This Dorm's Life

Ireland Hall and a century of Lavin Burgers, ghosts and snowball fights

The president of St. Thomas was worried.

Enrollment had more than doubled, putting a strain on everything from classrooms to offices to residence hall rooms. There seemed to be no option but to build - and build soon - in his view, and money would need to be raised for any new construction.

Sound like the 1980s, after St. Thomas began to admit women as undergraduate students and saw enrollment double in a decade? Similar to circumstances when graduate enrollment tripled over 15 years, leading to the opening of the Minneapolis campus in 1992?

No, you need to go back much further - more than a century, in fact. The year was 1910, the president was Father Humphrey Moynihan, and the bursting-at-the-seams institution was the College of St. Thomas, which had grown from 250 to 600 students in just seven years. Moynihan knew action must be taken.

"By 1910, it was apparent that the Dormitory Building (1900) was going to be needed for instructional purposes," wrote Joseph B. Connors in Journey Toward Fulfillment, the centennial history of St. Thomas, "and that a new, much larger residence hall would be required."

That residence hall would become Ireland Hall, named after Archbishop John Ireland, who founded St. Thomas in 1885. The building opened in 1912, and this June its centennial will be celebrated.

The Catholic Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper, called the new hall "massive" but with "unusually graceful proportions," featuring 160 student rooms and 20 two-room apartments for priests. "Supplied with hot and cold water and lighted with electricity, the entire building is admirably ventilated and embodies what is the latest and best inschool architecture."

The cost of the project: $127,500.

Beyond Moynihan’s concerns about lack of space, little can be found in archival files about the decision to build Ireland. The college’s board met May 20, 1911, at the archbishop’s residence to open construction bids, and a subsequent meeting was held June 12 at the office of architect Emmanuel L. Masqueray to consider plumbing and heating bids.

Masqueray was a busy architect that decade. The longtime friend of John Ireland also designed the Cathedral of St. Paul, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Grace Residence Hall at the St. Paul Seminary and the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.

W. H. Grady Co. of Merriam Park completed construction of Ireland Hall in April 1912. The college catalog that year describes it as "built in the form of a broad H," with a    170-foot-long central hall and north and south wings of 100 feet. College and academy students occupied all of the 14.5- by 10-foot rooms except for the south wing apartments, which were "thought to be a temporary arrangement" for priests, Connors wrote. "It was to last for more than 60 years" (until the Faculty Residence opened in1973). The priests used a first-floor oratory to celebrate daily Mass.

The basement proved to be perhaps the busiest area, providing recreational and meeting rooms as well as space for the cafeteria, post office, snack bar and library.

Perhaps in accordance with the tradition of other buildings’ names reflecting their use, the building officially was called the Residence Building. Students immediately began to refer to it as Ireland Hall, however, as did college catalogues after 1924.

Academy students lived on the fourth floor and "weren’t allowed to mix with the college students," wrote student Anthony Kadlec in a 1987 history class paper. "A tiny platform stood outside Room 405 for the bugler to stand on as he played ‘Reveille’ at 7 a.m. and ‘Taps’ at 10:15 p.m."

By the summer of 1942, all but 100 college students had left to serve in World War II and the Navy V-12 program moved onto campus - and into Ireland - the following year to provide bachelor’s degrees to future Navy and Marine officers. The program stayed for three years.

"The arrangement with the Navy wasn’t always smooth - in fact, it gave the school’s president (Father James Moynihan) a lot of grief," Kadlec wrote. "Undoubtedly the greatest aggravation Father Moynihan underwent during the war years occurred when the leader of the V-12 program installed condom dispensers in the bathrooms of Ireland Hall. In a moment of outrage, Moynihan had the dispensers physically ripped off the wall and then spoke with the Navy commander."

After the war and the departure of the V-12 program, college students again filled Ireland and high school students continued to live on the fourth floor until 1965, when St. Thomas Academy opened a new campus in Mendota Heights. St. Thomas constructed Dowling (1959) and Brady (1966) halls to provide more housing, and students demanded more freedom from residence hall rules.

