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February 2011
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Circle of Influence

The enduring rose window symbolizes the essence of
St. Catherine University.

Books from the Minnesota Women's Press collection


A single object can become a profound symbol that conveys deep meaning, expresses an inherent identity, evokes a place and time or tells a story.

At St. Catherine University, the spectacular rose window on the façade of Our Lady of Victory Chapel is such a symbol. For 87 years — since the Chapel was completed in 1924 — St. Kate's rose window has been an enduring emblem of the University.

Twelve feet in diameter, the window has a simple design that consists of 16 translucent petals. Each set of two petals is separated by an ornamental stone tracery that radiates from the central roundel like a spoke on a wheel. That, in turn, symbolizes the wheel of the University's patron, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was sentenced for execution on a spiked breaking wheel. When she touched the instrument of torture, it shattered, and thereafter the device was known as the Catherine Wheel.

"The Wheel was the traditional symbol of St. Kate's and fits the design of the rose window as well," explains Marybeth Lorbiecki '81, an author, teacher and former writer for the Office of Alumnae Relations. "They work together."

The terms "rose window" and "Catherine window" often are used to describe a circular window, particularly those in churches designed in the Gothic architectural style. Although most rose windows are made with bright, multi-colored stained glass, St. Catherine's rose window is composed of creamy diaphanous glass that draws luminous light into the chapel.

Mother Antonia McHugh, the first president of St. Catherine, envisioned this window when she was meticulously planning every detail of Our Lady of Victory Chapel. She modeled the chapel on St. Trophime, a Romanesque church (once a cathedral) in Arles, France. "The most elegant distinction between our Chapel and St. Trophime is our rose window," says Associate Professor of Social Work Mary Ann Brenden, who visited St. Trophime in 2007 as part of a study-adventure trip to Arles.

A universal University symbol

The rose window was a familiar emblem on campus even before it became an integral part of the University logo, unveiled in June 2009. The full name of the student newspaper — The Wheel — is The Saint Catherine Wheel, and originally the image of the wheel appeared in its masthead. The faculty newsletter is known, with a wink, as The Squeaky Wheel. The rose window became the symbol for the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity when it was launched in 2005. "We searched for an image to illustrate the Catholic identity of this institution," explains Sister Amata Miller, IHM, director of the Myser Initiative. "The Chapel with its rose window seemed most appropriate."

St. Kate's art director Carol Evans-Smith created a certificate for the first Myser Award that used three overlapping rose windows, of different colors and sizes. When the College of St. Catherine was preparing to become a university, President Andrea Lee, IHM, asked Evans-Smith to make the rose window the focal point of the new logo.

"The rose window is, for me, a wonderfully evocative shape suggesting community and collaboration — two hallmarks of the educational experience we offer at St. Catherine University," says Sister Andrea. "The window represents our rich Catholic heritage and identity. It symbolizes hope and possibility."

Thanks to the logo, the rose window has become central to the University's visual identity — appearing on signs, light-pole banners, the website, and informal event posters. The Campus Ministry office in St. Paul uses a large depiction of the rose window as a framework for introducing the staff. Each team member is represented by a petal that contains her or his photo and favorite quotation.

The Office of Alumnae Relations sells a silk scarf designed by Mary Kay Crowley O'Loughlin '66 that contains the image of the rose window. The window also appears on merchandise such as mugs, T-shirts, car decals and mobile phone cases sold in the two campus bookstores.

Brenden is among many in the St. Kate's community who find the rose window logo a bridge between past and present. "The rose window serves as a metaphor for the bold, expansive vision of St. Catherine University," she says. "That vision began with our founding by the Sisters of St. Joseph and continues today as we position ourselves for the future."

Illustration by David Englson, son of Catherine McCollor Engleson '50.