Little known facts: how it all began

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A group of men and a sister chat during the first year's of the university's start. Photo courtesy of UD archives.

Go ahead, settle into your seat at the Cap Bar or on the Mall. Now as you take a sip of your coffee or a drag of your cig, look around either at the unruly line for espresso, or your friends milling around on the Mall.

Whatever the case, how does it make you feel?  

Whenever I take the time to smell the metaphorical University of Dallas roses, I am always filled with joy. I think, “Man, I love this place, these people, our traditions, etc.”

But, have you ever wondered how it all got started and for goodness sake, why Irving?

I know I have, but I have never known the answer. When I mentioned this to fellow senior Matt Kuehler, he shared a similar reaction. He said, “Now that you mention it, I have no idea how this place started.”

And he was born in Old Mill for goodness sake! So if you are like Matt and I, take another sip, a drag, or maybe even one of each, and read on.

Here is how UD began.

In 1954 Mother Superior Theresa Weber of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur told Bishop Thomas Gorman, the newly appointed bishop of Dallas, “We need a Catholic co-educational college,” according to the book “50 Years of Vision and Couragethat was published by UD.  

Mother Weber then recruited Dr. Edward Maher, the local Ford dealer often referred to as “Mr. Catholic,” and Eugene Constantin Jr., a southern patriarch and oil magnate as the primary donors for the new college.

Constantin, “the general genius” as Maher came to call him, developed the organizational plan for the fundraising campaign and served as the general chair.

In the meantime, the Community Service Bureau urged the sisters to choose a name for the college that would indicate that it was co-ed and open to all faiths.

Working off of this advice, Bishop Gorman arranged for the transfer of the dormant charter of the first University of Dallas, a Vincentian school that had closed in 1928.

With the charter secured, UD needed a campus.

John Carpenter, known as “Mr. Texas Industry,” convinced the committee to select a site that included some of his property between the Trinity River and Turkey Knob (Signal Hill, now the cross country track). To sweeten the deal, he also donated 160 prime acres of land adjacent to where Highway 114 would be.

In 1955, the committee purchased 846 acres (though much of it has been sold off now) for the price of $704,519.

The groundbreaking was on Feb. 4, 1956. Carpenter Hall, Lynch Auditorium, O’Connell, Anselm, and two smaller structures (now the theaters) were constructed in eight months. Interestingly enough, it took eighteen months to build Cardinal Farrell Hall.

That same year, the sisters appointed Dr. F. Kenneth Brasted as the first president of the university. President Brasted outlined the basic concept of the liberal arts degree, as well as nursing classes, in the University’s first catalogue, “the little red book.”

The core of UD’s first faculty consisted of nine Cistercian monks who fled Hungary in the 1950’s to escape communist oppression. Soon after 1955, Bishop Gorman formally invited the monks to establish themselves in DFW and teach at UD.

On Sep. 24, 1956, UD opened its doors. Led by Dr. Eugene Curtsinger as the first academic dean, the faculty took to the podiums to teach truth and wisdom henceforth and forevermore.

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