Looking Back, Moving Forward: University Of St. Thomas Celebrates Major Milestones As It Builds For The Future


HOUSTON — Founded in 1947 by the Basilian Fathers – a distinguished order of Catholic priests devoted to teaching – University of St. Thomas (UST) has long served as an institution of academic achievement for generations of young men and women – instilling its students with a comprehensive liberal arts foundation.

The university’s storied history will continue far into the future as it celebrates two major milestones in 2017; the 70th anniversary of the founding of the university and the 20th anniversary of one of the most recognizable buildings on the campus, the Chapel of St. Basil. “2017 will be a year to honor the incredible achievements and successes that the University of St. Thomas has achieved through the hard work of many individuals,” commented President Robert Ivany. He added, “Along with these milestones, we are undertaking exciting initiatives that will prepare the UST campus students and faculty for the future.”

In June of 1946, the university purchased the home of T.P. Lee, which at one point was the largest private home in Houston and a symbol of the immense wealth garnered during the oil boom of the early 1900s. The building marked the inception of the university’s campus and originally housed the registrar’s office, a student reading room, a chapel, the offices of the President, a women’s lounge, the Dean of Women’s office, classrooms, and a ballroom for physical education and student dances. Today the historic site is home to the offices of the President and Provost and serves as a hallmark of the university’s interwoven relationship with the City of Houston.

A decade later, legendary Houston arts patron John de Menil – at the behest of the university’s leadership – commissioned renowned architect Philip Johnson to design a master plan for the expansion of the University of St. Thomas. Johnson drew inspiration from the University of Virginia and its academic mall, and he executed a vision that utilized his particular minimalist style and emphasis on subdued functionality. The totality of Johnson’s academic mall at UST focuses on the core tenets of academics, community and faith. The legendary architect would later leave his indelible mark on the campus with the design of the Chapel of St. Basil, which opened in 1997 and now approaches its 20th anniversary. As the formal place of worship on campus, the Chapel marks the completion of the academic mall and rises above all other campus buildings. Illuminated exclusively by natural light, the Chapel of St. Basil is an inviting and intimate space that emanates serenity and demands introspective reflection from those who enter. The Chapel of St. Basil anchors one end of the academic mall, and academic buildings line the pathway to the Doherty Library on the mall’s opposite end. The Chapel of St. Basil and the Doherty Library can thus be viewed in tandem in order to evoke the perpetual relationship between faith and reason.

Given its unmatched standing in the annals of the City of Houston, the University of St. Thomas can be viewed as a gateway into a bygone era. History, however, is only part of the University of St. Thomas narrative. Currently, UST is in the midst of its most ambitious fundraising effort to date – Faith in our Future: The Campaign for the University of St. Thomas – and is constructing a new Center for Science and Health Professions with additional plans for a Performing and Fine Arts Center. These exciting additions to the UST campus will enhance educational and creative opportunities for its student body.

The University of St. Thomas has also embarked on the search for a new president, who will become the ninth to take the position, following President Robert Ivany’s decision to retire after 13 years of service. The new president will be tasked with building upon the promising groundwork laid by Dr. Ivany while lending a new and unique perspective to UST’s ambitious path forward.

The University of St. Thomas has roots that can be traced back generations. Its campus possesses historic buildings, a wealth of distinguished alumni, and a unique heritage set against the backdrop of the growth of the City of Houston. With its legacy firmly intact and major milestones on the horizon, UST is simultaneously ushering in a new era of progress, growth, and academic achievement. Above all else, the University of St. Thomas remains entrenched in its steadfast commitment to imbuing every student it enrolls with the core values of the founding Basilian fathers: goodness, discipline, and knowledge.