The Arches.
The Arches in October 2022. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Tales from the Archives: The Arches

The Arches at the University of St. Thomas have become an unmistakable symbol of the campus, making it difficult to imagine a time when they were not an integral part of the landscape. Surprisingly, they were added to the campus just over 75 years ago.

The inspiration for the Arches can be traced back to St. Thomas’ first official campus plan. In 1931, the Holy Cross Fathers, who oversaw the college at the time, commissioned the renowned Boston architectural firm of Maginnis & Walsh to design the campus’s future development. Among the plan’s focal points was a tower with an archway entrance facing Summit Avenue, flanked by two academic buildings.

Maginnis & Walsh campus plan, 1931.

The first building to take inspiration from the Maginnis & Walsh plan was Aquinas Hall, completed in 1932. However, financial constraints resulting from the Great Depression and World War II prevented St. Thomas from fully realizing the design. It wasn’t until the construction of Albertus Magnus Hall in 1946 (now known as the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts) that the archway finally materialized, connecting the new building to Aquinas Hall.

St. Thomas Aquinas sculpture, 1950.

A notable feature of the archway is the statue of the patron saint of the school, St. Thomas Aquinas. Installed in 1947 as construction on Albertus Magnus Hall neared completion, the statue stands between the two arches. Around 1980, a plaque with the words to the Prayer of St. Thomas was mounted beneath it.

The Arches quickly became a popular gathering spot for students and faculty. In fact, the October 1947 issue of The Aquin expressed concerns about the considerable number of people who congregated beneath them to smoke and talk. The editors feared that scuff marks from students’ shoes would cause a need for the stone to be refaced each year.

The Arches have become an inspiration for several campus traditions. According to one legend, a student is not considered a “True Tommie” until they have been kissed under the Arches. Some also believe if a couple kisses beneath the Arches as the clock strikes midnight, they are destined to marry and be together forever.

Another campus tradition, the March Through the Arches, was introduced in 2000 as a symbolic event for incoming first-year students, signifying their entrance into college life. March Out of the Arches is held on the Friday before commencement to commemorate the transformation of graduating seniors from students to alumni.

The Arches not only serve as a physical landmark on the St. Thomas campus but also hold a special place in the hearts of our community connecting us to our past and our future.