by Vicki Ikeogu
It was an ambitious dream to have in this part of the county – even by today’s standards. But that did not deter the sisters of St. Benedict’s Monastery from pursuing their goal of creating a destination arts and cultural center in St. Joseph during the late 1950s.
Fast-forward just more than 50 years and the Benedicta Arts Center, 37 College Ave. S, remains one of the College of St. Benedict’s – and the area’s – premiere cultural centers for music, theater and dance.
“The sisters of the monastery were really very concerned with making sure this part of Minnesota had the best resources to attract artists from all over the country,” said Kevin Knodl, CSB/SJU fine arts programming director of operations. “They made the conscious decision of creating the best possible building.”
But along with developing a state-of-the-art performance center, the BAC is rumored to be home to more than just artists.
According to website hauntedplaces.org, the BAC is rumored to be haunted by the spirit of a man named Steve, who died during construction of the building. Legend has it Steve is known to shatter lights during performances, and some people have even claimed to have run into him – in a solid, but invisible form.
Rumors of apparent haunted status have surfaced throughout the years with the most recent publication of paranormal activity being documented in the Oct. 28, 1999 issue of The Record from St. John’s University.
The 1999 report states a campus security officer was in the process of locking up the BAC when he heard footsteps in the building. After calling the Waite Park Police Department, the canine unit showed up. The dogs had been reportedly excited and began barking loudly and chasing unseen objects into rooms only to have doors slammed in their faces. No person was ever found in the building.
Heidi Steffens, a paranormal energy consultant with the Minnesota Paranormal Research Society, doesn’t believe the sometimes-odd occurrences in the BAC are attributed to Steve.
On Oct. 20, Steffens and one of her colleagues went in energetically to the BAC to investigate.
“We saw this guy named Steve,” Steffens said. “He’s in the background watching. But he isn’t causing the problems. He’s just watching it happen. He looks kind of helpless.”
Steffens, who has been working in the paranormal field for about 20 years, believes the cause for the odd occurrences in the building is more related to conflicting energy forces.
“There are arrows of energy coming from outside the building,” she said. “They could be activity coming from the land or what the land is made up of. They are running like straight-line winds into the building and going back stage. But the problem is that energy is hitting an actual person (or persons). Someone who is alive and has very strong, very angry energy.”
Steffens said the collision of the natural energy and the angry energy is the reason for a lot of the paranormal activity present in the BAC.
“And Steve is caught (in the middle) because people keep thinking it’s him,” Steffens said. “And that is what’s keeping him here. It’s a really bad situation for him. He didn’t want to die there, but now he’s stuck.”
Steffens said Steve’s only chance of escape would be if someone helped him pass on to the other side.
Steffens believes it’s not uncommon for schools and very popular institutions like the BAC to have an influx of paranormal activity.
“Schools are pretty active with so much energy, focus and emotion (being felt there),” she said. “And the fact everything is always changing means a constant stream of new energy.”
About the BAC
Named after Mother Benedicta Riepp, the founder of the Benedictine women of the United States, the Benedicta Arts Center was planned and designed from 1959 through 1962.
“The sisters got the architects (Hammel Green & Abrahamson Inc.) to drive them around to see other performing arts centers in the area,” Knodl said. “They had a vision.”
According to CSB archives, the original outline for the BAC was only supposed to contain an auditorium and an additional small theater. But HGA architects persuaded the sisters to look to the future and design a multi-use arts center. Those plans included, among others, a music hall with multiple classrooms, a music library, six art studios and an eight-rank pipe organ.
“The biggest thing the sisters intended was to have the capability to house a full orchestra on stage,” Knodl said.
Groundbreaking for the BAC took place in November 1962 with the project being completed in two years. In total, the project cost about $3 million.
The first year after the BAC was completed, there were nine CSB/SJU students majoring in the fine arts. Ten years later, that number jumped to 200.
During the course of its 53-year history on the CSB campus, the BAC has undergone several renovations. The most prominent was the 2003 comprehensive campaign that raised $10 million for the building to add on a new portion and build an endowment to subsidize fine-arts programming. That project started in May 2005 and was completed by September 2006.
Today, Knodl said about one-fourth of current students have frequented the BAC. It’s comprised of the Escher Auditorium; the Gorecki Family Theater; the blackbox Colman Theater; the outdoor Darnall Amphitheater; the Helgeson Dance Studio; the Recital Hall; the Music Rehearsal Hall; the Small Ensemble Rehearsal Hall; the Studio Theater; the Music Library; the Organ Studio; the Percussion Studios; various art galleries; and classrooms.
Acts such as the U.S. Navy Band, This American Life radio program host Ira Glass and dancer Jessica Lang have all performed in the BAC in recent years.
“That’s the way the sisters’ intended it,” Knodl said. “The sisters at the time – and now – both appreciate and honor the arts. They wanted the arts to be an important part of campus. It’s part of the Benedictine tradition.”
As for the rumored haunting, Knodl, a 10-year employee with CSB/SJU, doesn’t buy it.
“For the record, I don’t think it’s haunted,” Knodl said. “I’ve been in this building enough times. It’s just a rumor.”
But whether for its tradition of providing quality performances or the history in local folklore, the Benedicta Arts Center will continue to remain a staple for CSB and St. Joseph.
Author: Carolyn Bertsch
Bertsch has worked for the Newsleaders since 2015. She and her husband, Matt, and their three children live in Sartell where they also own and operate Four Seasons Window, Carpet and Air Duct Cleaning. Bertsch also stewards the “Reads and Seeds and Other Needs” Little Free Library in Sartell. The “Other Needs” portion of the library functions as a collection site for donations to the Salvation Army where Bertsch serves as a board member. Her other hobbies include volunteering at the food shelf, cooking, baking, and growing a vast array of fruit in her backyard orchard. Bertsch believes that every single person can choose to make the world a better place for someone else and at the end of the day the only question that matters is, “What kind of difference did you make?”