A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Registrar and library had played key roles in success of Thomas More University

By Dave Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

Part 69 of our series, “Retrospect and Vista II”: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

Two of the earliest support offices at Villa Madonna College were the registrar and the library. At first glance, these two offices seem to have little to do with one another. However, the bond that linked them for decades was the Sisters of St. Benedict (the Benedictines).

When Villa Madonna College was established at Villa Madonna Academy in 1921 by the Benedictine Sisters, the registrar filled multiple roles, including the scheduling of classes, receiving tuition payments, providing administrative support to the faculty, arranging transportation for the students and student housing. The first registrar of the college was Sr. Irmina Saelinger O.S.B. (Retrospect and Vista, pp. 27-28).

Thomas More College Library, 1980s. (Kenton County Public Library (KCPL) Collection)

Sr. Irmina held the position of registrar from 1921 until 1924. In 1924, she relinquished her duties to focus on earning an advanced degree. She returned to the college in 1929 and remained the registrar until 1967. During her absence, Sr. Ursula Siemer O.S.B. filled the role. Sr. Irmina not only served as registrar, but also as an unofficial advisor to the dean. She knew the pulse of the college better than anyone and typically assisted the early presidents in decision making, information gathering, and the various accreditation and reporting functions for state and other agencies (Memoirs of Msgr. John Murphy, TMU Archives).

When the college moved to Covington in 1929, Sr. Irmina’s office was in the main administration building on 12th Street. She was often the first person to greet faculty, staff, and students in the morning and the last to wish them a good evening. She spent countless hours on campus and did any job that needed to be done, including cleaning bathrooms. Her goal was to keep tuition as low as possible so more students could attend the college. If that meant putting in long hours and doing extra work, she did it without complaint (Memoirs of Msgr. John Murphy, TMU Archives).

When the College moved to the new Crestview Hills campus, the registrar’s office was located right inside the main doors of the administration building—again, cementing the role the office had in the day-to-day functioning of the college. In 1967, Sr. Irmina transitioned her role from registrar to become the first head of the Office of Institutional Research and held that position until 1973, when she retired.

The Sisters of St. Benedict also provided Sr. Irmina’s successor, Sr. Margaret Mary (Bartholomew) Gough. Sr. Margaret Mary remained at Thomas More from 1967 until 1976. She modernized the operations of the office and made the first steps towards automation of the student records. Sr. Margaret Mary also did her best to maintain the friendly and caring atmosphere of the office that had been so well established by her predecessor.

Nancy Bruns, Registrar 1978–1990. (KCPL Collection)

With the departure of Sr. Margaret Mary, Sr. Joan Yelton O.S.B. assumed the role of registrar. Sr. Joan maintained the Benedictine tradition of hospitality in the office. She remained until 1978, when long-time History Department instructor Nancy Bruns was appointed to lead the office. Bruns held the position until 1980. Her successors have been Patsy Snow Kenner, Kelly French, and the current registrar, Michelle Vezina. Today, the registrar continues to hold a pivotal role in the operation of Thomas More University. The staff are often the first contact for students and guests, providing a welcoming atmosphere for all.

The Benedictine Sisters also played a key role in developing and sustaining the university library. Villa Madonna College Library was established in 1921 at the original campus in present Villa Hills. The initial collection was small and included mostly books on the topics of education, religion, and reference items. Many of these books were donated by the Sisters of St. Benedict, the clergy of the diocese, and laypersons interested in the new institution. The first librarian of the college was Eleanor Altenberg. Under Altenberg’s guidance, the materials were cataloged and arranged in a cozy room near the college classrooms (Sr. Irmina Saelinger Journal, TMU Archives).

When the college was declared a diocesan institution in 1929, the small library collection was moved to the first floor of the new administration building on 12th Street in Covington. The second Librarian at Villa Madonna College was Mary Frances Austen. Austen did considerable work to expand the collection, again, mostly through donations. An early report from the State Department of Education praised the college for their growing book collection. However, officials also noted that the materials were strongly religious in nature, and it would be in the institution’s best interest to expand the collection into other fields (Sr. Irmina Saelinger Journal, TMU Archives).

