University of St. Thomas Campus News
- St. Thomas’ 34th Annual Sacred Arts Festival Features Artists, Authors and Concerts
The festival begins with visit to campus by noted author Anthony Doerr on Wednesday, March 12.
The University of St. Thomas Sacred Arts Festival, an annual series of events focusing on artistic traditions that explore humanity’s understanding of the divine, will feature six events this year that will be held in in March, April and May.
The festival, which began at St. Thomas in 1980, traditionally presents a broad range of artistic forms. The theme of this year’s festival is “wonder,” the beginning of wisdom and worship.
All events are free and open to the public and will be held on the university’s St. Paul campus. They are:
Botanical Art in All Its Wonder, an exhibition of finely detailed botanical art created by seven regional artists, is on display through May 24. Their works can be viewed in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center lobby gallery on the university’s St. Paul campus. A reception with the artists will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 26.
A goal of the exhibition is to look at the variety of styles and media that can be used to portray the world of flora. Media used in the 50-plus works include painting, drawing, print-making and fused glass. Some of the artists worked outdoors, and some in studios, but each piece required many hours of labor.
Public Reading by Author Anthony Doerr, the Sacred Arts Festival visiting writer, will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center.
Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome, Memory Wall, and the forthcoming novel All the Light We Cannot See, which will be published in May.
His fiction has won a long list of national and international prizes, including four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the 2010 Story Prize, which is considered the most prestigious prize in the United States for a collection of short stories, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which is the largest prize in the world for a single short story.
Organ Concert by László Fassang will be held at 8:15 p.m. Monday, March 31, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
A native of Budapest, Fassang has won several prizes at major international organ competitions since 2002. He studied organ at the Paris Conservatory and currently teaches organ and improvisation at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where recently he was appointed assistant professor of organ. His performances are especially interesting because his improvisational style incorporates jazz and folk music influences.
A “Song of Wonder” concert, featuring music and poetry in the Carnatic (South Indian) and Judeo-Spanish traditions, will be performed by vocalists Nirmala Rajaseker and David Jordan Harris at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Rajeseker and Harris will be joined by a trio of distinguished instrumentalists: Carnatic percussion master Thanjavur Muruga Boopathi from Chennai, India, percussionist Mick LaBriola, and ’ud player David Burk.
Highlights of the concert will include excerpts from the oldest existing piece of notated Jewish music; improvisational performances by Rajaseker on the veena; ancient Tamil Sangam poetry; Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew chants from traditional Jewish communities in Bosnia, Turkey and Morocco; and new musical arrangements.
The concert is co-sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, a joint enterprise of St. Thomas and St. John’s University, Collegeville.
The St. Thomas Alumni Choir Spring Concert will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The choir is a mixed vocal ensemble composed of St. Thomas alumni, young and old, who perform both sacred and secular music from contemporary and historic composers.
Choral Concert of Mozart’s Mass in C, the “Coronation Mass,” performed by the St. Thomas Concert Choir and Liturgical Choir, will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 3, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Conducted by Angela Broeker and Aaron Brown, the choirs will be accompanied by professional orchestral musicians from the Twin Cities. In addition to the joyous, 1779 “Coronation Mass,” the afternoon’s program will include short, sacred selections from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods.
A schedule of this year’s Sacred Arts Festival events can be found here.
- Thank You for Not Smoking
In fall 1956, I was 18 years old and attending the then all-male College of St. Thomas. My freshman class was composed of recent high school graduates as well as a number of Korean War veterans. These young men were in their 20s and had seen the world. They had experienced the horrors of war – fear, destruction, deaths and dismemberment. I admired them with their heavy beards and crew cut hair; they were older, more mature and not given to suffer fools gladly.
Every Friday at 9 a.m. the freshmen class, which consisted of approximately 500 students, was required to attend an hour-long convocation in the small auditorium – an obligation that was obeyed with less than little enthusiasm. No one wanted to be there; however, what occurred one beautiful autumn morning is something that I will never forget.
The speaker’s topic for the day was “The Evils of Smoking,” a topic no one talked about in the 1950s when everyone on television and in the movies smoked and when magazines and billboards extolled the pleasures (and sexiness) of cigarettes. His opening remarks were greeted with hooting and hollering, which grew louder and louder as younger and older disaffected student voices united in a loud, defiant chorus. Then out came the cigarettes and smoke started to fill the auditorium. Not participating – but not objecting either – I stared in wide-eyed fascination.
The speaker tried to continue but it was impossible to hear what he was saying. He stopped and began again, but the noise grew even louder.
Apparently someone left the auditorium to alert the administration because within minutes the head disciplinarian of the college, the dean of students, arrived. Father Vashro, a balding, gruff man with a hardnosed reputation, ascended the stage and attempted to quiet the crowd. He shouted and gestured at us but the noise grew louder and the smoking continued unabated. After several minutes, a defeated Vashro left fuming and frustrated.
A few moments went by. It was a mob scene the likes of which I had never witnessed in the relatively quiet of Stillwater where I grew up. No one moved from their seats, but the catcalls and the smoking continued. I was frozen in place – waiting, watching and wondering what would happen next.
Then, as if out of nowhere, a small, short-haired young man in the black robe of a priest appeared. I recognized him as Father James Shannon, president of the college. Shannon walked to the center of the stage and stopped, looking out at the crowd. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t get behind the speaker’s podium. He just stood there for what seemed like an eternity.
The noise gradually began to recede. Still he made no effort to speak. Finally, it became eerily quiet and still in the room. At last, in a low but steady voice that you had to strain to hear; Shannon said, “Gentlemen, and I know that you are gentlemen, this man has an important message and deserves your respect. You will give him your undivided attention. Thank you.”
And with that, he turned, stepped off the stage and left the auditorium.
The speaker was as stunned as the crowd. He tried to start again but had difficulty getting his voice. The audience remained silent until he finished his shortened message, said “thank you,” and walked out.
When I walked out of the auditorium that crisp fall morning, I knew I had witnessed something very special; something I would remember the rest of my life. This man of the cloth, with the full authority of this all-male Catholic college behind him, had not threatened to invoke a higher power or to bring down the wrath of the college on his unruly students. He had simply asked for nothing more than common courtesy and respect.
These first-year students, many of whom had witnessed the unspeakable atrocities of war and who could not have cared less about the “evils of smoking” or what God or the college could do to them, had listened and understood his appeal for human respect. The power of that message had transformed an unruly mob into a group of silent, chastised young men.
No recriminations, no further mention that I recall, was made of the incident by the college. Even my other 18-year-old friends did not say much about it afterward, but I bet they remember it as vividly as I do.
I still tear up when I think about the power of that message and what it was able to accomplish that day through the appeal of a diminutive cleric in a black cassock who had only to remind us of the importance of individual dignity and common humanity.