saint john's celebrates marcel breuer , architect

In December 1950, Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, newly elected sixth abbot of Saint John’s, made a bold and visionary decision resulting in what one art historian has called “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.” He contacted twelve prestigious architects among them Marcel Breuer, asking them to submit a comprehensive building design for the second century of Saint John’s.

As part of his specifications, Abbot Baldwin required a design for “building a church which will be truly an architectural monument to the service of God.” He explained, “The Benedictine tradition at its best challenges us to think boldly and to cast our ideals in forms which will be valid for centuries to come …”

Saint John’s chose Marcel Breuer and on January 28, 1954, he brought the drawings, models and books for the comprehensive 100-year plan before a meeting of the monastic community. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that an addition to the monastic quarters would begin in the spring of 1954 and a church would follow.

The plan was featured in many magazines in the U.S. and abroad and the models were displayed in several U.S. cities. After the completion of the monastic wing in 1957 – the close of the Saint John’s Benedictine’s first century in Minnesota – the Abbey and University Church was immediately begun. Construction lasted from May 19, 1958 to August 24, 1961.

After the Church came the construction of Saint Thomas Hall (1959); Alcuin Library (1964); Peter Engel Science Center (1965); three additional student dormitories – Saints Bernard, Patrick and Boniface Halls (1967); the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (1968); and the Bush Center for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (1975).

The original Breuer designs set the style for a creative complex for Saint John’s Preparatory School (1962) and the Warner Palaestra Recreation Center (1974), designed and modified by architect Val Michaelson, former associate of Breuer.

Breuer architecture at Saint John’s:
Breuer Monastic Wing, 1955
Saint Thomas Aquinas Hall, 1959
Abbey and University Church, 1961
Alcuin Library, 1964
Peter Engel Science Center, 1965
Saint Bernard Hall, 1967
Saint Patrick Hall, 1967
Saint Boniface Hall, 1967
The Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research,
Bush Center for the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, 1975
“The Athlete,” sculpture, Warner Palaestra Recreation Center