"Ireland Hall policy, when it came to female visitors, was that the student could have a guest in his room but he had to keep his door open and have the girl out of the hall by 10 p.m.," Kadlec wrote. The college changed the policy so that doors "could be partially closed - to the point where a book must be placed in the doorway. ... Gradually the books got smaller and smaller until one day a student decided that a book of matches was the equivalent of the mandatory book."

1967 saw the arrival of "Lavin Burgers." Monsignor James Lavin ’40, who had lived in Ireland as a student and returned in 1946, put out loaves of bread and tubs of peanut butter and jelly for students two nights a week. Even though he moved out of Ireland in 2002, Lavin Burgers still can be made every Sunday night in the basement.

The long-term future of Ireland occasionally is called into question. In 2003, for example, a consultant recommended as part of a campus planning study that Ireland, as well as Cretin and Grace on the south campus, should be demolished and replaced with more-efficient residence halls. St. Thomas administrators, however, have no plans to raze any of the halls and even have looked at plans to renovate Ireland, including the installation of an elevator at the east entrance.

The reason is simple, said Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs: "Ireland has a great tradition," she said. "Just think of it: 100 years! Why wouldn’t you want to preserve it? Thousands of alumni have cherished memories of Ireland Hall. I hope it stays around for another 100 years!"

Kadlec captures the historical resonance of the now 100-year-old dormitory in the conclusion of his 1987 paper:

"Far too often, people look at an old building and simply see just the surface. ... They fail to see any beauty in the old bricks, the tall ceilings or the worn-down staircases. One such building that escapes the appreciation of the casual observer is old IrelandHall.

"Sometimes when I’m alone in my comfortable little room I think of all the students who have made their homes in my room over the past 75 years. Knowing the rich history of Ireland Hall often makes me wonder about such things. And if Ireland Hall were a real person, I think she would want it that way."


An Oral History

Monsignor James Lavin ’40 (religion)

Monsignor James "Scooter" Lavin lived in Ireland Hall longer than anyone - 1936- 1940 as a student and 1946-2002 as a faculty and staff member. He taught religion from1946 to 1967 and was a counselor from 1967 to 1988, when he became a special assistant to the president in the alumni office. Scooter’s restaurant - the original in Murray-Herrick Campus Center and the new version in the Anderson Student Center - carries his name, as does an award for volunteer service to the Alumni Association.Lavin, 93, lives in the Little Sisters of the Poor residence in St. Paul.

He didn’t know the founder, but . . ."John Ireland died in 1918, and I was born in 1918. No connection otherwise."

Small rooms had a purpose"We had small rooms for two people, but wide corridors. We did all of our visiting out in the corridors. We got to know people better that way."

Why live in Ireland for 60 years?"I liked it. The Notre Dame priests were on to something when they lived with students and as students lived."

Lavin Burgers"When I went to college, I was always hungry. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were one of the best investments I ever made. I could get my supplies through the school much cheaper than at the supermarket. I would set everything out and have a foreman. You always need a foreman to control a mob (he said with a wink)! It was surprising how much students would push the limits. If somebody bolted the line, a husky Navy man or Marine would say, ‘Get to the end of the line and start over.’"

How he dealt with problem students

"I’d have them call dad at 3 ... in the morning. That would work very well."

His move out of Ireland

"It was tough to do, but it was the only thing to do. One thing I learned in grade school was when the company says move, you move. So when the doctor said, ‘You have to move,’ I moved."

Does he miss Ireland?

"The students come to me now."

Jay Kelly ’48 STA and ’52 CST (political science)

Jay Kelly grew up in Gary, Ind., and arrived in St. Paul in 1944 as a St. Thomas Academy freshman. He lived in Loras Hall for more than a year until moving into Ireland after the Navy V-12 Program left campus. His hall director was Father John Roach, who became academy headmaster and was archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 20 years. Kelly lived off campus as a college freshman and junior but was in Ireland for his sophomore and senior years. He earned a law degree from Georgetown and practiced in Chicago before returning to St. Paul in 1966.

