By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — On March 31, a crowd gathered in the Hooley-Bundschu Library on the Avila University campus to celebrate a wall-breaking. On Aug. 25, a crowd gathered in Foyle Hall’s chapel on the campus to dedicate and celebrate the grand opening of the Marie Joan Harris CSJ, Ph.D. Science and Health Complex, the Learning Commons and the Martha Smith CSJ, Ph.D., Archives and Research Center.
In remarks before the dedication, Avila President Ron Slepitza said students had toured the new facilities that day and “’were blown away.’ That is an understatement,” he said. “The Learning Commons and the Science and Health Complex are truly transformational.”
Another understatement. It’s been five months since Avila administrators, board members and enthusiastic students wielded hammers to knock holes in one wall of the library. Crews from Straub Construction Co., Madden-McFarland Interior Design and other contractors worked to complete the new facilities in time for the start of school. More than 17,750 square feet of the library were transformed, creating a Learning Commons that combines 21st century technology with the heritage of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, sponsors of the university.
The Commons features 60 laptop computers, 16 desktop computers, six Apple iMacs, 60 interdisciplinary database subscriptions and three high performance printers. Library tables and shelving with books and magazines provide an environment conducive to studying. Couches and chairs near low tables invite conversations, and the six study rooms are student-centered. State-of-the-art videotaping and editing capabilities complete a feast of learning.
At one end of the Learning Commons stretches a wall that honors the heritage, legacy and impact of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Martha Smith, CSJ, Ph.D. Archives and Research Center houses the archives of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters, Avila University’s Women Religious Collections and the official archives of the university. Anchored by the legacy wall, complete with video screens, digital photo frames and maps, the archives and research center includes easily accessible newspapers, legal documents, photos, periodicals and yearbooks of CSJ sponsored institutions and of other women’s religious orders. Named in honor of Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Martha Smith, a lifelong Kansas Citian, graduate of St. Teresa’s Academy and the College of St. Teresa, which became Avila University, educator and author, who entered religious life in 1947. Sister Martha served as a history professor at Avila 1965-95 and in 1997, two years after retiring from teaching, the professor emerita began work on the Women Religious Special Collection housed in the university’s library. Sister Martha died in 2011.
A reading room located near the archives is named in honor of Sister Martha’s sister, Anne Smith Fritzlen, who graduated from the College of St. Teresa in 1953. Anne and her husband, Dr. Tom Fritzlen, were long-time supporters of Avila and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
Sister of St. Joseph Patti Johnson, newly named Director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, said in remarks during the dedication ceremony that when the federation was looking for a place to house the archives, the committee’s “imagination was captured” by Avila provost Sister Marie Joan Harris, and Avila was chosen as the repository of the archives. The Federation is the union of all the Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States who claim a common origin in the foundation at Le Puys, France in 1650, including 5,124 sisters, 2985 associates and 15 agregees (women “attached” to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who live in small communities and are deeply affiliated with the sisters but for one reason or another were unable to enter the congregations of Springfield and Concordia) in 16 congregations across the country.
“The archives will be available to the public,” Sister Patti said, “to learn about the Sisters of St. Joseph across the country. There will be influential Sisters speaking (at assemblies and conferences) and soon the archives going back to the 17 century will be found online at Avila. Now, Avila will not only house the archives, but will make it come alive!”
A short walk from the library is O’Rielly Hall, now home to the Marie Joan Harris, CSJ, PH.D., Science and Health Complex. Nearly 15,000 square feet of the building were renovated and refurbished to establish the complex, named for Avila’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Sister Marie Joan Harris. She began her career at Avila as a chemistry professor 45 years ago. Included in the complex are new, technology-enhanced microbiology, chemistry and general science labs. The new labs offer greater student-student and student-faculty interaction.
Dr. Slepitza told his audience during the dedication that the cost of the renovations was “100 percent funded through philanthropy,” including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, and alumni friends and faculty and staff.
Newly elected member of Sisters of St. Joseph leadership team, Sister Rita Marie Schmitz, said she was “bursting with pride for Avila. The university has completed more construction in the last 3 years than in the previous 50. And there is a current enrollment of more than 2,000 students. We will do together what we cannot do alone!”
Sister Marie Joan Harris summed it all up. “Today we celebrate learning, the learning we live daily. Knowing and loving learning happens in these spaces.