The Thomas Merton Center 

and the 

Campus Power Plant / Engineering Department


Main Buildings Page

University Ministries webpage

The Thomas Merton Center and the campus Power Plant/Engineering Department occupy the same building at the heart of campus. The west side of the building houses the Merton Center, which is home to the University Ministries department. The east side is home to the Power Plant and Engineering Department, which houses the three boilers that heat most of the campus.

The Thomas Merton Center

Views of the Merton Center in 2008

The Merton Center (nicknamed "U-Min," for University Ministries) is a central part of campus life. It is the headquarters of the University Ministries Department, whose mission is: 
"As disciples of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Franciscan tradition, we are called to form community with all the members of our University family.  We strive to live well with one another, celebrating life together and serving others in keeping with the Gospel call for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. (SBU Campus Life: University Ministries)" 
U-min is the headquarters for many campus organizations.  It houses offices for Mount Irenaeus, the Bona Buddies Program, the Warming House, Liturgy and Music Ministry, and the Franciscan Center for Social Concern. In addition to these offices, U-min includes a kitchen and dining area, a small seating area, a small conference room, and a large living room/meeting space with couches, a table, chess and a piano. U-min is never closed; it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for students to use. Students enjoy the homelike atmosphere of U-min, which is more inviting than the dining hall and the dorms. Students often gather at U-min in order to prepare a home-cooked meal, to study, to meet, or simply to relax. Students are expected to treat the facility with respect and clean up their own messes, especially in the kitchen. Due to the presence of a dishwasher, this is not often a problem. The trust that U-min has in the students of St. Bonaventure makes it a popular destination on campus. U-min allows students to practice the Franciscan ideal of living well together, of taking care of one another, and serving the community. 

U-min was not always located in the Merton Center. In fact, the building that houses the Merton Center today was originally constructed in 1954 as a garage for campus vehicles and headquarters for the Maintenance and Receiving departments. However, when the new Maintenance and Central Receiving Building was built in 1972, the building was acquired by University Ministries, which had previously resided in the basement of Butler Gym, in order to accommodate the department's expanding programs and growing role in campus life.

The Merton Center, seen from Plassmann Hall before its conversion from a garage building. Circa 1950s.

In 1972, the old Maintenance and Central Receiving building began its transformation into the Campus Ministry Center. Overseen by Father Dan Riley, OFM, and the Rev. John O'Connor, OFM, the $60,000 facelift was completed by a workforce consisting almost entirely of volunteers. Opened in March 1973, the newly renovated facility initially had no carpeting, hanging fluorescent lights and little furniture, but was soon furnished to include a piano, stereo system, movie projector, kitchen, library, prayer room, study-conversation room and shag rugs. In 1977, the Campus Ministry Center was rechristened "The Thomas Merton Center," in honor of Thomas Merton.  In 2016, the building was torn down and construction began on a new building for University Ministries. The McGinley-Carney Center for Franciscan Ministry was opened in 2017.

The Power Plant / Engineering Building

The Power Plant / Engineering Building is one of the most necessary yet most overlooked buildings on campus. It houses the Engineering Department offices, as well as three central boilers that heat most of the main buildings on campus via the use of underground steam tunnels. The Power Plant was built in the 1920s to heat the main buildings on the campus, which at that time were: the Monastery/Seminary Building, Butler Gym, DeLaRoche Hall, and Alumni Hall. The boilers originally burned coal, supplied by a small steam engine that ran from the nearby Pennsylvania Railroad to the campus on the shortest standard-gauge railway in the nation, the Saint Bonaventure Railroad. In the 1950's, the boilers were converted to burn cleaner natural gas. Today, the Power Plant heats Plassmann Hall, the Reilly Center, DeLaRoche Hall, the Walsh building, Friedsam, Shay-Loughlen, Hickey, Cafe La Verna, Devereux, Robinson-Falconio, Doyle, the Quick Center, Butler Gym, and the Merton Center during the wintertime. In the summertime, the boilers are shut down in the interests of conserving energy and resources.

The underground steam tunnels that radiate from the Power Plant are a source of many Bonaventure tales. There are stories of students using the tunnels to sneak into Hickey Dining Hall for a midnight snack. While this story is known to be true, the myth of the stash of jewels hidden in the basement of Doyle Hall is not. The story goes that while sneaking through the steam tunnels to Doyle, a student peered through a grate into a room in Doyle and saw a table that appeared to be piled with precious gems. What the student didn't realize was that the "jewels" were for making costume jewelry--they were all paste and glass! The jewelry making was a fundraising project of the nuns. It should be noted that today, all entrances to the steam tunnel system are securely locked.

A new boiler arrives for the power plant in the early 1950s. 

Installation of the boilers

Construction of the Steam Tunnel running from the Power Plant to Robinson Hall.

A poster created in September 2006 by Dennis Frank (University Archivist) and Philip Winger (Associate Vice President for Facilities) that hangs on the Engineering Building, briefly detailing the history of the Power Plant.

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Site built by Ellen Winger during History 495 internship, Fall 2008. 
Any changes, other than minor editing, are noted below.

Last updated 01 July 2010