Tag Archives: University of St. Thomas

Who was ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ anyway?

October 23, 2014


That Great Heart-coverBy Bob Zyskowski

In St. Paul, the name “O’Shaughnessy” graces a handful of buildings at the University of St. Thomas, including the library, education center and football stadium, and at St. Catherine University there is the architectural masterpiece of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

Who this O’Shaughnessy was and how he came about the financial means to support Catholic higher education — plus an amazing variety and staggering volume of charities and individuals — is told in an enlightening new book, “That Great Heart: The Story of I.A. O’Shaughnessy.”

It’s a rags-to-riches tale: Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater bootmaker, graduates from the then College of St. Thomas, becomes the largest independent oil refiner in the United States, makes millions and gives millions away.

Where he started, how he grew his businesses, how and to whom he donates — and especially what motivates him — gives readers an insight into the man behind the buildings.

It makes for good-paced reading, thanks to the journalist’s writing style of author Doug Hennes.

Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas and a former reporter and editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, never met O’Shaughnessy.

He was a freshman at St. Thomas in the fall of 1973; O’Shaughnessy died at 88 in November that year. The oilman’s funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and a memorial Mass was held on campus.

“I remember looking out a window from one of the buildings at St. Thomas at what seemed to be an endless procession of black limousines,” Hennes said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the guy.”

Decades later Hennes wrote about O’Shaughnessy for the
St. Thomas magazine and helped with a video about him. That sparked an interest in Hennes to learn more about I.A.

Boxloads of letters

At the Minnesota History Center he discovered 14 boxes of O’Shaughnessy’s correspondence and newspaper clippings, all in files organized alphabetically.

The material painted a picture of the man who is likely known to few who enter the buildings that bear his name.

“Some material even surprised family members,” Hennes said.

IA-St. Thomas football portraitThose surprises include facts such as:

— O’Shaughnessy played on the first St. John’s football team that beat rival St. Thomas, was dismissed for drinking beer (at age 16), went to St. Thomas and became a star for the Tommies.

— As part of a marketing effort, his Globe Oil Company sponsored a basketball team, and players on the Globe Refiners made the bulk of the U.S. squad that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

— For a short time he was a part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

— He was offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Australia but turned it down.

How O’Shaughnessy made his millions is interesting: He borrowed money to finance drilling and refining projects and either paid back investors or bought them out when the projects succeeded.

He played a major role in the development of the oil industry in the Oklahoma and Kansas area, risking building a refinery at the height of the Great Depression.

He eventually used a vertical marketing strategy to not only drill for oil but to refine it for multiple uses — gasoline, kerosene, burning oils, turpentine and lubricating oils and greases — and to distribute it under the Globe trademark to 600 independent dealers in 12 states in the middle of the country and into Canada.Globe Oil truck

“He was pretty sharp,” Hennes said. “He had a shrewd business sense — he had an instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t. And he hired really good people to run the operations.”

O’Shaughnessy was an early adopter of new technologies and methods, and also understood the need to keep employees happy. After starting to give Christmas bonuses, he felt compelled to continue the practice even in years when the company lost money.

Generous beyond measure

Still, it is O’Shaughnessy’s charitable contributions that are the real story behind the man.

“He gave to everything,” Hennes told The Catholic Spirit. The files contain letter after letter of requests for loans and donations, he said. If he decided he would give, he’d write yes and an amount right on the bottom of the letter and write the check right away. Many are for $100 here, $200 there.

“If he was saying no,” Hennes said, “there would be a letter, because he’d always say why.”


IA-St. Thomas library mortar work

Outside the O'Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

Outside the O’Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

While O’Shaughnessy donated millions for buildings at the University of Notre Dame as well as St. Kate and St. Thomas, he often donated only if organizations  raised a matching sum.

“He really saw himself as trying to leverage other gifts,” Hennes said. “He was willing to give, but he wanted to get other people involved, too.”

His faith and his understanding of stewardship both come into play in giving.

Hennes quoted him, “The Lord has been good to me, so I figure I might as well spread some of my money around where it will do some good.”

There’s much more, including O’Shaughnessy’s part in the war effort during World War II, his commitment to his parish —
St. Mark in St. Paul — and the meeting with Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh that led to O’Shaughnessy financing one of the pope’s dreams, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

I.A. O’Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

About the book

“That Great Heart” by Doug Hennes, Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, Minn., 2014; 259 pages.


Doug Hennes (2014)A book launch will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on St. Thomas’ campus in St. Paul. The event will include a reading, reception and book signing by author Doug Hennes.

Other “That Great Heart” signings include:

— Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, bookstore, Terrence Murphy Hall, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

— 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, Anderson Student Center, St. Thomas’
St. Paul campus.

