Not all roads to redemption lead home. “Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy had a big decision to make,” Doug Hennes writes in That Great Heart: The Life of I.A. O’Shaughnessy, Oilman and Philanthropist. “He and two classmates had skipped Sunday vespers at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and headed for the woods—and a hidden barrel of beer. They were nabbed upon their return to campus and expelled the next day.”
Those events set in motion a course that would change O’Shaughnessy’s life and that of many others throughout the country and world. After his expulsion, he boarded a train to the Twin Cities, but if being the youngest of 13 children of Irish-Catholic immigrants John and Mary Ann O’Shaughnessy had taught the 16-year old anything, it was that his escapades would not be greeted warmly at home.
According to Hennes’ book, O’Shaughnessy passed up returning to his Stillwater home, and instead headed west, walking more than six miles through downtown Saint Paul, eventually reaching the College of St. Thomas, now the University of St. Thomas (UST). “Cold, hungry and scared, he encountered Father John Dolphin, president of the college, on his evening walk around campus,” Hennes writes. Father Dolphin fed the young man and listened to the story of his travails, a familiar yarn as one of O’Shaughnessy’s cohorts had already arrived from St. John’s to St. Thomas to plead his own case.
Because the first young man felt his expulsion was unjust, Father Dolphin sent him on his way, but O’Shaughnessy’s story had a different ending. He admitted to the priest that St. John’s was justified in its decision, so Father Dolphin granted him admittance to St. Thomas. And so began O’Shaughnessy’s storied collegiate and professional careers, which have left their marks on educational and religious programs and institutions worldwide.
It is a rare person who has sat in the halls of UST who has not heard or read the name “O’Shaughnessy,” which adorns the university’s education center, library, science building, stadium and athletic field. His legend serves as an integral course about the school’s history; even prospective students are regaled with the tales of his less than auspicious entrée onto campus.
Doug Hennes’ academic and professional lives have also been touched by the great man’s legacy. The eldest of five children raised in Owatonna, Hennes graduated from St. Thomas in 1977, a member of the final all-male class. Part of his professional career included 14 years at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where he worked as a reporter and editor. He returned to UST in 1990, and serves as vice president for university and government relations.
In 2001, in honor of the 100th anniversary of O’Shaughnessy’s graduation, Hennes wrote a piece about the alumnus for a university publication. His research uncovered a deluge of information. “I ran across so much good material,” he says and realized, “I think there’s a book here.” Read more about Doug Hennes’ book at saintpaulmag.com