Tomorrow isn’t just the first day of school here. It’s the anniversary of the very first day of school, back in 1885. Father Thomas O’Gorman penned the most detailed account on record of the opening day of classes at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, forerunner of today’s University of St. Thomas.

“Classes opened Sept. 9, in the afternoon, with a short class,” wrote St. Thomas’ first rector.  “There being no books, no desks, very little was possible.”

It wasn’t a very spectacular start for what would become the state’s largest private college or university and, outside the field of medicine, Minnesota’s largest nonprofit institution.  On that first day of class in 1885, St. Thomas enrolled 62 students; it had six faculty members and, as Gorman pointed out, no books.

This year the 11,000-student university is observing its 125th anniversary – its quasquicentennial – with a host of programs, publications and art works that commemorate and celebrate its colorful history.

Many of those items will be unveiled for the first time at a quasquicentennial kickoff planned for 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in the upper quadrangle on the university’s St. Paul campus. A program will begin at 4:30 p.m. and refreshments will be served. The event is free and all are welcome.

Interactive timeline

The quasquicentennial time line is loaded with more than 200 photos and 30 videos from St. Thomas' past.

The quasquicentennial time line is loaded with more than 200 photos and 30 videos from St. Thomas' past.

For a crash course on how St. Thomas made it from 1885 to 2009, visit the university’s quasquicentennial timeline that goes live for the first time today.   The timeline offers a guided tour of some of the most fascinating materials found in the St. Thomas Archives.

Instructions for first-time timeline users will explain how to navigate from year to year and use the Web site’s features.  For a quick historical overview, you can read summaries of each decade; for a more in-depth look, stop at the dozens of historical photographs, drawing and videos. Most have never been available online until now. The oldest movie clip, “A Day at St. Thomas,” was filmed here in 1924.  Other videos feature sports highlights and even some defunct campus traditions … like a Mississippi River raft race from the late 1960s.

The Web site includes photos and essays on all of St. Thomas presidents, winners of annual St. Thomas awards, and a slide show that depicts a series of aerial views of the university’s evolving St. Paul campus.

The site also has a “memorabilia” page with information about four items that have been prepared or commissioned for the quasquicentennial: a calendar featuring scenes of St. Thomas architecture, including a cover shot of our long-gone lake; a book of essays on 125 interesting and influential people in our history; a new, ceramic miniature of our best-known architectural feature, the Arches; and a limited-edition print of a new oil painting of the Arches.

Calendar

The calendar includes this 1932 photo of the Armory and what was called the "Club House" but later became Foley Theater. There's a big hole in the ground there today.

The calendar includes this 1932 photo of the Armory and what was called the "Club House" but later became Foley Theater. There's a big hole in the ground there today.

A 16-month calendar, which runs from September 2009 to December 2010, is now on sale for $1 at the St.Thomas Bookstore on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. It features photographs of campus scenes with a special focus on St. Thomas buildings (some no longer standing) in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Owatonna and Rome.

Book about 125 ‘interesting and influential’ St. Thomas people

A new book published for the quasquicentennial is dedicated "to all students who have attended St. Thomas."

A new book published for the quasquicentennial is dedicated "to all students who have attended St. Thomas."

125 Years: Interesting and Influential People was researched and written by 1958 St. Thomas graduate Richard Conklin of Mendota Heights. Conklin, who worked at St. Thomas early in his career, retired in 2001 as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Notre Dame.

Invitations for the Sept. 24 quasquicentennial event have been sent to those featured in the book who are living, and to survivors of those who have passed away.

While the book’s one-page essays include people you’d expect … presidents and well-known faculty members … it also includes those who in different ways had a unique influence on the institution, people like Danny Donahue, the campus bell ringer and messenger who died in 1905, and barber Bill Weston who gave more than 300,000 haircuts here before entering semi-retirement in 2006.

The book opens with short history of St. Thomas that is an updated version of “A Continuity of Effort,” originally drafted by the late Dr. Joseph Connors, the St. Thomas English professor who wrote the history of St. Thomas, Journey Toward Fulfillment, published in 1986.

Conklin will attend the Sept. 24 event and be available to autograph copies of the book. Copies will be sold at the event and later at the Bookstore for $10.

Miniature Arches

The first-ever miniature Arches commissioned for the 125th anniversary of St. Thomas.

The first-ever miniature Arches commissioned for the 125th anniversary of St. Thomas.

Members of the 125th Anniversary Committee commissioned the first-of-its-kind miniature, ceramic likeness of the Arches.  They worked with Your College Memories, a Minnesota firm that also created a model replica of the Sacred Heart Chapel at the College of St. Benedict.

The highly detailed Arches are slightly more than 4 inches high and about 7 inches long. Made and hand-painted in Minnesota, each is inscribed with “125th Anniversary of the University of St. Thomas, 2009-2010.”

The miniatures will be displayed for the first time at the Sept. 24 quasquicentennial event; following that date they will be available at the Bookstore for $75 each.

Arches oil painting

Unveiled for the first time at the Sept. 24 event will be the Arches oil painting that was commissioned for the quasquicentennial.

The Arches have been a widely recognized symbol of St. Thomas since they were built in 1947 to connect Aquinas Hall to the then-new Albertus Magnus Hall (now the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts).

A new oil painting of the Arches will be unveiled Sept. 24.

A new oil painting of the Arches will be unveiled Sept. 24.

Joshua Cunningham, the St. Paul artist commissioned for the painting, worked closely with the 125th Anniversary Committee on the project. He chose to paint the Arches from the Summit Avenue side with afternoon lighting.  The season is early autumn.

Cunningham initially painted four “studies” on wood panels. Committee members reviewed them and selected features from each study that they wanted to see in the final 18-by-24-inch painting.

Limited-edition prints have been individually produced using the digital giclee printing technique that was invented about 20 years ago.  Each print takes about 30 minutes to create.  Archival-quality inks and paper are used. The 100 percent cotton paper, Hahnemuhle, comes from Germany.

The university is creating a limited edition of 1,000 prints. They are signed and come with an authenticity certificate from the artist and printmaker.  Prints will be sold for $125 and will be available at the Sept. 24 event and after that date at the Bookstore.

An option available at the Bookstore is to purchase a set of all four items — the calendar, book, ceramic miniature and painting — for $175.  More information about the items can be found at the memorabilia Web site.

Other signs of the quasquicentennial

Throughout the coming year, students, staff, faculty and visitors will find other signs around campus that the university is celebrating its quasquicentennial. Banners in front of the Arches include images and quotes from key figures in St. Thomas’ history.

Photos and essays of the university’s presidents can be found on panels mounted in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

The homecoming and reunion weekend will have a 125th anniversary theme. Look for the Alumni Association’s commemorative, color-changing mugs (yes, they turn purple).

There will be special displays in the kiosk, near the Arches, and traveling posters and banners will be used at events throughout the year.

The university’s homepage on the Web will feature an anniversary theme.

St. Thomas staff members who serve on the 125th Anniversary Committee are Doug Hennes, Phil Hoeppner, Elizabeth Houle, Brett Johnson, Ann Kenne, Bill Kirchgessner, Sara Klomp, Kevin Knutson, Joe Plante, Colleen Casey Simonson, Carol Wilkie and Jim Winterer.  Alumni Association board members Nancy Schneider ’85 and Ed LeClair ’65 also are on the committee.