by Abigail Reitz

Why is Nazareth Hall the way it is? It is possible this question has come to students’ minds while they are traipsing around the complicated hallways and uneven staircases, finding themselves in strange places they have never been before, or looking up at sculptures of men in the sides of the building. The beautiful thing about Nazareth Hall is the thought and design that went into the creation of the building. The secrets of Naz are known to but a few around campus.

Nazareth Hall (loggia, ca. 1930), Northwestern College (MN)

Nazareth Hall veranda in 1930 (photo courtesy of Mark Baden)

The University of Northwestern – St. Paul used to be a Catholic boys’ school where young men came to become the next generation of priests. From 1922-62 Nazareth Hall was the only school building on campus. Every aspect of life took place in Naz. “All their education took place in this building, their worship, their living, their dining and their studying,” said Northwestern Art and Design Professor Mark Baden. Baden specializes in sacred architecture and has spent years studying the history and restoration of Nazareth Hall.

The fourth floor of Naz used to be split into three large bedrooms, each housing 52 boys. The third floor held smaller rooms where the priests and upperclassmen would stay. They held mass in Nazareth chapel, as well as in the room beneath, which contained over 10 altars to accommodate the many priests that taught at the school. The second floor was administrative rooms as well as classrooms. At the end of the Presidents’ Hallway, where the admissions office is, was the theater. Here they held productions put on by the school. Directly above the theater was their library, now known to Northwestern as the Youderian Lounge. Directly beneath the theater was their gym, a space which now serves as an art workshop.

Perhaps the strangest part of Naz is the extension of the building on the corner of the Billy Graham Community Life Center and the Totino Fine Arts Center. The floors of this part of the building are not aligned with the rest. Those three floors were the nunnery. Inside lived 12 nuns who cared for the boys and lived at the school. Because that section of the building was at a different level than the rest of Naz, no boys would ever have the issue of accidentally finding themselves in the nunnery.

Along the exterior of the building, there can be found three stone figures residing in the walls. Inside of the main courtyard stands Thomas Aquinas, a leading Catholic theologian in the 1200s. His ideas were built upon the philosophy of Augustine of Hippo, the philosopher that formed much of western philosophy and Christianity. Augustine can be found in the wall that faces the path to the Island. The final figure is that of Paul. He sits at the highest point of the three men along the back of the building because it was his theology and teaching that founded the Christian faith. These theologians were there to look over the learning of the students and the theology of the school, ensuring that only truth would ever be spoken on the grounds of Northwestern.

Nazareth Hall used to be called St. Austin’s House after both St. Austin and Austin Dowling, the archbishop of the time. In the chapel there are stain glass windows lining each side. Each window depicts a scene from the Bible. The New Covenant is represented in the windows on the east wall and the Old Covenant is represented in the windows on the west wall. Each day the sun rises on the new covenant and sets on the old one displaying God’s workings throughout history in covenant with His people.

Baden explained, “Over the entrance door to Nazareth Hall it says, ‘Amen amen’ — that’s truly truly – ‘I am the good shepherd.’ Below it says, ‘Come to me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ The passage of Scripture right before that is about Christ telling his disciples to come and learn from him. It’s an invitation to enter into the presence of Christ and learn from Him. The light flashes off of the water and it introduces you to this idea. The bright and morning star of revelation introduces you to Christ and invites you in. That beam of light lights the place where there would have stood a stone statue of Mary with the infant Jesus.”

The daily steps of the boys as they entered chapel to worship would have included the good shepherd inviting you in, and mother Mary introducing you to Jesus. “Invitation to come into the presence of Christ, and then coming in to participate in worship and communion where they would remember the resurrected Lord,” noted Baden. “Then you exit transformed under the painting of the transfiguration of Christ. So, it’s invitation, introduction, participation and transformation. That is incredible. The students came to this school because Christ called them, they worked hard to learn as much about Christianity and general education as they could and left transformed.”

Baden concludes, “God had a hand in the community establishing this place and God had a hand in Northwestern inheriting this place. Make no mistake, we are standing on holy ground.”


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