic Studies Dr. John Boyle said, "'I’m a happy camper.’ It’s a Gene Sitzmann trademark line. He’s always happy.”
Earlier gifts from the Sitzmanns to St. Thomas assisted in the restoration of the Grotto on the south campus and the 1991 expansion of O’Shaughnessy Library to create the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library. They also supported The Saint Paul Seminary’s “I Will Give You Shepherds” capital campaign.
Gene was preceded in death by Faye, who passed away in 2015; a daughter, Dyannoelle Hammad, who died in 2005; and a grandson, John V. Sitzmann, who passed away in 2017.
Survivors include children Mary Kathleen, James, Suzanne McLain, Eugene V. Jr., and Leigh Basha; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial and memorial service (with livestream option) will be held at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church on Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. Outdoor visitation will be from 2-5 p.m. on Sept. 30 at O'Halloran and Murphy Funeral Home.