Life as a 14-year-old in Ireland

"When I started off at the academy, the plebe system was just like West Point. We had to lean against the walls when the seniors went by, and we had to polish their shoes. I used to walk in the ‘Hour Line.’ If you got demerits, you marched back and forth for an hour down by the old Armory. You could get demerits for looking backwards at people. Smart off at seniors, and they’d nail you."

Overcame homesickness . . .

"We were all in the same boat together, and we got along well. The guys in school were like my brothers - even to this day. We have stayed in close touch with one another all these years. We still meet the second Thursday of the month at Dixie’s."

. . . and polio"As a sophomore, Father Roach gave me a job to head the intramural program for academy kids, but I came down with polio. I was taken to a hospital and sent home. I came back for the spring semester but took only a couple of courses."

Survived "Crash Vash"

"Father (Robert) Vashro (then an academy teacher and later college dean of students) was tough. He had one of those fraternity paddles and he’d go wake up the seniors. He said, ‘Get out of bed or by dear God I’ll break your backs!’"

Roach no slouch, either

"His face would get so red when he got mad. He (once) blew a gasket and sat us down: ‘I’m tired of hearing spoons scratching in cups every morning! Don’t fill your cups half full of sugar - pour your coffee in first and add a teaspoon of sugar.’"

Thank goodness for the Mothers Club

"They all had daughters and we were a captive band of boys. They’d have us show up at social events. That’s how I met my wife, as a sophomore on a hay ride. She went to St. Joseph’s (Academy, then a high school)."

Ray O’Connell ’48 (sociology)

Ray O’Connell, a Deephaven High School graduate, enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served on the USS Emmons in the Atlantic before his 1944 assignment to the V-12 Program at St. Thomas. He spent a year on campus before finishing the program at Marquette, then returned to St. Thomas to earn his degree and play football and basketball. He worked as a lobbyist during his career. He turns 90 this year and plans to shoot his age - or better - in golf.

Why he came back to St. Thomas

"Father (William) O’Donnell was the registrar at St. Thomas. I was leaving Holy Name Catholic Church in Minneapolis one Sunday and Father O’Donnell was at the door. He talked with me and said, ‘Where are you going to school?’ I told him the University of Minnesota because I wanted to go into forestry, but I was having trouble with my transcripts. He said, ‘Listen, Ray, you come over tomorrow morning at 10, and I’ll register you at St. Thomas.’"

A land lover"The food was served downstairs, and we got three good squares a day. We had double bunks in each room. I always had the upper. I was probably the oldest guy in there because I had a lot more experience from the war. I was elated to live there - it absolutely was better than living on a ship. When you’re at sea, anything can happen. You live one day at a time, and you have to do your job 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Paul Schons ’62 (German)

Paul Schons of Tracy, Minn., lived in Ireland Hall as a freshman and the new Dowling for the fall semester of his sophomore year before returning to Ireland for the spring semester. His floor director was Father Terrence Murphy, president of St. Thomas from 1966 to 1991. Schons started teaching at St. Thomas in 1967; now in his 45th year of teaching, he is the longest-tenured professor at the university. He and his daughter, an adjunct music instructor, will team-teach an Aquinas Scholars honors seminar this summer on German poetry and music.

Not a musician

"I came in thinking I wanted to major in music (he played the clarinet), but (professor)Frank Mayer informed me, ‘Young man, you have no talent.’ I was really enjoying German by then, so I chose that, and here I am today."

Cookies, not Lavin Burgers

"The south wing was all priests, with rooms broken into apartments. One young priest by the name of Lavin would come over into the student quarters and ply us with cookies. This was before his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches became famous."

Tight rules

"We had to be in our rooms for study from 7:30 to 9:30. Then we had a half-hour break, and back in our rooms at 10. On weekends, we could stay out until midnight.That got to be a pain because St. Kate’s students could be out until 12:30 a.m. Therewere no visiting privileges - absolutely verboten! If women came within 20 feet of the dorm, Father Vashro would be out there yelling. We didn’t know how he saw all thethings he saw."

The ghost of (John?) Ireland

"The ghost wasn’t there yet; he came later. For a number of years, students told me about a ghost. Sometimes they’d be looking out a window and see a reflection ofsomeone behind them, and they’d turn but no one was there. I have assured my students that it wasn’t me."

