Over the summer, I came across a lovely passage in an essay written in 1990 by the late Joseph Connors about the history of St. Thomas, and I wanted to share it with you as we begin a new academic year.

“Sometime, in a campus walk, stop for a few moments at the crest of the slope where the walks divide leading to the residence halls, and look out across the lower campus,” he wrote. “Try to imagine what it must have been like for a young ex-soldier named William Finn, who stood near there in 1848, studying a primitive landscape and thinking, ‘This would be the best place.’”

The best place, then, for Finn’s farmhouse. The ex-soldier had received title to 160 acres of land in this area as a result of a shooting accident at Fort Snelling. He farmed the land before transferring it to Archbishop John Ireland, who founded St. Thomas in 1885.

And the best place, today, for the University of St. Thomas, although I smile when I wonder about what Finn, Ireland and Connors would think were they to stand there today and see the construction zone for our Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. That view from the crest of the slope isn’t what it used to be – even four months ago.

At first they might ask, “Are they crazy?” But given their farsighted nature, I suspect it wouldn’t take long for them to nod and simply say, “Progress. It’s all about progress.”
Ireland understood progress as well as anyone when, 124 years ago this week, he opened the doors to the school that would evolve over the next century into the University of St. Thomas. In nearly 35 years as leader of this archdiocese, Ireland always looked ahead in a most-positive manner. He once urged that society must “ever press forward” because he believed that “God intends the present to be better than the past, and the future to be better than the present.”

As we take time this year to celebrate our 125th anniversary, it’s important that we keep in mind Ireland’s words and be grateful for the hard work of generations of people who studied, taught and worked here. They entrusted us with something very special, and we must care for it and always seek to build a stronger university.

In just more than a year, we will be able to stop for a few moments at the crest of the slope, view the lower campus and our spectacular new athletic facilities, and say, “This is the best place.”

The best place, indeed.

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3 Responses

  1. Jan, Minneapolis

    If the first St. Thomas academic year was 1885-86, is 2009-2010 the 124th year rather than the 125th? Please have someone in the Mathematics Department explain this. And someone in the English Department could define quasquicentennial. And someone in Philosophy could explain the logic of celebrating a quasquicentennial before it actually has occurred. Thank you.
    Editor’s note: St. Thomas chose to celebrate its 125-year anniversary during the 125th year (2009-2010), not after it. “Quasquicentennial” means a 125-year observance (just as centennial is 100 years and sesquicentennial is 150 years).

  2. Sam, St. Paul

    As Father Dease pointed out,the first classes at St. Thomas were held 124 years ago – in 1885. So how come 2009 is being celebrated as the 125th anniversary of the institution’s founding?
    Editor’s note: The university chose to mark the occasion during its 125 year (2009-2010), not after it.

  3. Jerry Anderley, St. Thomas

    I think it’s important to remember that the University of Saint Thomas is the best place because of the faithful and dedicated individuals who give of their time, talent and treasure to continue God’s work of salvation.