Editor’s note: As part of our new Purple History series, we’ll occasionally highlight pieces of St. Thomas history.
With snippets of student life, beautiful campus images and lovely harmonies, the folks at Student Affairs have created a touching video that captures St. Thomas moments set to the school’s alma mater song performed by Cadenza and Summit Singers. Their efforts easily make one’s heart swell with school pride, and repeated views are a must.
Karen Lange, EdD, vice president of Student Affairs, said the idea for the video came after graduation in the spring. As the alma mater song was performed, she could tell most students didn’t know the words.
“Over the summer, I mentioned to our staff that one of my ‘fun goals’ this year was to make sure our incoming students learned the words to the song,” said Lange, who used the song in ice breaking activities during Welcome Week. “Our professional and student staff worked with Cadenza and Summit Singers to record the song, and Shukrani Nangwala, our student intern, put the words to video.”
While there have been various school songs over the history of St. Thomas (more on that later), this alma mater song debuted in 2016 after Vice President for Mission Father Larry Snyder noticed when he arrived in 2015 there wasn’t a school song being prominently featured at major school gatherings.
Snyder and his colleagues decided to commission the writing of an updated alma mater song. The logical choice to pen the song was Father Jan Michael Joncas, St. Thomas artist-in-residence and fellow of the Center for Catholic Studies.
“Father Snyder left the text up to me, so I tried to use the image of walking through the Arches to hold the piece together; the values expressed in the text are really the school’s statements about thinking critically, acting wisely and working skillfully for the common good,” Joncas said. “I think the only change requested after I had written the first version is that we’d repeat the final phrase with ‘St. Thomas’ substituting for ‘alma mater’ and I was happy to make that change.”“It unites the university community – it unites us in the way that talks about all the best things that we hope to be,” Snyder said. “My hope is that it would be a regular part of whenever we have large gathering of students, faculty and staff that we could end with the alma mater.”
The song is currently performed at the post-March Through the Arches Welcoming Ceremony and at graduation. Here are the words:
St. Thomas Alma Mater
Through these arches pass
class by hopeful class,
we who share a vision strong and true.
We ourselves transformed
and our world reborn,
by the things we think and say and do.
Now we stand, side by side,
in our hope and our pride,
to declare our thanks a new.
Hearts and voices raise,
in a song of praise.
Dear St. Thomas,
blessings be to you.
blessings be to you.
A musical history
A story in the October 1996 St. Thomas Magazine gives an overview of St. Thomas school song history. In 1923, there was a contest soliciting school song ideas with little turnout. Regardless, later that year, “Boost St. Thomas” was published and available to students for a quarter.
“It is the duty of every St. Thomas student to obtain a copy of this school song,” said an announcement in the Purple and Gray, the student newspaper at the time. “It was written for you, published for you, and you should appreciate it and back it.”
Just a few years later, in 1926, another school song came on the scene and, in subsequent years, more school songs popped up. Of course, some of them were “fight songs” more suitable for a pep rally than a graduation ceremony.
In the 1990s, the call went out for a song in the spirit of 1924’s “Boost St. Thomas.” A winner was chosen, copies of the words were posted across campus and cheer teams worked out dance routines to the song.
“Only time will tell if this newest of songs will resonate with the St. Thomas spirit or if it will join its counterparts on the archive shelves,” said the story’s author.
Fast-forward two decades to the debut of the alma mater song by Father Joncas – the one featured in the video. What will it take to make this one stick in the minds (and hearts) of the St. Thomas community? Well, having a song with thoughtful words and a compelling video featuring an excellent rendition sung by Cadenza and the Summit Singers certainly doesn’t hurt.
Special thanks to Ann M. Kenne, head of Special Collections Department /university archivist at the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library for help digging into the archives.