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Musical performances celebrate Moreau Center for the Arts’ 50th anniversary

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, October 5, 2006

Fifty years have passed since Hollywood actress Helen Hayes graced the stage of Saint Mary’s O’Laughlin Auditorium to celebrate the opening of the Moreau Center for the Arts.

Along with reading from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” Hayes gave the Center high praise, saying, “There is no beauty that can be laid upon this brick and mortar as perfect as the love and high ideals that have gone into its construction.”

On Tuesday night, the Saint Mary’s community celebrated these lofty ideals again with a unique musical performance specially designed for the Moreau Center’s 50th anniversary.

Saint Mary’s own composer, pianist, and faculty artist Dr. Jeffrey Jacob composed the piece, entitled “Celebration,” performed to commemorate the golden anniversary. The New York Philomusica, the Saint Mary’s Women’s Choir, Latin American poet Maria Auxiliadora Alvarez, College alumna and mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger and faculty soprano Laurel Thomas participated in performing at the event.

The performance, arranged by the Office of Special Events and the Saint Mary’s music department, was open to the community at large and included a reception immediately following the performance, said Richard Baxter, director of special events at Saint Mary’s.

The Moreau Center, which includes the O’Laughlin Auditorium, is a very important place both for students and faculty at Saint Mary’s.

“It’s at the heart of the cultural arts of the College,” said Baxter. “It’s the place where you come for the cultural arts, and beyond that, becoming educated in the cultural performing arts.”

Since its start in 1956, the Moreau Center has been the performing arts hub of Saint Mary’s.

“It’s the major performing venue for the whole College and has been for years,” said Nancy Menk, chair of the Saint Mary’s music department and director of the Women’s and Collegiate Choirs at Saint Mary’s, who conducted last night.

Before the opening of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center in September 2004, the O’Laughlin Auditorium was the largest performing arts facility between the two campuses, said Menk.

And the venue has not been limited to only benefiting Saint Mary’s students over the past five decades.

“It’s been important for the community, too,” said Menk, explaining that touring companies and several South Bend dance companies, such as the Southold Dance Company who perfom “The Nutcracker” ballet annually, have performed at the O’Laughlin.

The auditorium also holds a purpose outside of the realm of performing arts. Academic performances, significant lectures, orientations and other large gatherings frequently utilize the spaces located in the Moreau Center, Baxter said. He said the Moreau Center is often rented to other groups interested in using it, including Notre Dame’s Keenan Hall for the annual “Keenan Revue” and some gospel groups.

The namesake of Father Basil Anthony Moreau, the founder of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Moreau Center holds the O’Laughlin Auditorium, Little Theatre, Moreau Art Galleries, studios, workshops and classrooms. Baxter said the art, dance, theater, music and communications departments are all housed within the building.

The Moreau Center was first made possible when Sister Frances Jerome – formerly Susan O’Laughlin, chair of Classical Languages and vice president of Saint Mary’s – donated her inheritance to the building’s construction.

Sister Madeleva Wolff, president of Saint Mary’s from 1934 to 1961, is also credited for her dedication and effort toward the creation of the Moreau Center.