BenU library provides a glimpse into the past

Kulsum Musani


Benedictine University’s library is providing free half-hour tours of its archives and special collections every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. through Thanksgiving.

Julie Wroblewski, the archives and special collections librarian, leads students and visitors through the tour, which allows them to see historical collections of the University, as well as priceless artifacts that have been donated.

Benedictine University is also home to religious and philosophical works from the 1500s, a Czech Bible from the mid 1800s, student yearbooks from 1970, papers of US Senator John Erlenborn and William P. Jesse, and many more. Photo by Hinna Fatani.

BenU also has a copy of its first university catalog. Dated from 1901 to 1904, the catalog is written in Czech, since most of the students were children of immigrants. The catalog was used until 1916.

“I really liked learning about the rich history of the University and all the efforts it is taking to preserve artifacts that will allow future students to get a glimpse of our time,” commented sophomore Syeda Sameen Kinza.

BenU yearbooks are also part of the archives. The University archives its 1970 yearbook, which according to Wroblewski, was recognized by national association of college yearbooks for its pictures, but “criticized for its controversial writing due to challenges to the school administration about perceived lack of change.”

“My favorite part of the tour was the yearbook, because it lets you see how much BenU has grown over the past 40 years or so,” enthused sophomore Hinna Fatani. “Changes in mentality and culture are easily visible when you compare the yearbook from 1970 and the community in which we are getting educated in today.”

Haunted stories are also associated with the buildings on campus. Residents of Jaeger reported sightings of ghostly children. Neuzil students reportedly took a picture of an empty hallway, only to find after developing the pictures that a little boy and girl were standing at the end of it, looking at the camera.

All of the residence halls have also reported fluctuations in television volumes and appliances turning on and off by themselves.

The Official University Mace is one of the many artifacts shown throughout the course of the tour. Jeffery Havill, who was part of the Benedictine Committee at Portsmouth Abbey, made the mace. The description of the mace emphasizes it as a “symbol of the power that comes through the pursuit of knowledge and truth.”

Benedictine University is also home to several artifacts such as the brake part and safety chain of Abraham Lincoln’s private railroad car. Additional items belonging to Lincoln were put on permanent loan at the Lincoln museum in Springfield.

Historical Artifacts at Benedictine University include a safety chain from Abraham Lincoln's private railroad car. Other items were put on permanent loan at the Lincoln Museum at Springfield, IL. Photo by Hinna Fatani.

Other historical artifacts include departmental records, student organizations and papers of U.S. Senator John Erlenborn and scientist William P. Jesse, who worked on the Manhattan Project.

The collections and archives take place in a cold, dry room in the back of the fourth floor of the library. Almost every building on campus has its own interesting facts:

  • Jaeger Hall opened in 1951; the glass atrium was added in the mid 1990s.
  • Ondrak Hall opened in 1970 and used to be the girls’ residence hall.
  • Nuezil Hall opened in 1969 and used to be an all male dorm.
  • Before it became the enrollment center, Lownik used to house the library.
  • Scholl Hall opened in 1974 and contained a microbiology hall.