— Sunday, Nov. 9, after 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses, St. Mark’s Church, 1976 Dayton Ave., St. Paul.

— Saturday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., St. Patrick’s Guild, 1554 Randolph Ave.,
St. Paul.

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From Home to Rome: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirt

March 20, 2013

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Lisa skirtBy Lisa Weier

A couple years ago, I walked out of a Nebraska thrift store with the close friends I had come with, a couple new-to-me skirts I hadn’t, and the satisfaction of time and money well spent.  One of the skirts in my shopping bag was particularly feminine and flowery, and billowed out perfectly when its wearer spun around. My friend Lucy and I split its cost with the shared understanding that this particular skirt would dance its way between our closets.  We never really planned for it to go between our suitcases too.

When Lucy went to Rome in the spring of 2012, it was an easy decision to send the skirt with her.  I also, then, took the skirt with me this year on my own Roman adventure, having no idea how much of an adventure it would really be.  The Conclave, for instance, was unexpected.

March 13 was the most personally convenient time for a new pope to be chosen; I would not need to run across the city, dodging people and vaulting mini-cars.  Instead, we had set time aside to go and pray in the square, and of course keep an eye on the Sistine chimney. So I went, with the thirty-three other students in my Catholic Studies Study Abroad program.  And I wore the skirt.

I did a bit of singing and dancing in the rain down the streets of Rome, fabric swishing underneath my trench coat and over the tops of my boots.  When we entered the square, there were already many people present, from seemingly everywhere in the world.  Most of them were holding umbrellas, beautifully arched over heads, a ridiculous amount of patterns and colors.  We prayed, talked and waited.  And waited.  And a seagull, I presume wanting to be on TV, landed on the top of the smokestack.  And we waited longer.

And suddenly, there was gray smoke.  Gray?  Everyone was trapped in confusion for a couple seconds, but as we saw the smoke become whiter and whiter, our confusion turned into desire for a good view.  There was a mad rush for the front of the square, closest to the doors where the new Pope would emerge.  I grabbed onto one of my classmate seminarian’s book bags and listened to the joyful yells of another classmate seminarian gripping my shoulder as we snaked toward the front, “LISA! WE HAVE A POPE! WE HAVE A POPE!”

We waited in suspense for an hour under our group’s US and papal flags.  I was in a sea of umbrellas, cameras, reporters and conjecture. The Swiss Guard band played and marched.  Then they stood still for a long time (I sometimes think they are some of the best statues in Rome).

Someone turned the interior lights of St. Peter’s on to a collective gasp from the thousands below.  Something rustled the curtains inside the balcony door.  A cameraman emerged to groans. FINALLY the proclamation sounded, “Habemus Papam.”  An absolutely joyful noise erupted, screams and cries of “Papa!” emerged all over.

Once we quieted down, the cardinal announced the elect’s name to more confusion.  Who?  Finally the word circulated and was confirmed through technology, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, Papa Francesco.  Chants of “Francesco, Francesco!” prompted his first steps onto the balcony.  He stood, taking in the crowd, probably overwhelmed with the day he was having.  And then his words cut through the cheers, “Buona sera. Come stai?”  Good evening.  How are you?  We laughed and he went on.

He spoke in Italian, I didn’t understand all of it, but I did know he asked us to pray for him in silence; I’ve never heard Rome quite that quiet before.  I also could see that he loved us in humility.  I was so happy to have a Papa again.  In the midst of it all, I found it beautiful that I was still very much connected to home, holding the hem of the skirt.  Lucy, my family and other friends, were on my mind, in my prayers, and also under the subsequent blessing of the new Holy Father.  I like to think the skirt can retain a bit of it too… Viva il Papa!


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Student from Minnesota to read at pope’s Easter Vigil Mass

April 7, 2012


Meghan Wenger (Photo courtesy of Convent of the Visitation School)

Thanks to places like the Pontifical North American College and the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies program in Rome, seminarians and students with Minnesota connections are sometimes invited to participate in papal Masses.

Today, for example, Meghan Wenger, a 2009 grad of Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, will read at the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

Meghan, who is studying this semester with the UST program and whose home parish is St. Thomas More in St. Paul, is a junior at Boston College. The Mass will be televised today at 2 p.m. central time on EWTN.

“I feel honored and humbled to have been asked. I am looking forward to being able to participate in the Mass in a special way,” Meghan said in an email.

Two other students in the UST Rome program also have roles in Easter Triduum liturgies at the Vatican.

• Evan Beacom of St. Augustin parish in Des Moines, Iowa, participated in the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica.

• John LoCoco of St. Mary’s Visitation parish in Elm Grove, Wis., will read at the Easter Sunday Mass.

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