President’s Perspective: Bless This Building
207,900. The Numbers Tell the Story of the Reinvention of Xavier’s Academic Workhorse
207,900. That’s the number of bricks on the outside of the new Alter Hall—207,900.
It has 31 classrooms, one computer science lab, five offices and seven project workrooms—together with multiple areas for students and faculty to “perch, nest and flock” (I love how architects speak!). 4,500 square yards of carpet complete the building. 865 LED light fixtures. 238,536 feet of wire. 700 gallons of paint cover the walls—primer included, the color of which is “ostrich feather.” We relocated one statue for the project—St. Ignatius himself—out from under a tree by Logan Hall, and now the focal point of his own special staircase, ready to lead the campus in his signature prayer: Teach me, Lord, to be generous.
Although somewhat shortened by an ill-timed shower, our annual Mass of the Holy Spirit squeezed in a special blessing for this special building:
“Send Your Holy Spirit upon us as we rededicate Alter Hall to Your glory and for our use. Within this building, may seeking and learning, teaching and creating, be pathways that lead to a fuller revelation of Divine Truth.”
Alter Hall has been a campus fixture for generations. It was already venerable (if a little tired) when I first came to Xavier more than 30 years ago. The percentage of Xavier students who had classes there hovers at a high number indeed. For undergrads, the number approaches 100 percent because if you were an undergrad and you took a core class—and if you were an undergrad, you most certainly did—a lot of them, a big chunk of those core classes, were taught there. Coax those old classrooms into talking, and the stories they would tell would be many and varied, but always with this theme: Year by year, a new generation of students introduced to their human heritage by professors eager to kindle the fiery potential within them.
“Bless this building. Make it a place where Your Divinity touches our Humanity; where the mysteries of creation are pondered and explored by seeking the unseen through the seen.”
But teaching and learning in the 21st century aren’t exactly what they were in the last one. Desks fastened into fixed rows have yielded to tables on wheels, the better to configure them whichever way, and the chairs have wheels to match. Projectors point at multiple walls so no one need twist a neck to take the technology in. Sensors adjust the temperature or you can just let the outside air in by opening the window. It’s likewise a green one, this century—and Alter Hall is a building to prove it!
“Fill those who teach here with the Spirit of wisdom, knowledge, and patience. Enlighten those who study here: Open their hearts and minds to discover a variety of possibilities and respond to new challenges.”
But like a church, a classroom building is missing something vital until people fill it and bring it to life. That finally happened in late August as a new crop of students arrived to be kindled aflame by this generation of faculty, who were likewise eager to take the recently revised core curriculum out for its first spin. The first-year students packed into brand-new first-year seminars, with course titles as diverse as the genius of the faculty itself is diverse, yet all centered on a common theme—the Greater Good. Nice that St. Ignatius is standing nearby now, the better for him to eavesdrop and remember his own school days back at the University of Paris, where he met that Francis Xavier guy.
207,900 bricks. And each one put deliberately in place, by skilled hands and seasoned eyes, to shape a place for teaching and learning to grow, and for students and faculty to grow as well, into who, with skill and seasoning, they can likewise become. Teach us, Lord, to be generous.
Michael J. Graham, S.J.