Stories Christian Brothers at the statue unveiling

Published on November 15th, 2013 | by SMUMN

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New statue honors De La Salle Christian Brothers

Wagnilds donate in memory of Brother Peter Clifford

Bernie and Jan Wagnild

Bernie and Jan Wagnild were amazed at the number of Christian Brothers who attended the unveiling of the new statue in their honor on the Winona campus in June.

CAPTION: Brother William, Jan and Bernie Wagnild posed in front of the new Christian Brothers statue after the June unveiling ceremony.

Many of the Brothers whose names are engraved on the statue hold special places in the Wagnilds’ hearts and their memories: There’s Brother President William Mann, of course, and his predecessor Brother Louis DeThomasis; also Brother Raymond Long ’43, the late Brother Michael Collins ’59, Brother Robert Smith ’76, and many more.

The Wagnilds credit the late Brother Peter Clifford, Saint Mary’s 10th president, for changing their lives. It is in his memory they dedicated their gift toward the new Brother statue on which is inscribed his name and the names of 143 Brothers who represent the 200 who have served Saint Mary’s over the years. They especially want to honor the man who first introduced them to Saint Mary’s — and to the work of the Christian Brothers.

“When we moved to Winona in 1975, I was on the board of the Chamber of Commerce; Brother Peter was on the board and we got to know him and he became a very, very good friend,” Bernie Wagnild said. “I went to a very nondescript high school, Minneapolis Vocational, which is not there anymore and Brother Peter Clifford had the foresight to put me on Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees in 1980. Who else would have done that? I never had a day of college. Since, I have been on the board’s executive committee, I have served as chairman of the board, I am a Trustee Emeritus, and I’ve received an  honorary doctorate from Saint Mary’s.”

But, the Wagnilds say that’s the nature of the Brothers – taking a chance on people, particularly students, who are often turned down by other schools because of academic or financial standing. But the Brothers, Bernie said, see the potential.

“The Brothers make shining lights out of them,” Bernie said. “They see what’s inside a person. So many people end up way ahead of where they would have been without our Christian Brothers. Yesterday, I had lunch with the chairman of the board and CEO of Bank of America and he’s a Brother’s boy. That’s just one example. We have found so many friends who
have been shaped by the same people. We have fabulous friendships. We can give this gift because of the things we have received from the Brothers.”

Jan and Bernie say they are very proud to have their names associated with the Brothers statue, a lasting tribute to the Brothers’ heritage and legacy at Saint Mary’s.

“The Brothers are absolutely wonderful,” Jan said. “We love being with them and it’s been a great experience for us, just a great experience.”

Skemps support lasting tribute to the Christian Brothers

Robert '49 and Frances (Perry CST'51) Skemp

Robert ’49 and Frances (Perry CST’51) Skemp

Robert Skemp ’49 remembers a Christian Brother coming to high school to recruit him to attend Saint Mary’s University.

The outgoing Irish Christian Brother was persuasive, but Robert said it didn’t matter. “I told him, ‘I’m going. I’m an easy sell.’ ”

Robert’s brother had attended Saint Mary’s, and his father Tom Skemp had served as a long-time football coach at the then college. There was never a question in Robert’s mind that he would attend Saint Mary’s. His freshman year, the country was still embroiled in World War II. “I played football and earned a letter,” Robert said. “Shrimp that I was, because the bigger, older guys were off at war. That was about the only way I was going to play football, basketball too.”

Beyond athletics, he describes his overall educational experience as excellent, and credits the Brothers’ leadership and  teaching for that excellence. Brother Robert Lane, for example, was a lifelong friend of the Skemps; their relationship began with Brother Robert teaching Robert Skemp history. “He gave very interesting history exams. There was one question. You could be out in 15 minutes … IF you knew the answer.”

