College of St. Benedict celebrates its 100-year history

Categories: Around the Diocese

Dec. 6, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

It began with a religious habit.

Or several of them.

Problems with them, actually.

A 1904 decree declared that wearing a religious habit in a state-sponsored school was prohibited. Sisters from the Order of St. Benedict in St. Joseph attended the University of Minnesota to receive teaching certificates. Their practice teaching was to be completed in a state-sponsored school, and wearing a religious habit there was considered teaching religious doctrine.

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Photographs of influential sisters from the early years of CSB line the entrance of the “Lighting the Torch” exhibit on display until Dec. 22 at the Haehn Museum in St. Joseph. Photos by Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully / The Visitor

But the habit was not the only problem the sisters faced. Their academy, St. Benedict’s Academy, a four-year secondary school on campus, was growing and needed to expand.

Both issues were solved by an up-and-coming movement in education: a college for women. The school, which would later be called College of St. Benedict, would prepare their sisters for teaching and allow the academy students to continue to progress in their education.

First year was 1913

The sisters voted in 1911 to build an addition to St. Benedict’s Academy. The addition would later be called Teresa Hall (a wing of the “main” building), which would have a gym, library, museum, art room, sewing room, auditorium, classrooms and residence area.

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Items from an early CSB residential room are on display at the Haehn Museum.

Six students enrolled in the first college classes in 1913. This year, as the institution celebrates its centennial, the college boasts 2,012 students. Over the last 100 years, 21,889 women have graduated from the school.

“Our centennial is a defining moment for the College of St. Benedict,” said MaryAnn Baenninger, CSB president. “Our first century was characterized by a fierce belief in the power of liberal education, an enduring commitment to our Catholic and Benedictine heritage and an unwavering focus on women’s development as leaders, professionals and scholars.”

In celebration of the centennial, artifacts and photographs from the college’s first 50 years are on display at the Haehn Museum on the campus of St. Benedict’s Monastery. The exhibit, which runs until Dec. 22, tells the story of the beginning of the college, its obstacles, triumphs and accomplishments.

The College of St. Benedict began its centennial celebration during commencement in May 2013. It held an all-school reunion in June and had a birthday party in August following convocation. Over the remaining school year it will continue to commemorate its 100th anniversary, leading up to the commencement ceremony May 2014.

Hurt by Great Depression

CSB grew slowly in its early years. Teresa Hall would be the only college building until 1956 when Mary Hall was built. Many women did not receive a college education in the early 1900s.

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A sign celebrating CSB’s 100 years is displayed near the main building on campus.

In 1926, the sisters started the St. Cloud Hospital with the hopes it would help finance the college. The plan backfired. The Depression came and patients were not able to pay their medical bills. The sisters had large debts.

Though money was tight, breakthroughs were in sight. In 1930, the same year six sisters went to China as missionaries, the first two Chinese students came to the college. In 1938, CSB became the first Catholic women’s college in the United States to enroll black students.

Sister Claire Lynch, college dean from 1932 to 1941, began several initiatives that greatly helped the college. During her tenure, the college became accredited by North Central Association of Colleges, adopted a liberal arts program, assembled a lay advisory board and organized an alumnae association.

From 1942-1952, the sisters began started several new monasteries in other states. About 440 sisters, including many key professors, transferred to the new monasteries during this time, leaving dean Sister Enid Smith many gaps to fill.

In 1961 the college was separately incorporated from the monastery. The monastery continues a relationship with the college which influences its Catholic Benedictine identity.

Another major change for the college came in 1963 when CSB students began attending classes at St. John’s University in Collegeville and vice versa. Today the schools have a common curriculum, a single academic calendar and identical degree requirements.

Athletics were practiced since the beginning of the college, but a significant milestone came in 1976 when it formed an athletic council. CSB student Mary Haffner’s submission of “Blazers” officially became the new name for CSB varsity teams in 1977.

Several new buildings opened over the next 40 years. Clemens Library was completed in 1986, the Haehn Campus Center was dedicated in 1996 and ground was broken for the Gorecki Center in 2006.

Moving forward

The newest buildings, Centennial Commons, named in honor of the school’s 100th anniversary, were completed in 2012. They were awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes Platinum, the highest level of certification given by the U.S. Green Building Council. Centennial Commons is the first college student housing in Minnesota to receive the level of certification.

As CSB looks forward to its next 100 years, Baenninger sees it strongly building on its past.

She said, “We envision our future as grounded in these same commitments and we embrace the changes and challenges impacting the world with the same courage, strength and boldness of our foremothers.”

To learn more about the history of the College of St. Benedict, visit the “Lighting the Torch” Haehn Museum exhibit at the Art and Heritage Place at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The exhibit will be available for viewing until Dec. 22. Additional information is available in “Challenging Women Since 1913″ by Annette Atkins available at the bookstores at CSB and SJU.