Editor’s note: As part of our new Purple History series, we’ll occasionally highlight pieces of St. Thomas history.
Purple has always held a special place in Minnesotans’ hearts. But long before the Minnesota Vikings were dubbed the Purple People Eaters or late musical icon Prince claimed it as his trademark hue, St. Thomas athletes were showing their school spirit by wearing purple and gray on the field.
Our love for purple at St. Thomas is stronger than ever - from showing our school pride by wearing purple on Tommie Tuesday and at sporting events, to the purple flowers of the Pollinator Path, and to the festive ornaments adorning the towering 35-foot Christmas tree at Anderson Student Center (ASC) during the Advent season.
President Julie Sullivan said the color symbolizes the spirit of the university.
“It represents who we aspire to be and our solidarity as a community that cares for others. It represents the words used in the Be Purple campaign about who we want to be,” Sullivan said. “They are printed on the banners in ASC and include the following: loud, proud, respectful, smart, driven, victorious, real, nice, welcoming, kind, inspiring and amazing. We want to excel and be considerate of others. Most importantly, it means we are part of something bigger than ourselves, which is this community and what it stands for.”
We asked St. Thomas archivist Ann Kenne, head of special collections and university archivist, to help us find out when St. Thomas first adopted the colors purple and gray. A 1922 article from the Purple and Gray student newspaper quoted H.P. Conway, a coach at St. Thomas from 1898-1903, who said the colors were adopted in 1899 with the “first real” athletic uniforms ordered soon after. In print, the first mention of purple and (light) gray colors was in conjunction with a football roster from the 1901 college course catalog.
Father Larry Snyder, vice president of mission, noted that during medieval times purple was the costliest dye available and associated with royalty. In the Catholic liturgical tradition, he said the color symbolizes penance and sacrifice.
"It [purple] is primarily associated with the season of Lent, which is a penitential season, but is also used in Advent, which is a season of preparation,” Snyder said.
For senior Regan Skoogman the color has multiple meanings.
“The color purple here at St. Thomas means community, family, prosperity, high-level education, pride, friends, opportunity and home,” Skoogman said. “I am proud to be a St. Thomas student and exhibit what St. Thomas students are. The color purple symbolizes the significance of what St. Thomas encompasses.”
Senior Kate Nechanicky agreed, saying she finds a “sense of pride, unity and identity” connected to the color.
With purple being the dominant color on campus, Colleen Utecht, Tommie Shop manager, said the purple hooded sweatshirt you see at Tommie Shops in St. Paul and Minneapolis has been a bestseller for more than a decade. She calls it a “classic collegiate piece.”
Nechanicky said there is also something else to keep in mind:
“Like it says on the elevator by Admissions: Everyone looks good in purple!”
Newsroom student writer Angie Vognild contributed to this story.