Surprised Ireland still standing

"It does seem like something out of the distant past. It was a pretty old building when I lived there. I’m surprised so many students are happy to live there, but it does have a certain tradition to it. And charm, I suppose."

Tom Luka ’68 (political science)

Tom Luka came to St. Thomas from Chicago to play basketball on teams that won MIAC titles his sophomore and junior years. He started as a junior and senior and lived in Ireland as a freshman. He spent most of his career in financial services and investment businesses in Minnesota, California and Chicago before retiring in 2008.

The quirks of Ireland

"It had plumbing and heating problems - even then. We had bunk beds. When you met your roommate, the first thing you did was the coin flip for top or bottom. I got the top, and that was OK with me."

Evening prayer and lights out

"We had prayer every night at 9 or 10 out in the hall. You’d stand in the hall in your PJs and Monsignor Lavin or one of the priests would say a prayer. Then it was back in your room and, theoretically, lights out. It was a form of discipline, I suppose, but it also was to not disturb the high school kids by running around in the middle of the night. Some guys would put blankets over their heads and read with flashlights."


"We had one black-and-white TV in the basement, with an antenna. No cable, of course, and we could only pick up local stations. One big show was "Shindig," and we’d have 50 guys down in the basement watching it, or an occasional football game. I don’t think TVs were allowed in the rooms, but you could have radios."

Life at Stewart’s

"There was a little store right across Cleveland called Stewart’s (now the location of 128 Café). Mr. Stewart was a little munchkin of a guy, kind of grumpy, and we’d make a run over there for sodas and stale doughnuts before lights out. You could get 3.2 beer."

Ireland’s enduring popularity

"Well, I was pretty happy to not go back! It’s one of the oldest buildings on campus, so it has a lot of tradition. It has stood the test of time. Now, was it the most comfortable place in the world to live? No!"

Jim Snell ’75 (social work)

Jim Snell of Philadelphia lived in Ireland as a freshman, junior and senior (the latter two years as a resident adviser). He was a member of the crew and fencing clubs. In December 1974, a candle tipped over in his first floor room and ignited a fire that caused extensive damage (two months later, a fourth-floor fire heavily damaged sophomore Mark Cashman’s room). Snell served in the Marine Corps for 30 years,rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, before starting a San Diego area company that offers executive leadership courses based on Marine principles.

Ireland was his first - and only - choice

"It was what a college dorm should look like - big hallways, huge steps. You felt you were part of something special; that you were on to something big, that you were part of a great short story. You developed social and emotional intelligence by living together like that ..."It was a good feeling, coming out of the library late at night and walking up the hill to Ireland. We were all little boys who got bigger."

Hallway duels

"It was not uncommon that someone would come to my room with a sword and boom, we’d be out in the hallway, fencing."

About that fire . . .

"I went down the hall to get a Coke. Within a couple of minutes, the fire alarm went off. A lot of my stuff got burned up, and I had to move across the hall. They rebuilt the room."

Easy life as an R.A.

"It was a no-brainer. Nobody really needed assistance. Everybody was pretty independent."

Tony Kadlec ’90 (mathematics)

Tony Kadlec came out of Silver Lake High School near Hutchinson. He lived in 106 Ireland for two years and played football as a defensive end, punter and kicker and was team captain his senior year. He also has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota and a master of manufacturing systems engineering degree from St. Thomas. He worked for Braun Intertec before founding Good Point Technology, a software developing and engineering consulting services firm.

Scooter’s pep talk

"Father Lavin talked me out of quitting engineering. I came from a small high school and we didn’t have calculus, so when I got to St. Thomas I had to learn calculus plus take Intro to Physics and spend four hours a day in football. I wasn’t the kind of guy to quit anything, but it was just too much. I sat down with Father Lavin and he told me, ‘Education is like a marriage. You don’t quit when it gets rough.’ He recommended I drop one class, and that helped me get through."

