University of St. Thomas names Opus College of Business

St. Thomas announced at noon today that it has named its College of Business after Opus, the Minnesota real estate development and construction company founded by St. Thomas trustee and benefactor Gerald Rauenhorst.

Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, and Christopher Puto, dean of the College of Business, made the announcement during a ceremony in Schulze Hall on the Minneapolis campus. The ceremony was simulcast in McNeely Hall on the St. Paul campus.

St. Thomas decided to name the college after Opus in recognition of the decades-long involvement of Opus and Rauenhorst, a 1948 St. Thomas alumnus, in the development of business programs at the university. The college enrolls 4,557 students in undergraduate and graduate programs and offers continuing education programs to about 7,000 people a year.

“Gerry Rauenhorst and Opus have been extraordinarily generous in helping us improve the quality of business education at St. Thomas by constructing buildings, establishing endowed chairs and providing financial aid to students,” Dease said. “Our business programs are highly respected in this community in large part because of Opus’ commitment, and we are proud the company’s name will be part of ours in perpetuity.”

Dease also noted Opus’ half-century involvement in helping develop the university’s campuses, including the design and construction of 20 buildings and 1.9 million square feet of space at St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary.

Rauenhorst declined an opportunity to have the College of Business named after him, saying the recognition should go to the company that he founded in 1953. “I know that many business schools are named after people,” Rauenhorst said, “and so are many companies. Ours used to be, but it isn’t any more. Opus is the company.”

Since its founding in 1953, Opus leaders have made giving back to the community a fundamental value of the company, and that value is carried out in dozens of ways across the country. Opus always has contributed 10 percent of its pretax profits to community nonprofit organizations and has made a positive impact in areas such as early childhood education, youth development and community revitalization.

In an interview for the fall issue of B. magazine, which is published by the College of Business, Rauenhorst quoted from the Bible in explaining why he doesn’t want buildings or programs named after him.

“You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God,” Rauenhorst said in quoting the Book of Micah 6:8. “That’s the reason. I don’t want my name on things. I just want to walk humbly with my God.”

Dease said St. Thomas will honor a request from Rauenhorst that the university not announce the amount of contributions that he and his company have made.

Puto said the Opus College of Business name would be prominent immediately. After the announcement today, St. Thomas revealed the Opus name in three locations – on the exterior of the clock tower of Terrence Murphy Hall at 10th Street and La Salle Avenue in Minneapolis, in the atrium of Terrence Murphy Hall, and on the wall in front of McNeely Hall, the new business building on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The Opus name also will be featured on new exterior signs that will be erected on the Minneapolis campus next spring and on marketing communications materials for the college.

“I am delighted and proud to have the Opus name on our College of Business,” Puto said. “We have a long and close relationship with Opus and Gerry Rauenhorst. Opus, the company, is a wonderful manifestation of its founder’s values, and the Opus College of Business will bring those values to life for countless business students in the years to come. We simply could not have a better match.”

Rauenhorst, 78, is one of eight children raised by Henry and Margaret Rauenhorst on farms near Bird Island and Olivia in west-central Minnesota. In the 2003 book, A Better Way: Faith, Family, and the First Fifty Years of the Opus Group of Companies, Rauenhorst recalled the family’s financial struggles during the Depression.

“We were poor in material things – we didn’t even have an indoor biffy until I was 15 – but we were rich in the things that count,” he said in A Better Way. “We were taught all the right things. To work hard and to not cheat and to always tells the truth. To treat people with respect, to pay your bills and to go to church every Sunday. Those were lessons we learned – the habits we acquired – during those days on the farm.”

Rauenhorst graduated from St. Thomas in 1948 with a degree in economics and earned a second bachelor’s degree, in civil engineering, from Marquette University in Milwaukee. He started Trojan Construction in 1953 and, with $354 in his pocket and a $2,500 loan from an older brother, won a contract to build a new church for Zion Lutheran in Olivia.

One job led to another, and he renamed the company Rauenhorst Construction to underscore his personal accountability and to avoid any confusion with his brothers’ seed-corn enterprise. In 1982, he changed the growing company’s name to Opus because of concerns the family name might become too visible. Today, Opus is one of the region’s largest real estate development companies, with $1.4 billion in annual revenue and having constructed more than 2,300 buildings across the United States.

Twenty of those buildings have been at St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary. Opus constructed the first, Dowling Residence Hall, in 1958-59, and the most recent, McNeely Hall, opened last month. The company also has designed and constructed all four Minneapolis campus buildings. Collectively, Opus has constructed 1.9 million square feet of new or expansion space at St. Thomas – 70 percent of the university’s inventory and the equivalent of 1.5 IDS Centers.

Rauenhorst joined the St. Thomas Board of Trustees in 1966 and has been a close adviser to Dease and his predecessor, the late Monsignor Terrence Murphy, president from 1966 to 1991, during St. Thomas’ evolution into a comprehensive university. Rauenhorst’s activism as a board member included:

  • Urging St. Thomas to establish graduate business programs in 1974, at a time when only the University of Minnesota offered an MBA degree in the Twin Cities. Today, those programs enroll 2,270 students (and 2,287 undergraduate students are business majors).
  • Providing free space in the vacant Powers department store building for St. Thomas’ first Minneapolis classes in 1987. More than 1,100 students enrolled within three years, prompting St. Thomas to acquire a block of land at 10th Street and La Salle Avenue for a new downtown campus. The first building, now known as Terrence Murphy Hall, opened in 1992 and features another Rauenhorst idea – an atrium ceiling with the seven virtues painted in fresco.
  • Suggesting that St. Thomas develop an Oxford-style downtown campus with buildings that surrounded an open green quadrangle. An additional block has been acquired, and with the future construction of two more buildings, Rauenhorst’s dream of an Oxford-style courtyard one day will be realized.
  • Supporting several College of Business initiatives, including the Opus Distinguished Chair for the Dean, the Opus Chair in Family Enterprise and the Opus Distinguished Lecture Series. Opus Hall, the second Minneapolis campus building, opened in 1999 as the home for the School of Education.
  • Repeatedly but patiently encouraging St. Thomas to reopen its law school, which closed in 1933 because of the Depression. Other projects, including growth in graduate programs, the 1977 decision to enroll women as undergraduate students and the opening of the Minneapolis campus, took precedence. But in 2001 St. Thomas did reopen its law school in a Minneapolis campus building designed and constructed by Opus.