Celebrating Over 50 Years of the De La Salle Christian Brothers at Lewis University

The year 1949 is considered a pivotal moment in the history of Lewis University. It was in this year that the Diocese of Joliet was formed and Lewis College of Science and Technology, which, until this point, had been part of the Archdiocese of Chicago, became part of this new Diocese. This transition was gradual, however. According to sources in the Lewis University archives, “By special dispensation, the 620 acres comprising the college was retained as part of the Chicago Archdiocese for a period of ten years, and the college continued to be operated financially under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Spiritually, it was placed under the Joliet Diocese.” During this period, Lewis College was the only lay-administered Catholic college in the United States. This was remarkable – as most Catholic colleges and universities at this time were sponsored by religious congregations.

Ten years later, Most Reverend Martin D. McNamara, D.D., Bishop of Joliet, announced that the De La Salle Christian Brothers would assume direction of Lewis College of Science and Technology beginning with the 1960-61 school term. The Christian Brothers were very well known in the Chicago area and elsewhere in the country. At the time, they were teaching 8,000 high school boys at six institutions in the Chicago area alone. The Brothers were noted for their outstanding teaching and administrative capabilities and, for years, had been considering starting a college in the Chicago area. The invitation from the Bishop presented a significant opportunity for the Brothers to extend their mission to countless young men in search of a college education in the Chicago area.

Shortly after the announcement was made to the approximately 600 members of the student body of 1960, The Shield, Lewis’ student-run newspaper declared that, “No immediate plans for changing the curriculum or complexion of the college have been announced except that co-education will be discontinued.” At the time, the Rule, the guidelines that the Christian Brothers followed, stipulated that the Brothers could only teach male students. The Shield article went on to explain that females who were already enrolled at the time the Brothers arrived would be allowed to complete their studies, but that no new female students would be allowed to enroll. Some years later, this restriction in the Rule was lifted to allow women in the classroom and back to Lewis College.

Seven Christian Brothers arrived during the summer of 1960 to prepare for the return of students in the fall. Those seven men were: Br. Henry Ernest Archambeault, FSC, Br. Arthur Bertling, FSC, Br. Justus Philip Lynch, FSC, Br. Luke Raymond McManaman, FSC, Br. Louis de La Salle Seiler, FSC, Br. Lambert Robert Shannon, FSC, and Br. Leander Paul McGinnis, FSC, who served as the first Christian Brother President of the College.

One of those first Brothers to arrive on campus, Brother Raymond McManaman, FSC, who today still teaches a full schedule of courses in the Theology department, reminisced about his first impression of the campus in a 2003 videotaped interview for the Lewis archives, “It was not much of a campus when we got here.

There were a lot of trees on campus – very beautiful American elm trees. The existing buildings were hanging together. The classrooms were located in what is now the Oremus Fine Arts Center and an airplane hangar still occupied what is now the theatre. What is now the dining hall was the administration building. The library actually occupied the old gymnasium, which is now the Student Union.

The Brothers were heartily welcomed by both the students and the faculty. The Brothers worked side by side with the talented lay faculty employed at the College prior to their arrival. The Brothers saw their work as a partnership – and together the Brothers and lay faculty implemented a series of campus and curricular improvements that would have lasting impact.

By the end of the first year of operation by the Brothers, the enrollment at Lewis had risen to 700 students. A reflection by the student staff of the Lewis yearbook, The Beacon, proclaimed at the end of the 1960-61 academic year: “The administration of the college is now in the capable hands of the Christian Brothers, who are finishing the foundation laid down by the previous administration. In their first year at Lewis, the Brothers have influenced the life of every member of the student body.”

This impact on the students was evidenced by the great respect they had for the Brothers and for their school. Tom Kennedy ’62, who studied English at Lewis, from 1958-1962, remembers well the transition that took place when the Christian Brothers first arrived. “In a very short amount of time, we students felt like we had a lot of class. The Brothers brought to Lewis an added level of credibility. These guys really knew what they were doing.”

The Beacon yearbook reflection continued: “The Brothers have already mapped out the future of the College. An extensive building program is underway, which will increase the facilities of the college.” Indeed, the Brothers wasted no time upgrading the campus and enhancing it in numerous ways. During the first several years, they led construction of new classroom facilities, residence halls and other spaces that would directly impact student teaching and learning. In fact, they delayed the construction of a permanent residence for themselves, living instead in cramped quarters for over 30 years so that funds could be invested in residence halls and classroom facilities instead. The dramatic improvements, however, were not restricted to the area of campus facilities.

