MESA — Catholic and civil leaders applauded the opening of the state’s newest four-year university today. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted joined city leaders and presidents of both Benedictine University campuses for a ceremonial ribbon cutting Aug. 27 outside of Gillett Hall, 225 E. Main Street.
Students were the first to formally enter the doors of their campus after a one-year, $10 million renovation project. Their reception followed a formal program highlighting the city’s interest in bringing higher education to the area and a bishop-led blessing of the two-story space.
The Catholic Church has been pursuing truth through universities such as this for centuries, the bishop said during his remarks. He expressed confidence that God would enrich the city, the community and the culture.
“Jesus is not an afterthought of a Catholic university. The Eternal Word of God is the light that enlightens everyone that enters into this world,” the bishop said.
Benedictine Abbot Austin Murphy called the effort a “very remarkable building, a very remarkable campus and a very hopeful beginning.”
Benedictine monks near Chicago founded the original Benedictine University campus as St. Procopious College in 1887. The name changed over the decades and became a university in 1996. Mesa is the third branch campus and the first outside of Illinois.
“It’s like the coin toss now before the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will start next week when students are here,” quipped Dr. Michael Carroll, president of the Mesa branch campus.
The Mesa Catholic ensured the curriculum and problem-based learning style are geared for the 21st century referring to all classes as learning labs. Lecture-style content will be accessible via videos posted online. Carroll cited several education-focused quotes including the infamous one about teaching a man to fish so as to empower him to feed himself — and others — for a lifetime.
“We are going to make our students world class fishermen,” Carroll said.
He touted the role of technology and ensured it would be used as a tool for learning. Nearly two months ago, edCetera, an education technology blog, listed Benedictine University at Mesa as one of 10 universities on the cutting edge of technology.
“It’s like the pre-season ranking, so we have to make sure we deliver,” Carroll said. “We have to break down the walls of education that have been there for too long.”
So far, students are liking the intimate, collaborate approach they’ll have for learning. Freshman Jane Contreras and Alberto Carrazco chose Benedictine University at Mesa because they thought it would be neat to start from the bottom with something new. They agreed the varied crowd that came for the ribbon cutting excited them for the upcoming term.
Classes start Sept. 3 with a eucharistic procession to nearby Queen of Peace for the first Mass Sept. 4. A chapel is available on campus, but organizers are expecting a large crowd next week.
“Whatever we’re going to make of our university, we’re going to make it,” Carrazco said. “I want to make a change in the community and I believe Benedictine is going to be great at teaching us how to do that.”
Both Carrazco and Contreras are also first-generation college students. Carrazco is heading into his first semester with a confident, inerasable smile on his face.
“We’re leading the trail. You can’t be intimidated to go where no one else has gone,” he said.
J.D. Long-García contributed to this story