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.