Peter Seiler, whose uncle was Brother Louis de La Salle Seiler, FSC, (one of those first seven Christian Brothers to arrive on the campus and the first Dean of the College) recalled the important academic role his uncle had at Lewis College during this crucial period of time. “When Brother Louis came to Lewis, he was asked to review the curriculum that the college was offering. He also had to quickly learn about aeronautics… Brother Louis set out to review all the curricular offerings and to find new ways to improve the program majors to make Lewis a viable and attractive Christian choice for high school graduates.”

Brother Louis de La Salle Seiler
Brother Louis de La Salle Seiler, FSC

Perhaps Brother Louis’ greatest accomplishment during the early years of the Christian Brothers’ leadership was his work to achieve North Central Association accreditation for Lewis College in 1963. His self-study report was so outstanding that the North Central Association designated it a model for other colleges and universities to emulate. His colleague, Brother Philip Lynch, FSC, quoted from a collection of stories and memories about the Brothers, remembered, “His mind was deep, logical, and imaginative. Not only did he know mathematics and science thoroughly, but he was aware of the best in the humanities. Brother Louis was a liberally educated man, a blessing to his school and to his community.” It was with this same fondness and affection that students remembered many of the Brothers who had an impact on them during their time at Lewis.

Brother Philip Lynch, FSC
Brother Philip Lynch, FSC

Brother Philip himself was often recalled as a favorite communications professor by students of the early 1960s. Tom Kennedy recalls being “mesmerized” by Brother Philip’s lectures, specifically on the literary giant James Joyce. “He was one of the most enthusiastic, articulate people I have ever seen in the classroom.” Robert Sullivan, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, once said of Brother Philip, “He was…an excellent classical orator and oral interpreter who could quote from the Roman speakers in either Latin or English. He became a model to those in the speech field.” Brother Philip was named the second Dean of the College in 1967 when Brother Louis decided to return to the classroom to pursue his passion - teaching mathematics.

Brother Leander Paul, FSC
Brother Leander Paul, FSC

Kennedy also recalls his impression of Brother Leander Paul, FSC, the first Brother President of Lewis College. “He was stern, tall and looked the part. He epitomized college leadership.” In his crucial role as president, Brother Leander Paul was charged with overseeing the transformation of the college during its first pivotal years under the leadership of the Brothers. Known as “the builder,” Brother Leander Paul focused his efforts on instituting a five-year expansion plan for the campus. During his seven-year term, he oversaw the construction of the John F. Kennedy gymnasium, the Academic/Science building, Fitzpatrick Hall, the remodeling and expansion of dining facilities, and the massive South Campus construction project. By the time Brother Leander Paul’s term as President came to an end, enrollment stood at approximately 1,600 students. The 1966-1967 annual report of the college, published at the end of Brother Leander Paul’s term, proclaimed, “A ‘college in transition’ is, perhaps the best description of Lewis College in 1967. An extremely significant period of the college’s 37-year history was reached when Brother Paul French, FSC, was inaugurated as the fifth President of the college. Brother Paul French, FSC, is following in the footsteps of a giant. Brother Leander Paul, FSC, Past President, served with distinction in his seven-year term of office and laid a solid foundation upon which to build a truly great institution.” Under the leadership of Brother Paul French, FSC, Lewis College continued to prosper. By 1970, enrollment had skyrocketed to over 2,700 students. This massive increase in enrollment necessitated the need for additional faculty and staff, many of whom were Christian Brothers who left an incredible impact on the institution and the students they served. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni recalled some of those great men…

Brother James Cantwell, FSC

Peter “Bongo” Longo ’73, a Sociology and Education major who attended Lewis College from 1969-1973, still remembers the particular Christian Brother who recruited him to attend Lewis. “Brother James Cantwell came out to LaSalle Academy on the east coast where I attended high school. He was a very effervescent man. In his efforts to encourage me to attend Lewis, he mentioned that the College was only three stoplights from Chicago. He hadn’t misrepresented anything; he just failed to mention that there were 30 miles between Lewis and the city limits!” Brother James’ recruiting techniques were legendary. Many graduates of this era also recall being told by Brother James that a train ran through campus on a regular basis. What he didn’t mention was that the train was not a passenger train, but actually a small series of freight cars filled with gravel from the nearby Material Service facility that quarried property on the other side of the Lewis campus!

Brother Ambrose Groble, FSC
Brother Ambrose Groble, FSC

George Black ’68, who attended Lewis College in the late 1960s, remembers most fondly Brother Ambrose Groble, FSC. Brother Ambrose first came to Lewis College in 1964, after serving several years as President of Saint Mary’s College in Winona, Minn. According to Black, “Like all Christian Brothers, Brother Ambrose was a teacher at heart. He taught rhetoric, among several subjects, and was a master teacher. He always promoted a vigorous discussion in class… and that experience really paid off for me in life.” Black is currently a practicing attorney.

