O’Shaughnessy’s legacy is evident at St. Thomas, but his story involves St. John’s as well. As the St. Thomas football team prepares to take on St. John’s for the 82nd time Saturday, O’Shaughnessy’s history is re-explored.
The Tommies faced the Johnnies for their first football game in the fall of 1901, during which a freshman named Ignatius O’Shaughnessy played a major role in the game. However, O’Shaughnessy wasn’t playing for the Tommies.
Ignatius Aloysius, or I.A., O’Shaughnessy was a student at St. John’s. That first Tommie-Johnnie football game resulted in a 16-0 St. John’s victory in which O’Shaughnessy, an offensive tackle, rushed for 76 yards.
After the football season came to a close, O’Shaughnessy and a group of friends skipped Sunday vespers in favor of a beer keg they had hidden in the woods off campus, they were caught. After he was expelled for the incident in January 1902, O’Shaughnessy traveled to St. Paul where he had a chance encounter with the Rev. John Dolphin, the president of St. Thomas at the time.
Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas, is currently working on a book about O’Shaughnessy, and said this encounter with Dolphin illustrates O’Shaughnessy’s personality.
“He made the mistake, he was willing to admit it,” Hennes said. “For everybody’s benefit, as it turned out, (Dolphin) was generous enough to say ‘You know what? I like you and we’re going to have you as a student at St. Thomas.’”
Shortly after, O’Shaughnessy became a Tommie and a captain of the football team in 1905. O’Shaughnessy left St. Thomas in 1907, and established the Globe Oil & Refining Company of Oklahoma in 1917. By the 1930s, he was the head of the largest individually-owned oil company in the world.
After earning a fortune in the oil industry, O’Shaughnessy turned his attention back to St. Thomas, where he was appointed to the board of trustees in 1938. He made his first donation to the school in 1938 when he paid for the construction of O’Shaughnessy Hall, which was demolished in March 2010.
“He was incredibly loyal … to St. Thomas because of what St. Thomas had done for him as a young man, and he looked for ways to repay that,” Hennes said. “He saw that we had needs; in particular we had needs for physical facilities. We didn’t have a good athletic building, so he paid for the construction of O’Shaughnessy Hall.”
But that wasn’t his only contribution. Soon after, O’Shaughnessy also financed a new project.
“Being a football player, he knew we needed a better stadium, so he paid for the construction of O’Shaughnessy Stadium,” Hennes said.
Nearly 20 years later, O’Shaughnessy felt St. Thomas needed a library, a building he called the “the heart of a campus,” according to Hennes. O’Shaughnessy Library, as it was originally named, was completed in 1959.
He didn’t stop there. O’Shaughnessy also contributed more than $1 million to the construction of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, which was formally dedicated in September 1971. By the time of his death in 1973, Ignatius O’Shaughnessy’s financial donations to St. Thomas totaled over $8 million.
O’Shaughnessy also made substantial contributions to St. Catherine University and the University of Notre Dame, among others. But it has been well-documented that he decided not to contribute to one school in particular- St. John’s.
Despite giving no money to the Johnnies, Hennes insists that O’Shaughnessy held no ill will toward St. John’s.
“He had more of an interest in St. Thomas simply because of his involvement,” Hennes said. “He had gone here; his sons went to St. Thomas Academy. He just decided to focus on his alma mater, which you would expect.”
O’Shaughnessy will be remembered for all of his contributions to the St. Thomas campus, Hennes said.
“His legacy is that he became involved with his alma mater,” Hennes said. “He was willing to be generous. He was willing to invest in its future because of what it had done for him.”
Information from “Journey Toward Fulfillment: A History of the College of St. Thomas” and “Ramsey County History.”
Jacob Sevening can be reached at email@example.com.