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On Oct. 27, donors, faculty and students went to Mass together, and then dedicated America’s finest small-college STEM building, their new home.
At the dedication ceremony, Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis explained that the new 100,000-square-foot building was designed to pursue excellence in faith and excellence in science, both.
“This building will allow us to capture the vision of being the Catholic liberal arts college who educates future doctors, engineers, scientists and health care professionals for the 21st Century,” he said.
President Minnis said it’s important that high quality science classes be offered by a college of faith.
“At Benedictine College, we believe faith, morality and ethics are just as important in the sciences as in every other part of our lives. They cannot be separated. That is why it is so important to train future doctors, engineers and scientists at a place like Benedictine College,” he said.
“One does not have to check their faith at the door of the science building here,” added.
Biology’s Dr. Martha Carletti agreed. “We are fairly unique among Catholic colleges,” she said. “There are very few who have invested in STEM the way we have. Our faith and our liberal arts background add to our science and math degrees and make our graduates better doctors, nurses, engineers, astronomers, and scientists. Because of our approach, they are better listeners, collaborators and leaders.”
She also mentioned that the excellence of the new facilities are already having an impact. Benedictine has “become involved in major research like what we are doing with tissue samples from ‘space mice’ who were aboard the International Space Station,” she said. “KU Medical Center was comfortable in bringing Benedictine College into the study because they knew our reputation in the sciences, and they knew we now had a facility that supported the teaching.”
Benedictine pre-med senior Gabe LeBeau welcomed the new building on behalf of science students.
“While I was being recruited as a high school senior to come to Benedictine College, I was immediately drawn to its strong Catholic identity,” he said. LeBeau also majors in Philosophy and has a passion for bioethics.
“My formation as both a person and an aspiring doctor has been all that I could have asked for,” he said. “Early freshman year, I started doing research in microbiology. Even with the old facilities we were performing incredible research, and … were awarded external grants. We were attending conferences and winning awards for poster presentations. Our research is currently in the process of being published.”
He said, “imagine the even greater success students and faculty will have with our new facilities.”
The Church has made science education a priority for colleges worldwide, calling higher education to “an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences.”
The Church’s vision of the sciences includes a grounding in the liberal arts. “A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today,” says the encyclical Laudato Si.
One former Benedictine Physics major who attended the dedication event shows the value of teaching the liberal arts alongside the sciences: Bishop John Brungardt, an alumnus from the class of 1980.
The event thanked donors for the building, including Paul Westerman, who told the crowd of his family’s appreciation for the Catholic identity of Benedictine College.
“And we want to give special recognition to the more than 700 people who prayed at least 1,000 Memorares each — more than 700,000 Memorare prayers,” said President Minnis. “I can’t thank you enough to leave the success of the college and this project in the hands of Our Lady.”
The entryway of the building features a statue of a raven in flight, over a quote from St. John Paul II: “Faith and Reason are like two wings in which the human spirit soars to the contemplation of truth.’”
The raven is flanked by two “Science halls of fame” — one includes the portraits of famous Catholic scientists, including Louis Pasteur and Brother Gregor Mendel; the other features Benedictine College monks and sisters who excelled in the sciences and science education.
Each floor exhorts students to keep both faith and the sciences in mind with inspirational quotes on decorative wall coverings. The physics floor features Albert Einstein’s quote “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
President Minnis described the college’s approach to science by explaining the Engineering department.
Benedictine College confers ABET accredited degrees in Chemical, Civil and Mechanical Engineering. The school is proud that 100% of its graduates pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and 95% have jobs before graduation — and also requires all students to take Ethics from the Philosophy Department and Christian Moral Life from the Theology Department.
The college is also the only Catholic liberal arts college with an Astronomy major. Benedictine’s new observatory was dedicated in 2017 by priests from the Vatican Observatory, which formed a partnership with Benedictine College.
Benedictine College first offered science degrees in 1916, and since then has expanded to offer degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Electrical, Mechanical, Civil and Chemical Engineering, and Nursing.
The new building project began in 2016 with the college’s “Century of Science” celebration. The facility is a renovation and augmentation of a science hall built 55 years ago. To show the continuity of the new facility with the old, the college chamber singers sang O Sacrum Convivium at the dedication — the same piece another choir sang when the smaller building was dedicated decades ago.