Like many Christian Brothers, Brother Ambrose exhibited talents outside the classroom. Among his hobbies, which included campus landscaping projects, Brother Ambrose also founded the Lewis University Archives. “He was a perfectionist and he pursued details with great energy. He was tailor-made for the job,” recalls Black. Brother Ambrose’s role as the founder of the archives and as archivist from 1982 until June of 1993 is one of the most significant developments in the history of Lewis University. Brother Ambrose, who was later named Director Emeritus of the Archives in June of 1993 when he retired, was responsible for collecting, organizing, protecting and making available thousands of photos, historical documents, small collections of memorabilia and many other objects that are housed in the archives are named in his memory.

Brother Vincent Neil Kieffe, FSC
Brother Vincent Neil Kieffe, FSC

Brother Vincent Neil Kieffe, FSC arrived at Lewis in August of 1962. While at Lewis, Brother Neil taught in the Aviation Department, served as the Department’s Chair, and held the position of Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for a brief period of time. Under the leadership of Brother Neil, the Aviation program at Lewis flourished. In addition to his teaching duties and other scholarly work, he also oversaw construction of a new aviation-related classroom building and hangar facility in 1975. He held various leadership roles outside of the academic arena as well, serving both as Acting Vice President and Acting President of Lewis for a brief time. After leaving Lewis, he served at St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago, and since 1991, has served as a faculty member and administrator at Bethlehem University in the Holy Land.

Brother David Delahanty, FSC
Brother David Delahanty, FSC

Many Lewis graduates recall the 1970s and early 1980s as a somewhat tumultuous time in the history of Lewis. There were both periods of great pride and excitement as well as several challenges and setbacks. On July 1, 1973, Lewis College became Lewis University, reflecting growth in enrollment and a new organizational structure of colleges. In 1974, the Lewis Flyers won the first of three NAIA National Championships in baseball. During that same time period, enrollment at Lewis topped 4,000 students. These landmark events were tempered in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a sense that Lewis University lacked vision and focus for the future, a feeling that was brought on by two lay presidents who seemed to have lost sight of the Mission of the University.

This low morale among faculty and staff, and the confusion about the future direction of the institution was diminished greatly when Brother David Delahanty, FSC, was named Lewis University President in 1982 at the age of 46. Brother David guided the University through substantial growth during his presidency and is most remembered for effectively establishing and maintaining high faculty morale, for stabilizing finances and for his strong sense of organization.

Joseph Falese, who graduated in 1978 and returned in 1979 as Director of Student Life and Housing, served as the Dean of Student Affairs during Brother David’s administration and recalled, “By the late 1970s and 1980s the presence of the Christian Brothers on campus was still very evident, but not in major leadership positions. This institution really lacked a sense of self-confidence prior to the time that Brother David first arrived on campus. I remember him quite well. He was kind, scholarly, had an engaging personality and was a visionary.”

Indeed, the campus that greeted Brother David in the early 1980s was tired and somewhat neglected, enrollment was not what it could be, and the institution’s identity as a Christian Brothers University had faded and needed strengthening.

Brother Eugene Lappin, FSC
Brother Eugene Lappin, FSC

In collaboration with Brother Eugene Lappin, FSC, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Brother David rebuilt the morale of Lewis University. “Brother David and Brother Eugene were a great team,” Falese recalled. “They were seen as a very strong partnership. Brother David was especially student-focused. He was calming, had great confidence and vision for the future of Lewis University and worked very closely with other administrators on campus to restore sound fiscal management. He and Brother Eugene also worked very closely with the faculty.”

Dr. Gail Gehrig, a faculty member in the Sociology Department recalled, “When [Brother David] assumed his position, the faculty felt a sense of stability and optimism was restored… He was very honest, respectful and reassuring that he would provide sound leadership for the continuance of Lewis’ traditions – not to forge Lewis into something it was not.”

Brother David’s vision for the future of Lewis University was cut short by his tragic and untimely death from cancer on October 13, 1987. There was an overwhelming sense of grief expressed by faculty, staff and students when Brother David passed away. “People were concerned that our momentum as a fine university would be interrupted,” Falese explained. But that didn’t happen. In fact, faculty, staff and administrators were encouraged by the increased sense of morale, the renewed sense of mission and the overall atmosphere of trust that Brother David instilled during his brief tenure as President.