A New Era Begins
The restoration of Benedictine Hall’s four turrets represents the next chapter in St. Gregory’s University’s history.
The yellowing, black-and-white photos tell the story well. Monks from the Order of St. Benedict stand beside construction workers as the cornerstone for a new building is placed. The year is 1913, and the building is Benedictine Hall, the gothic-style edifice that would become the center of learning and life on St. Gregory’s University’s Shawnee campus.
Fast forward to November 9, 2013, and a similar blessing ceremony is taking place on the western steps of the now almost 100-year-old Benedictine Hall. This time, however, Abbot Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B., of St. Gregory’s Abbey is specifically blessing the reconstruction of the building’s four turrets.
“It’s important to remember what this building represents,” Stasyszen said during Saturday’s blessing ceremony, “[It represents] the mission of St. Gregory’s as a Catholic institution of higher learning meant to bring not only the depth of human knowledge, but also to unite that human knowledge with a search for truth.
“Two years ago, when the earth shook and damaged the building, and the turrets came down, we didn’t lose sight of the true mission of the institution, even if the physical symbol of that mission had been damaged.”
A National Historic Landmark, Benedictine Hall weathered two world wars, numerous Oklahoma spring storms, harsh winds and unpredictable winters before being wounded by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake on November 5, 2011. The earthquake shook one of the building’s four famous towering turrets to the ground, and left the remaining three beyond structural repair. In the days that followed the earthquake, one of the turrets had to be pushed down, and the other two were removed brick by brick.
Since that time, St. Gregory’s has been on a mission to rebuild its most recognizable landmark. More than 3,400 donors from around the world contributed roughly $2.5 million to help the school reconstruct the turrets.
Timberlake Construction and Advanced Masonry, both of Oklahoma City, were charged with the task of rebuilding the turrets– this time with steel “bones” that could withstand an earthquake.
The decorative aspects of the towers were faithfully recreated. The brick was matched to the rest of the building, and the grotesques and shields that were part of the original gothic architecture, were molded in the exact image of their predecessors.
The completed effect is one that honors the tradition of Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher learning, while acknowledging the advantages of modern construction methods that can sustain the building for years to come.
“When Benedictine Hall marks its 100th anniversary two years from now, we want the building fully ready to serve our students for another century,” said St. Gregory’s President Greg Main.
This also means that while there is much cause for celebration on St. Gregory’s campus due to the reconstruction of the turrets, this is only phase one of a multi-phase plan to restore Benedictine Hall. New front steps, new windows and a new welcome center are just some of the many improvements the school hopes to make in the near future.
In the meantime, the university is thankful to have its defining architectural symbols back in place.
“With the assistance of many and with determination, the turrets have been rebuilt,” Stasyszen said, “rebuilt not just for their physical beauty, but to inspire us in what we do here at St. Gregory’s. To lift up our hearts, our souls and our minds to the higher truths that give meaning to our lives and meaning to our world.”