Kardelen Calikiran was playing volleyball outside JPII Hall with other children and teens from the Songs of Hope music camp when they stopped to watch a bride, dazzling in white, walk out of the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“I love watching the weddings,” Calikiran said. “But I hope the brides don’t get annoyed with us for playing volleyball in the grass right by the church.”
This is Calikiran’s second year attending Songs of Hope, a summer music camp that brings together about 40 singers from across America and the world who travel around the Twin Cities to sing at concerts. Songs of Hope is one of many groups that stay in St. Thomas’ residence halls during the summer.
Calikiran, 16, is from Turkey and said she enjoys staying at St. Thomas.
“I was shocked when I first saw JPII,” she said. “It is bigger than my room at home!”
St. Thomas stays busy during the summer hosting camps, meetings, special events and conferences, said Dan Taylor, director of facilities scheduling.
Who’s staying at St. Thomas?
“We typically do [host] about 60 different groups during the 10 weeks of summer,” Taylor said.
Young women who are part of the Steps Program, a women’s engineering program, were assigned to live in Cretin and Grace, and the singers involved in Songs of Hope were assigned to JPII, Taylor said. Steubenville North, a Catholic youth conference attended by 2,000 high school students, was held this past weekend at St. Thomas and is the biggest annual program held by the university.
Steubenville North participant Mary Blesz, 16, said it was her first time staying at a university for a conference and she’s looking forward to the experience.
“I think it’s great a lot of people came out to the conference,” she said. “We’re staying in Brady Hall and it’s been pretty good. The rooms are bigger than I thought they’d be.”
Some of the groups and conferences St. Thomas has hosted this summer include:
* High school graduations
* Vikings football camp
* Swedenborgian Church of North America
* Women’s Minnesota Swarm lacrosse camp
* Minnesota Board of Public Defense
* Light House Academy of Nations
* Workshop for Attorney General Lori Swanson
* Hennepin County for Children at Risk
“The summer of 2001 they [members of the Swedenborgian Church of North America] were here, and they loved it so much they are still talking about how St. Thomas was a great campus and how hospitable we were, ” Taylor said.
The youngest guests who stay overnight on campus without their parents are some of the boys in the Vikings football camp, said Cari Fealy, associate director of residence life.
“The football kids go down to seven or eight years old,” Fealy said. “They have to have a certain number of counselors for the younger kids so they’re taken care of.”
The children enjoy living in the dorms, she said.
“They do get to stay up a little later than at home, so that’s exciting for them.”
“Just like our first-year students,” she added.
Construction’s impact on housing
St. Thomas has sent about $400,000 worth of business to Macalester over the past two summers because of construction on the St. Thomas campus, Taylor said.
“We typically have hosted it [Steubenville North] in the arena and field house,” Taylor said. “So for the last two summers, including this one, we have partnered with Macalester College to host them. But they still continue to live on campus [at St. Thomas].”
Revenue raised by previous summer conferences has reached $1.1 million, but this summer’s revenue will be substantially less. As of June, St. Thomas had made only $258,000 from summer conferencing, Taylor said.
St. Thomas is second after the University of Minnesota in most revenue from summer conferencing, according to Taylor. Summer conferencing allows the university to employ its custodians and kitchen personnel all summer and prevents the need to lay people off during the summer, he said.
Adult groups who stay in the “nicer” dorms with air conditioning typically pay $90 to $100 per day to eat and sleep at St. Thomas, whereas sports camps that stay in Ireland Hall or Brady Hall pay about $55 per person per day, according to Taylor.
Construction isn’t the only reason why revenue is lower this year, according to Taylor. The number of people attending conferences has decreased because of the economy.
“The Anderson [Athletic and Recreation] Center will be a huge boom for conferencing, I hope, in the future,” he said.
Steubenville North will return again next year, as will the Minnesota Catholic Home Educators Conference. Taylor said he hopes cheerleading camps come back to St. Thomas next summer because they bring about $100,000 worth of business to St. Thomas every summer.
“Competition is pretty stiff here,” he said. “Macalester has a great program for summer conferencing, as does Concordia St. Paul.”
Calikiran said she likes St. Thomas’ rooms more than Concordia’s.
“At Concordia, we would have to share a bathroom with all of the girls,” she said. “When there are three showers for 12 to 15 girls, it’s not funny. At St. Thomas our bathrooms are in our rooms!”
Rebekah Frank can be reached at email@example.com.
Katie Broadwell contributed to this story.