Little known facts: the dorms’ namesakes

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An archive photo shows O’Connell Hall under construction in 1956. Photo courtesy of the UD Archives.

Have you ever stopped to wonder who your dorm was named after or what kind of person he or she was?

The freshman dorms are named after university founders and Doctors of the Church, according to “50 Years of UD.”

The first dorms to be built were Anselm Hall and O’Connell Hall, constructed the year the university opened in 1956. Anselm, which now contains offices as well as classrooms on the second floor, was originally the first men’s dorm. O’Connell Hall, though first named Marian Hall, was renamed in memory of Sister Mary Margaret O’Connell after her passing in 1975 and housed the first women to attend the University of Dallas.

According to “50 years of UD,” Anselm Hall was named after the Cistercian monk Anselm Nagy. Abbot Anselm was instrumental in getting UD off the ground and establishing the Cistercian Abbey in Irving, where he served as the first abbot.

Fr. Anselm was one of the first Cistercians to leave the mother abbey in Zirc to search for a new home. In 1950, when all of the Cistercians remaining in Hungary were arrested by the communist regime, it became clear that the scouts could not return to Zirc. Fr. Anselm was designated as leader of the Cistercians in exile, according to Fr. Thomas Esposito, O.Cist.

While in Milwaukee, Fr. Anselm met a Sister of St. Mary, who told him that Mother Superior Theresa Weber needed professors to teach at a new Catholic university in Dallas, Texas, according to “50 years of UD.”

Fr. Thomas explained that the exiled Cistercians saw this as a life-saver. They had found a place where they were wanted and where they could make a real contribution. The exiled Cistercians made up nine of the eighteen members of the first faculty at UD.

“Abbot Anselm set the tone for the collaboration between the abbey and UD,” said Fr. Thomas. “Without his leadership, the monks could have landed elsewhere, but he saw an opportunity, and planted Hungarian roots in Texas soil.”

Sister Mary Margaret O’Connell served as UD’s registrar for 17 years until her death in 1973.

“She came to UD before it was here, when it was an office in Dallas and the first buildings, faculty, curriculum, and students were in the process of being assembled,” wrote Eugene Curtsinger Jr. “She was prompt, yes. Efficient, yes. Womanly, yes. Decisive, usually. Persnickety, sometimes. Loving, always. She cared about what happened to [the students], to us, and to UD.”

It was no accident that the men’s dorm was close to the original chapel on the west side of campus, according to archivist Shelly Gayler-Smith.

As the story goes, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, who helped found UD, were afraid that the boys would not walk across campus to go to Mass, but they knew the ladies would. Conversely, O’Connell was adjacent to the cafeteria. For some reason, the Sisters were less concerned that the young men would not hike over the unpaved hill to get their three square meals.

Theresa Hall and Augustine Hall were constructed in 1958. Theresa Hall was named after Mother Superior Theresa Weber, the woman responsible for the creation of UD. Mother Theresa brought the idea of creating a coeducational Catholic college to Bishop Gorman and was the driving force behind the project.

All of the other dorms were named after Saints, including Augustine Hall, Madonna Hall and Gregory Hall, constructed in 1964, and Jerome Hall and Catherine Hall, constructed in 1965.

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