Catholic Studies and Sitzmann Hall have been linked since January 2003, when the building became home to the Center for Catholic Studies. Located on the northeast corner of Summit and Cleveland avenues, Sitzmann Hall was originally built as a private residence in the 1920s. It was acquired by St. Thomas in the 1940s, when, under the name of Summit Hall, it served as a dormitory to St. Thomas Academy students. Later, it became the home of St. Thomas’ fine arts programs and the St. Thomas Conservatory of Music, and in 1976 it was named Chiuminatto Hall for a former chair of the Music Department.
Just as Sitzmann Hall transitioned from family home to dormitory to academic building, so Catholic Studies faced many changes from its birth as an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in 1993. Among these changes was our first move from a faculty office in Aquinas Hall to 2057 Portland Ave. in 1998. The new location gave us the opportunity to bring a number of faculty, staff and students together and to achieve a clearer sense of identity and common purpose.
Within two years it became clear that the continuing expansion of programs and the increase in number of students would require a much larger space. As a result, we began to raise funds for the renovation of 2055 Summit Ave., or Sitzmann Hall. In January 2003, we moved in. The move provided more space, allowing all Catholic Studies programs, faculty and staff to be housed under one roof for the first time. A lack of classroom space, inadequate insulation, cramped offices and a need for handicap accessibility all pointed to the need for further renovation. In 2005 we began to seek the necessary approval for a major expansion which would effectively double the size of the existing building.
With support from a number of major benefactors, especially Gene and Faye Sitzmann, Richard and Maureen Schulze, David and Barbara Koch, Jim and Mary Gearen, Joe and Theresa Lahti, and Rich and Lisa Anderson, as well as many other friends and alumni of Catholic Studies, we broke ground for the expansion of Sitzmann Hall in May of this year and moved back into the building at the end of October. The expansion has provided a much larger Albertus Magnus Chapel, enabling us to accommodate students and faculty for Eucharistic adoration, Masses, retreats, conferences and private prayer. In addition, we have two new classrooms, a new graduate student center, a store room for files, archives and publications, seven new offices and student work rooms, an elevator linking all four floors, and a new terrace and Marian shrine in the garden behind the building.
The expanded building allows us to develop a number of programs created under the auspices of the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership, including the Leadership Intern and Latino Leadership programs. Student meetings, presentations and club events, including those sponsored by Catholic Students Incorporated are now held in the new space. In addition, social events, receptions and dinners will be held both for student groups and for visiting speakers. The main floor common room has been modified to encourage informal faculty conversation during the lunch hour and for more formal faculty development programs designed to encourage a deeper engagement with Catholic thought and culture on campus.
A formal dedication of the expansion occurred on the feast of St. Andrew, Nov. 30, with a Mass in the chapel celebrated by Archbishop Nienstedt, followed by presentations by Father Dease; the chair of the Catholic Studies Advisory Board, Jim Gearen; and Catholic Studies faculty and students. A luncheon followed, and students conducted tours of the building for friends and donors.
In addition to its academic focus, the Center for Catholic Studies always has sought to create a sense of Catholic community within its walls and within the greater university. The sizeable growth of the center and the department’s staff, faculty, alumni and current students has created a need for more offices, but even more importantly, the addition of community gathering space.
Because it is situated slightly off the main University of St. Thomas campus, prior to the expansion Sitzmann Hall might only be frequented by a student for an adviser meeting or an event. The new classroom and student lounge additions, however, bring many more students to Sitzmann Hall, with the benefit of increased interaction with their professors and with each other. Current student Megan Garcia, who also has a minor in music, reflected on the renovation in light of her experience with the music program, saying, “As a music major, I know how beneficial it is for the music students and faculty to have most of their classrooms and offices in one building (BEC). I am very excited because with the renovation of Sitzmann, this will be possible for the Catholic Studies department as well.”
For new students, it may be a home away from home where they can foster their faith and meet other students. For current students, it may be a place to meet friends and professors, attend meetings and develop and foster a Catholic focus and purpose in their lives and work. Nicole Roeser, a current student, recalls the impact that the Center for Catholic Studies had on her college decision: “Sitzmann Hall was the first place I ever visited on the University of St. Thomas campus. In high school I attended a wonderful retreat and this experience of Catholic Studies became one of the primary reasons why I chose this university. I am excited that the building is back up and running!”
YouTube Video Tour:Â https://www.youtube.com/user/universityofstthomas#p/c/89F5E650A02FD83C/1/cXFRiume9vI