History paper kudos

"I interviewed Father Lavin for a paper (HIS 122: ‘The History of Ireland Hall’). Isaw him a couple of years ago. He remembered my paper, and he paid me one of thebest compliments I’ve ever received: he said I had a sense of history."

That’s what he remembers about Ireland

"It’s that sense of history. When you walk in there, you feel you are part of something important. I loved where my room was, right across from the R.A. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but that side door is the one my girlfriend used to sneak in through."

The ghost of Ireland"We called the ghost Herbie. That might have been a pet name. The room that supposedly was haunted was the first one on the west side of the hallway, next to the statue of John Ireland."

Andy Pieper ’03 (English), ’08 (J.D.)

Andy Pieper grew up in New Prague, Minn., and lived in Ireland as a freshman and sophomore (first floor). He taught English in the Czech Republic after graduation and held odd jobs after returning until he enrolled in the St. Thomas School of Law. He is an associate at the Minneapolis law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi.

The tour

"I remember going on a tour of St. Thomas when I was in high school and they took us to a dorm room in Ireland Hall. I thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of a cool place. It would be interesting to live here.’ It was my first choice. When I moved in, I was really excited. I liked the historical aspect. My mom, who wasn’t on the tour with me, saw Ireland for the first time when we were moving in and her reaction was, ‘I can’t believe I’m dropping my son off at a building that’s falling apart.’"

What he liked the most

"The best friends I’ve made in my life - the people I still keep in touch with this to this day - are from relationships when I was in Ireland Hall. I don’t know what it is about that setting that forms such a bond, such a shared experience. Maybe it’s because the rooms are smaller - that forced you to go out into hallways and meet your neighbors or experience other parts of campus."

Outside living room"We had easy in-and-out access on the first floor because we were right by the door that led to quad. We would pick up our couches, which we bought from Goodwill, on nice fall and spring days and haul them out to quad and make it our expanded living room."

Ireland-Brady snowball fight"Once there was a decent amount of snow on the ground, the R.A.s got together and set a date. The number of Ireland Hall guys always was more than the Brady Hall guys. It almost was an unfair fight. We’d win. Definitely."

Helping Scooter

"Father Lavin would bring his bags of groceries but couldn’t carry all of them up four flights of stairs, so he would leave some at the bottom of the stairs and would walk back down and pick them up. One time, a friend and I saw a couple of bags there, so we brought them up to his room. It was getting late and he answered the door in his pajamas. He was so happy and thankful."

Nick Chang ’13 (political science and justice and peace studies)

Twenty-year-old Nick Chang is a junior from Green Bay, Wis., and as a resident adviser on Ireland fourth floor north is responsible for 38 students. He also lived in Ireland his first two years and was an R.A. last spring semester. He is vice president of operations for Sigma Chi, a leadership fraternity, and studied abroad in Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine during 2010 January Term. He hopes to attend law school after graduation.

Mom wasn’t crazy about Ireland

"She was horrified that I would live in Ireland. During a tour, we came out of a room and she looked like she had seen a ghost. We hadn’t made a room deposit yet, and she called my dad and told him to do it right away so I could get into Brady."

He loves the community

"The rooms are small so kids will just hang out and talk in the halls. People like the community aspect of Ireland."

But his floor can get hot

"The joke about the heat is that every floor you walk up, the temperature goes up five degrees. You can be cold on 1 but by the time you get to 4 you’re back in the sauna and you want to take a shower."

Loves being an R.A.

"The guys tend to be pretty good. The reputation when I came in was that Ireland was a party dorm, but I haven’t seen too much of that."

That ghost of Ireland still may be around

"One story this year, on 4-South: a guy was sleeping and felt a presence. He couldn’t breathe and felt something pushing him down. He was pretty freaked out. I could see it happening. This is an old building. There is a lot of history here."

St. Thomas will celebrate the centennial anniversary of Ireland Hall with reunion festivities on Saturday, June 2.

The winter and spring issues of Connections, a print newsletter distributed throughout much of Minnesota and western Wisconsin, will have more information about the event.

You also can check

Alumni are encouraged to go online (to and write about their favorite stories and memories of Ireland Hall.

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