Renovations to the Thomas Merton center

By Elyse Breeze @ezeerbesyle 

[photo courtesy of sbu.edu]

University officials have released information regarding St. Bonaventure’s latest, anticipated renovation project: The Thomas Merton Center.

In the fall of 2014, St. Bonaventure publicly unveiled its $7.5 million renovations of the freshman residence halls Robinson and Falconio. This year, University Ministries has received a generous donation that will be used to revamp the center after its many years in establishment.

The Thomas Merton Center is home to University Ministries, a program on campus that invites St. Bonaventure students to participate in various activities such as liturgical ministries, service learning, community building and other opportunities focused on spiritual growth. University Ministries works closely with programs such as Bona Buddies and the Warming House, as well.

Fr. Francis DiSpigno, Executive Director for University Ministries, has been with St. Bonaventure for four years; he never thought he would see the Merton Center reestablished during his time here. “There were hopes,” he said. “I was told that Murphy and others were ahead of the line. It was when this donor stepped forward and targeted [the donation] for here that we went into a different mode.”

The donor is in the beginning stages of finalizing the donations; his/her identity will not be revealed yet, nor will the amount in which the donation is pending.

With these tentative renovation rumors floating about campus, many were expecting the John J. Murphy Professional Building, home to the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication, to be next in line. “There is a master plan for space renovations on campus… Murphy is being explored as the next academic space to be renovated,” said Mary Driscoll, vice president for university advancement.

“When a donor decides to give gifts to St. Bonaventure University, or to any organization, they can direct their gift to an area where their passion lies… The donor has long been an advocate of University Ministries and sacred spaces on campus…”

During Francis Week, the friars offered questionnaires to students to gauge interest in the future campus ministry center. “I have about five pages of data from students,” DiSpigno said. “People were requesting things that would be appropriate to a university center or a student union… we kind of had to sift through that.”

“One of the requests was the have a Chiptole,” he laughed. “We’re not ‘gonna have a Chipotle.”

While many of the requests have been leaning in the direction of a university center rather than a ministry center, DiSpigno intends to integrate some of those suggestions into the remodeling. He’s made it very clear that he intends to preserve the Merton Center’s greatest qualities such as leaving its doors open 24 hours a day, a small kitchen, comfortable furniture and tables for students to do their homework at.

Sophomore Stephanie Kennedy, Music Ministry Coordinator, agrees that some of the Merton’s best qualities should be reserved. “It would just be more appealing to students if it was renovated into something like a student union,” she said. “It’s in the center of campus and it could be a great place to go between classes to study or just relax.”

DiSpigno hopes that he will be able to, somewhat, address the wishes of all of the students, faculty and staff. Currently, a major concern for the Merton Center is that there is not a large enough space that could house enough people for the annual Ash Wednesday service.

Construction for the Merton Center is projected to begin in the summer of 2016.

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