August 27, 2015, was a great day for Saint John’s University, because on that day we received news of a $500,000 grant award.
Now you might be wondering why this gift is cause for celebration. After all, Saint John’s receives grants from foundations on a regular basis; and while this grant is substantial, it isn’t among our largest.
So what makes this gift so special? First, it comes in support of our top campaign priority: the Library and Learning Commons. Each and every contribution to this project moves us one step closer to ground-breaking for this much-needed and long-anticipated building. The Learning Commons is designed to foster creative thinking, collaborative research and engaged learning. It will be nothing less than the “academic heart and soul” of the Saint John’s campus, as President Michael Hemesath describes it.
Second, this particular gift is designated specifically for the new Archives and Special Collections Department in Alcuin Library. This grant has paved the way for construction that is now underway, and which is scheduled for completion in late spring 2016. When open, this 8,000-square-foot facility will provide a spacious, secure and climate-controlled environment for collections that will be available to students, faculty and staff at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, as well as to scholars around the world. It will also feature a reading room, a work room, as well as offices for the archivist and the rare books librarian.
Third, the Archives and Special Collections are among the elements that make Saint John’s University truly unique. All colleges have collections of books, but it is exceptional that a liberal arts college would have such a large, impressive and distinctive rare book and special collections department. For starters, the extensive holdings at Saint John’s include the university's rare book collections, which contain approximately 5,500 volumes. There are also specialized collections such as Arca Artium, with its 5,000 rare books and reference titles numbering some 15,000. The department will also house the original folios of The Saint John’s Bible; a collection of sacred music that includes over 2,000 hand-written and rare printed scores for liturgical music; and the holdings of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, which contain some 464 catalogued rare printed books, sixty manuscripts, the Steiner Collection of Spanish documents, and a growing collection of parchments relating to the history of the Order of Malta.
Fourth, this grant boosts the total that Saint John’s has raised in support of the Library and Learning Commons to more than $9 million, and we are quickly approaching the $10 million milestone toward our $15 million goal.
Lastly, this is our first grant from the recently-established Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, one of the largest foundations not only in Minnesota but in the entire country. Margaret Cargill was the grand-daughter and one of the heirs of W.W. Cargill, founder of the agricultural giant that bears his name. Late in her life she became interested in philanthropy, and upon her passing in 2006 she earmarked approximately half of her fortune to the foundation that now bears her name. Its mission? “To provide meaningful assistance and support to society, the arts and the environment.
Saint John’s University is deeply grateful to the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation for its generous support. As the late, great Humphrey Bogart would say, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
[Editor’s note: Ground-breaking for the Learning Commons is now scheduled as an activity of Saint John’s Day, April 22, 2016. The illumination in this post is from the Mabon Book of Hours, a 15th-century manuscript in the Saint John’s University Special Collections.]