Archbishop Emeritus honored by University of St. Mary

University of Saint Mary president Sister Diane Steele, SCL, and Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher are pictured together after a ceremony to bless the renovated and newly renamed Keleher Learning Commons on Nov. 10. The space was formerly called the DePaul Library. HAYDEN PARKS/UNIVERSITY OF SAINT MARY

by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven

LEAVENWORTH — University of Saint Mary staff, faculty, students, donors and members of the board of trustees gathered here in the newly renovated Keleher Learning Commons, formerly DePaul Library, Nov. 10 to witness its namesake, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher, bless the space in a special ceremony. 

It was named after the archbishop in recognition of his many years of friendship and commitment to the university, said Sister Diane Steele, USM president. 

“Someone asked me why our picture of the archbishop is not in his formal regalia, with his formal red or his miter,” said Sister Diane. “I said, ‘Oh no. That’s not our Arch Jim. . . . Our Arch Jim is the one who makes our students feel comfortable, loved and cared for. Our Arch Jim is our shepherd.

“And so, Arch Jim, thank you. Thank you for being here for our students and for each of us.”

Archbishop Keleher said the honor was a surprise — and a bit humbling.

“I thought it was a bit much,” he said. “I didn’t feel I deserved it.”

But he had to admit he had a heart for education.

 “I’ve always been attracted to teaching. I involve myself in students,” said Archbishop Keleher. 

“I really enjoyed [teaching],” he continued, “and I always had a way of keeping them awake and alive and not putting them to sleep. 

“I couldn’t stand teachers that put you to sleep. I kept talking, reacting, even getting upset sometimes, but I enjoyed it. I still do.” 

Archbishop Keleher said USM is a unique institution.

“What is especially unique about this university is the individual care that the teachers — that the professors — shower upon all the students,” he said. “They are challenged, but they are encouraged more than anything else. 

“That makes them a success — and that success makes this university very, very successful. . . . It is only going to get better and better.” 

The blessing ceremony, which included Scripture readings, a performance by the USM chorale and special prayers of the faithful, marked the successful completion not only of the KLC, but also the Campus for Tomorrow capital campaign, said Matt Astleford, vice president for university advancement. 

“Thanks to the generosity of many of you, as well as other alumni and friends of Saint Mary, the Campus for Tomorrow campaign raised more than $14 million toward some academic structural advances on the main campus, including remodeling of the Saint Joseph Dining Hall, the creation of the Charles J. Berkel Memorial Stadium, the renovation of Miege Hall’s science labs and more,” Astleford said during the ceremony.

“It truly takes a village here to do something as remarkable as this,” he added. “The impact of this will be felt for generations of students to come.”

In addition to study and collaboration areas, which are known on campus as “think tanks,” the Commons houses student success and leadership development offices, career services and the LeBeau Special Collections. The collections are an esteemed and historic archive, made up of the Bernard H. Hall Abraham Lincoln Collection and the John & Mary Craig Scripture Collection. 

Donors had different reasons why they wanted to donate to the KLC. 

“My wife [Janie] and I both felt like it was an opportunity to raise the bar for the kids for their place of study,” said Alan Lankford, private donor and chairman of the USM board of trustees. 

“The environment in which kids want to study today is more of an open, inviting environment with the opportunity to collaborate,” he said. 

“The library was aged. It needed a facelift,” he continued, “so it was a great opportunity to make a difference for the students.” 

Private donor Joe Contrucci said he wanted to donate because of the special place USM holds in his heart as an alumnus of the class of 1994. 

“[DePaul Library] was a place that had served its purpose, but it was time to make a change,” Contrucci said. “As student learning evolves . . . we at Saint Mary needed to evolve, too. I think [this space] will end up being a focal point for the university.”

Lankford and Contrucci agreed that the end result was more than expected. 

“Wow,” Lankford said. “It is just the wow factor.”

Contrucci called it unreal.

“Before, it was dark, it was old, it smelled and it had a ton of books that nobody checked out,” he said. “So, now, just to have a spot where students can learn how they want to learn is amazing.” 

Feedback from the students has proved to be positive. 

“I love it,” said Taylor Groen-Younger, a senior studying exercise science. “The study rooms were a great addition just because it gives you some privacy, and it is just a good, quieter place to study.”

Logan Swank, a junior studying biology and chemistry, said the spaces provide  more opportunities for students. 

“It is a central hub for a lot of students on campus,” Swank said. “It provides more opportunities for students to collaborate, for them to study, but also for them to form those mutual connections.” 

 Additional reporting by Sara Bell.

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