Catholic university keeps history alive with building preservation

by: REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Sister Carole Strawn describes the history of the B.P. Administration building chapel, which is being renovated.Many notable moments comprise Marylhurst University’s history, including moving near Lake Oswego, earning accreditation and becoming a co-educational institution.

This Monday, the school marked another such milestone: its 120th year. That’s when the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary received a state charter to grant degrees at their school in downtown Portland. It wasn’t until 1930 that they relocated what would be called Marylhurst University to the current site between Lake Oswego and West Linn.

There is a social media campaign marking Marylhurst’s major tri-digit birthday, and alumni reunion events in the fall will delve into yesteryear, but Marylhurst staff have never stopped paying homage to the school’s olden days — Sister Carole Strawn makes sure of REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The B.P. Administration building features sun-soaked stained glass religious scenes.

Strawn is the school’s unofficial historian and a project manager in the marketing and communications department at Marylhurst, employed with the school since 1989. She also earned a bachelor’s at Marylhurst in 1969.

“When I went here, classes were held during the day, and students were 18 to 22, the traditional student,” Strawn said.

Now evening and online classes are available at the Catholic university, accredited in 1931. The average undergraduate student is 36 years old and the average graduate student is 38 — Strawn received her Master of Divinity at Marylhurst last year.

The school has grown in other ways, becoming co-ed in 1974. Formerly Marylhurst College, it became Clackamas County’s first university in REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - This photo is of Sister Margaret Elizabeth Strassel, lower step, and Sister Miriam Clare Murphy, Marylhurst art department faculty members. It was taken in 1961, and they are about to depart to study for several weeks in Japan.

Strawn and the Marylhurst team keep alive the school’s beginnings, devoting one hallway in the BP John Administration Building to a timeline featuring framed, black-and-white photos of smiling nuns and lively students.

Marylhurst’s B.P. building, St. Catherine Hall and Aquinas Hall were finished in 1930. The B.P. building’s cream walls are accented with dark-stained, carved Douglas fir lintels and beams.

Portland building company Schommer & Sons has been integral in the restoration of the school for decades. In 2008, Schommer & Sons employee Hans Hoogendam uncovered a small stage used for English classes when he was doing some renovations. Hoogendam was cutting into a wall to look for electrical wiring when he glimpsed the stage, a solid example of that walnut-colored REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A stage was uncovered in Marylhursts B.P. Administration building in 2008.

For the past 18 years, he’s helped the school preserve its storied structures and his company has “been just about everywhere” on campus.

Schommer & Sons is performing a renovation of the chapel in the B.P. building, which features a stained glass depiction of Jesus speaking with Jewish scholars. Portraits of female saints grace the center of several of the chapel’s windows. One sister’s brushwork on the walls above those windows brings to life the Stations of the Cross.

A brass drinking fountain sits outside of the chapel, and a Marc Chagall print hangs in the lobby of the BP building.

The rich carpet, lush furnishings, gold leafing and vibrant art throughout the building are more luxurious than what the sisters had in the early days, but still true to the time period, said Michael Lammers, Marylhurst University, executive vice president for finance and facilities.

“We developed a design vocabulary for the building,” Lammers said. “So — color, carpet, fixtures, wood trim — when you walk around the building, it all goes together.”

Lammers researches the period and seeks the appropriate fixtures and furniture online. For his devotion to preserving Marylhurst’s historic buildings, Lake Oswego Historic Resources Advisory Board awarded him the 2011 Historic Preservation Merit Award.

“We think it appeals to our students,” Lammers said. “We think it is a conspicuous draw. ...People really relate to the historical look of it, and, in a world where education is becoming more of a commodity, it’s one of our distinctive qualities that we hope still matters to people.”

When he’s not sure how to properly outfit a room, he taps Strawn’s memories. Others seem to corroborate her recollection of her college-day surroundings.

“The alumni, they’re very pleased with how the school’s been restored and captures the history while looking to the future,” Strawn said.

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