Maura Baker, Staff Writer.
In 2021, Thomas More University was able to celebrate its 100th year annniversary since its humble roots as Villa Madonna College in 1921. The campus has moved, changed, and grown considerably since then, with plans to expand its campus and community further in celebration of Thomas More’s bicentennial. A fundraising campaign starting in September of 2021 secured $15 million in gifts and donations, with an additional $6 million since the public launch. This commendable total of $21 million dollars has been secured to fund the university’s bicentennial signature project- a brand new academic center. A ground-breaking ceremony was held for the construction of this new building on the 23rd of April, with speeches from President Chillo and chairs of the bicentennial campaign, followed by the ceremonial shoveling of soil in the space where the new building will be constructed.
The 34,000 square feet academic center will be built right across from the Mary Seat of Wisdom chapel, with facilities to accommodate and inspire both a growing campus and community. Among these facilities is a 375-seat auditorium named for Wilbert L. Ziegler, class of 1953, and honorary chair of the capital campaign committee. Dr. Joseph L. Chillo, president of Thomas More University, states that the auditorium will “allow (Thomas More University) to become a center of community, certainly for our folks here in the city.”
Other aspects of the new academic center include the Brenda Hoskin Memorial Reflection Gardens, which will be home to a 9-foot tall bronze statue of the university’s patron saint, St. Thomas More and the Dr. Anthony ’65 & Geraldine ’66 Zembrodt Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship, & Innovation. The Zembrodt Center aims to achieve Thomas More University’s goal to become an “innovation destination” for inspiring students that will be moving to the new center. The Zembrodt Center will also serve as a space for the University’s upcoming scholarship program, which will recognize the achievements of high school students with potential in entrepreneurship and innovation.
The importance of promoting Catholic education will also be a key aspect of the academic center, with implementation of the Center for Faith, Mission, and Catholic Education and the William T. Robinson, the Third Institute for Religious Liberty. President Chillo stresses the importance of positioning faith and values, and serving Catholic education, as the forefront of this new building, regarding the university’s continual dedication to Catholic education and identity “a critical element as (Thomas More University) looks to their second century.”
A contractor for the construction project will be selected at the June Board of Trustees meeting, and the academic center is projected to open Fall 2024.