When Robert and his wife Frances (Perry CST’51) saw the new Christian Brother statue on the Winona campus for the first time, more than a few names etched in it brought back memories of the Brothers’ strong religious dedication and quality teaching. “

Brother Charles Severin, Brother Raymond Long ’43, Brother Leonard Courtney ’37, Brother George Pahl ’36 and Brother I. Basil Rothweiler ’38. I had them all, and there’s more,” Robert said.

Robert and Frances became acquainted with the sculpture’s artist, Brother Jerome Cox ’60, back in the late 1970s. When Tom Skemp passed away, Robert and his brothers were looking for a way to give back to Saint Mary’s in their father’s memory. Brother Robert Lane introduced the Skemp family to Brother Jerome Cox, who in turn designed and completed “Stairway to the Stars” in honor of Tom Skemp. This statue is located near the Performance Center on the Winona campus.

“We developed a pretty close relationship with Brother Jerome,” Robert said. “We had to go to Italy twice,” he said, emphasizing the word “had” with a laugh. A crucifix that hangs over Robert and Frances’ fireplace was created by Brother Jerome, as was a sculpture in their flower garden, commissioned by their children in honor of their anniversary. Additionally, jewelry pieces designed by Brother Jerome have become family heirlooms for Robert and Frances’ family.
“He’s an unbelievable artist,” Robert said.

A fan of Brother Jerome’s, it made sense for the Skemps to contribute to the new statue, to bring a lasting tribute of the Brothers to the campus where they served. “It’s a memorial to them and their long story at Saint Mary’s.” Frances added with a smile, “A good story.”

Students contribute to Lasallian Heritage

The class of 2013, as graduates during Saint Mary’s Centennial year, wanted to support a class gift that symbolized the university’s rich history. Fittingly, they chose “Making History” as their campaign slogan.

And they wanted something that, as alumni, they could visit when they returned to the Winona campus, something “concrete.”

According to Brian Thomas ’13 and his co-chair Shannon Nelson ’13, the choice to gather donations for landscaping around the new Christian Brothers statue, now located in the plaza, was a heartfelt decision.

“The committee wanted to contribute to something on campus that we could see when we come back to visit SMU,  something that would remind us of our time at SMU, and something that would also remind us of our incredible classmates, professors and mentors,”

Nelson said. “We decided on contributing to the statue because it would be a symbol of the Centennial, a figure of recognition for the Brothers who have been so important in the university’s growth (and the senior class graduates’ individual growth as Lasallians), and finally, something relating to both the Centennial and the class that graduated during SMU’s Centennial year.”

Thomas said the committee held a kickoff event with food and music, as well as a chance to talk about the class gift. “That brought a sense of community and got everyone excited,” he said. With their efforts, the class had 44 percent participation and raised $6,171 in donations and pledges.

Both say it wasn’t difficult to gather donations for a project that honored the Christian Brothers, as well as the Centennial.
“Most classmates already understood that we were lucky enough to graduate during SMU’s Centennial year, and because of that special honor, it was an easy task to convince our classmates to contribute to something on campus that would connect our class to the Centennial forever,” Nelson said. “Almost every classmate of mine had taken a course with one or more
Brothers, and they really enjoyed those classes. When discussing the gift with classmates, I focused on the importance that we recognize SMU’s Lasallian heritage, especially during the Centennial year.

“I’m extremely grateful for the Lasallian spirit that has been at SMU for so long,” she said. The principles of Lasallianism — education, faith, community and service — have become the most important values in my life.” Thomas agrees. “This gift gave me the opportunity to commemorate all the Brothers who have contributed to my life,” he said. “The Lasallian community as a whole is a family. When I found out the statue was going to commemorate all the Brothers who have served Saint Mary’s, it hit close to home.”

Nelson and Thomas both used the word “proud” when describing their classmates’ generous contributions to SMU’s Lasallian heritage.

“I think that selecting the statue as our senior class gift goes to show how important the Lasallian heritage is to the Class of 2013 and how well my classmates embody those values,” Nelson said.

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