While wandering through campus, St. Thomas community members may have stumbled across the quiet garden at the rear of the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas with a statue of the Virgin Mary as its centerpiece. There’s an interesting story why the garden was placed there and what its meaning was.
Following the First World War, numerous memorials were erected across to United States to commemorate the participants in that conflict. But it wasn’t until 1942 that the St. Thomas Mothers' Club proposed that a monument to the College of St. Thomas and St. Thomas Military Academy students and alumni who served their country be erected somewhere on campus. The group asserted that a shrine to Our Lady Queen of Peace would be “a lasting memorial to all St. Thomas men, living or dead, who served in wars in which the United States had been engaged.”
Fundraising for the project was slowed by competing interests during World War II. But the St. Thomas Mothers' Club initiated a renewed fundraising effort after the war was over. By early 1950, the group collected over $7,500 toward the construction of the shrine and the St. Thomas administration gave its consent for the planning and construction of the site.
Several prominent local architects and artists were solicited to produce conceptual plans for the Our Lady Queen of Peace Shrine. The design selected for the landscaping and stonework of the project was developed by a Minneapolis-based landscape architect, Hugh Vincent Feehan. Feehan’s work was familiar to St. Thomas campus as he was also responsible for the original design of O’Shaughnessy Stadium and Field.
The centerpiece gray Mankato stone statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace was executed by local artist Amerigo Brioschi of the Brioschi Studios in St. Paul. In Brioschi’s design, the Virgin Mary holds a sword (symbolizing war) with a rosary wrapped around it (signifying peace). Brioschi’s work also was known to the St. Thomas campus community, as he had previously created the athletic figures and gargoyles found on the exterior of O’Shaughnessy Hall and O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
The ground was broken for the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace on June 8, 1950, with the dedication ceremony held on Oct. 15, 1950. More than 175 Gold Star mothers of St. Thomas alumni who were killed in action were honored guests at the event. The completed site was celebrated at the time as a lasting memorial to the nearly 6,000 members of the St. Thomas community – students, alumni, faculty and staff – who had served in our nation’s wars to that point.