Villa Madonna College Library in Columbus Hall, Covington, Kentucky. (KCPL Collection)

In 1934, Benedictine Sister Thomasine Mann was appointed head librarian of the growing college. Under her professional care, the library evolved into a true research facility. Sister Thomasine advocated for a larger budget and used these funds to purchase a wider variety of books and journals. She also collaborated closely with the librarians at the nearby Covington Public Library to supplement the college collection. The collection grew to such an extent that the library moved to the fourth floor of the administration building. Sister remained until 1950. She was followed by Sr. Loretto Marie Driscoll C.D.P. (1950–1956), a long-time member of the English Department (Retrospect and Vista, pp. 14-15).

The purchase of the Knights of Columbus building on Madison Avenue (dubbed Columbus Hall) benefitted the library. The second floor of the building was turned over for library purposes in 1961. This expansion allowed for the purchase of new books, to provide larger study spaces for students and to give library staff private office space. This move was made under the direction of Benedictine Sr. Mary Teresita Casey O.S.B., who was library director from 1956 through May 1968 (Retrospect and Vista, pp. 55-56).

Sr. Teresita not only oversaw the move to Columbus Hall, but another move to the new Crestview Hills campus in 1968. Library staff and volunteers conducted this last move. More than 60,000 books were packed in Bavarian Beer boxes, eased down a slide through a window and packed into a truck. They were then unpacked in Crestview Hills and placed on their designated shelves.The entire process was completed in one day. Following the move to Crestview Hills, Sr. Terestia passed away on May 27, 1968. (Triskele 1968).

Moving the library from Covington to Crestview Hills, Pat Fleck, April 2, 1968. (KCPL Collection)

In 1976, Sr. Mary Philip Trauth S.N.D. began the process of establishing a formal archive for the college. Sister reached out to long time faculty members, administrators, and alumni to gather materials scattered across the campus. Initially located in a small room in the humanities wing, the archives were eventually moved to the lower level of the library. The collection continues to grow and has become a major resource for grant writing, accreditation, and historical research. Sister Philip was succeeded by Dave Schroeder (1996 –2000) and Tom Ward (2000–2022) (Thomas More College Archives Inventory).

In 1986, when St. Pius X Seminary relocated to the Thomas More campus, the seminary library was integrated with the college collection. The library also became a member of the Greater Cincinnati Library Consortium (now SWON Libraries) and a United States Government Documents repository. In the year 2000, the library collection was automated for the first time (Thomas More College Archives Inventory).

In 2003, the college received an $800,000 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation of Louisville to make significant upgrades to the library. Improvements included the construction of classrooms, a new reference desk, additional office space, a computer lab, small study spaces, and a lounge area for informal student gatherings. Other improvements included a new ADA compliant elevator, all new floor coverings and furniture, and an art gallery named for Eva Farris. These improvements increased the use of the library as a research facility and student gathering space (Louisville Business First, December 4, 2003).

Sr. Margaret Mary Gough O.S.B. (Bartholomew), Registrar 1967 –1976, and Sr. Irmina Saelinger O.S.B., first register, 1921–1924 and 1929–1967. (KCPL Collection)

Since 1971, the following have served as directors of the Thomas More Library: John Bryant (1968–1971), Sr. Immaculata Campbell O.S.B. (1971 –1973), Richard Eggleston (1974–1975), Floyd Zula (1975–1976), Sr. Mary Adrienne Riehle S.N.D. (1976 –1978), Arthur Taylor (1979–1983), Robert Nicholas (1983–1985), Steve Albert (1985–1990), Jim McKellogg (1990–2014), Leoma Dunn (2014–2017), Michael Wells 2018–2021), and Dr. John Ernst (2021–present) (Thomas More Archives College Inventory).

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library. He is the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015), and coauthor of Lost Northern Kentucky (2018).

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment