“On Sunday, July 5, 1885, under threatening skies, clergy civic leaders, Catholics from the city, and Bishop Cosgrove gathered to bless the cornerstone of the building. They processed around the building as the bishop sprinkled it with holy water. The cornerstone was then cemented into place and the building dedicated… A copper box was placed in the cornerstone.” –George William McDaniel, A Great and Lasting Beginning, The First 125 Years of St. Ambrose University
Fast forward nearly 128 years to May 23, 2013. Bush Construction started a $5 million renovation of Ambrose Hall. The cornerstone and the copper box that had not been touched since that rainy day in 1885 needed to be removed.
The Lewis Board Room, complete with intricate stained glass windows and high ceilings on the third floor of Ambrose Hall, was crowded with Ambrosians anxiously awaiting Rev. McDaniel ‘66, professor emeritus of history and St. Ambrose University historian, to reveal the treasure inside of the petite box that was tattered and dented.
“I was afraid it would be filled with deteriorated papers,” Heather Lovewell, St. Ambrose University Archivist said.
Lovewell’s fear became a reality. As Rev. McDaniel pulled the papers out of the box and placed them into Lovewell’s hands, the more than century-old documents continued to crumble.
Although brittle and fragile, the papers were still of value; gifts left by some of the founders of what is now one of the finest Midwest universities, continually making jumps in U.S. News & World Report Rankings.
The documents were identified as a handwritten list of the 1885 Davenport city officials, a program from the dedication ceremony, and the most current copies of Catholic and Davenport newspapers.
Lovewell is now preparing another capsule that will be placed behind the cornerstone during homecoming weekend. Considering the preparation as a “grand science experiment,” Lovewell hopes these items are thoroughly preserved and in good condition when the capsule is opened again.
“Looking at significant dates, I am hoping for the year 2132,” Lovewell said. “St. Ambrose University will celebrate its 250th anniversary. 119 years, that is long enough to make the contents interesting.”
An online survey was made available to students, faculty, and staff, giving them the opportunity to vote on what should be included in the new capsule.
“The more eccentric the better,” Lovewell said. “People told me the weirdest things after we opened up the 1885 capsule. They said, ‘Oh, I was hoping there’d be a liquor bottle,’ and ‘We should put pizza boxes in the future one.’”
Although Lovewell wants the gifts to be creative and true representations of students, she wants to make sure the university’s admired vision and mission is expressed as well.
“A huge focus in the first time capsule was on Catholic education,” she said. “It was important 1885, is now, and will be in 2132. I don’t want that to be lost as a part of our Ambrosian identity and what it means to be an Ambrosian.”
In his book, Rev. McDaniel shares the exact statements made by Rev. James P. Ryan at the 1885 ceremony, the same statements that inspired Lovewell.
“The institution whose cornerstone has been laid here today,” Rev. Ryan said, “is intended to educate, not the head apart from the heart, but the head and the heart together. This is to be a Catholic College where secular and religious education will go hand in hand.”
A lot has changed since 1885. However, the current St. Ambrose University mission holds true to the intent Rev. Ryan shared on that significant day in 1885. The deeply-rooted mission still ensures the heads and hearts of all who experience St. Ambrose are nourished and educated cohesively.
As the current mission states, “St. Ambrose University—independent, diocesan and Catholic—enables its students to develop intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically to enrich their own lives and the lives of others.”
There will be an official ceremony for the dedication of the new time capsule during homecoming weekend celebrations on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 10:00 a.m. in the Beehive. Students who provided the winning suggestions will place the new contents into the capsule.