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About the A.D Bruce Religion Center

A Physical Symbol of the Religious Presence on the University of Houston - University Park Campus, 1965-1985, Russell A. Vardell


I wish to thank my colleagues in Campus Ministry at the University of Houston - University Park, not only for their assistance in the compilation of resources and oral tradition but for their support and acceptance during my time here as Lutheran Campus Pastor.

In addition, I thank Dr. Edwin A. Miles of the History Department for his direction to some archival resources.

Special mention needs to be made of those persons who granted interviews. Their perspectives allowed me, as the author, a clearer sense of the times in which they served.

Particular mention must be given to those who assisted greatly in the editing and production of this work: the Rev. Albert Ettling, who retires this year from the Episcopal Campus Chaplaincy; Mrs. Barbara King, whose diligent typing clarified my hand-written copy; and my wife, Sylvia Mergeler Vardell, whose editorial advice is only one of her gifts which allowed me to write this brief history.

Finally, as the sole author, I alone am responsible for any inaccuracies or emendations. I, however, offer my work as an aid in understanding the unique presence of religion on the campus of the University of Houston - University Park.

Russell Vardell
March 1985

The A.D. Bruce Religion Center: A Physical Symbol of the Religious Presence on the University of Houston-University Park Campus

On Sunday afternoon, May 23, 1965, representatives of the administration, student body, and faculty of the University of Houston gathered with members of the larger Houston community for the dedication of the University Religion Center. The construction of this chapel, office, and workspace complex climaxed a dream of Chancellor Emeritus A.D. Bruce for a University Chapel and Religious Center. In addition 3 the presence of such a structure symbolized a commitment between two partners: the University and the religious community. Pastor Philip G. Stephan, Chairman of the Campus Clergy and Religious Counselors, expressed the sentiments of many participants when he remarked during the dedication program.

On this day we are conscious of the trust the University of Houston gives to us, not only through concrete and glass, but also in recognizing religion's desire to participate in the academic task of higher education. [1]

A building was erected, yet it was a monument as well to the contributions of religion on the campus.

Religion's Desire to Participate

The Early Years

A long history of religious participation exists in connection with the University of Houston. When the predecessor institution, Houston Junior College, opened for the 1927-1928 academic year, two of the original twelve faculty members were clergymen: H.F. Ander and Wallace E. Miner. Miner received a Bachelor of Divinity from Drew Theological Seminary (a Methodist institution) prior to his graduate studies at Columbia University. This instructor of Government and History would die before the 1934 opening of the University of Houston. H.F. Ander joined the faculty as an instructor in Biology. His academic credentials included not only a B.A. and M.A. from Rice Institute but attendance at Texas A and M and St. Chrischona Seminary near Basel, Switzerland. Reverend Ander served Lutheran congregations in the Houston area, in addition to his college teaching responsibilities, before joining the faculty of Texas Lutheran College in 1929. [2]

As Houston Junior College grew into the University of Houston, classroom space became a problem. It became increasingly difficult to schedule all classes at night in the old San Jacinto High School. While negotiations proceeded for an independent location, the University of Houston used the facilities of Second Baptist Church for daytime classes for 1934-35. From 1935 until completion in 1939 of the air-conditioned, permanent location presently in use, South Main Baptist Church hosted daytime University of Houston students, while San Jacinto High School continued to serve night students.

It was during this period that religious groups began to serve the students. More specifically, the Baptist Student Union was chartered in 1936, as the first campus religious organization. Two factors that obviously assisted the Baptist organization were proximity in sharing the building space of South Main Baptist Church and their sheer numbers in the southern city of Houston. However, it should be noted that Baptist student visionaries were among the first in Texas to promote denominational clubs for students. Not long after the Baptists paved the way, Roman Catholic students were organized into the Catholic Club in 1939.

The advent of World War II brought challenges to these ministries and to Houston area congregations. While many male students left college for service in the armed forces, the United States Navy began a training program on campus. With these future sailors and flyers came the hastily constructed "Rec", the future University Recreation Hall. When the Navy departed, the "Rec" became the center for student activities, including the balcony offices of the growing number of Religious Advisors. Throughout the war, religious groups had ministered to the varied religious affiliations of the Naval personnel in training. After World War II, the number of campus religious organizations blossomed as they served the swelling University population: returning veterans on the G. I. Bill, their families, and the normal level of college entrants. In 1946 alone, religious organizations expanded their on-campus presence with the creation of the Canterbury Club (for Episcopalians), the Christian Science Organization, Hillel (for Jewish students), and the Wesley Foundation (for Methodists). The following year (1947) the Westminister Fellowship (for Presbyterians) joined the others, and together they organized the Religious Groups Council "to coordinate the religious activities of the campus and to stimulate campus-wide functions of religious nature."[3] As interest grew during these postwar years, a priest was assigned on a part-time basis as chaplain for Roman Catholics, who had renamed their Catholic Club "Newman Club" in 1943 when they affiliated with the nationally recognized Newman Club Federation.

The increase in the number of religious groups and student participation in their activities matched the growth of the student population. Such interest generated conversations among the university administrators concerning the projected construction of a "Religious Activities Building" to meet the demand. [4] This impulse at a September 15 meeting in 1948, would languish another ten years before a new University President, A.D. Bruce, would reiterate the need for such a structure. Seven additional years would pass before the actual dedication of such a building in 1965.

Interest was developing among students not only in the religious social clubs but also in the study of religion itself. The University appointed Dr. Carter Boren as Assistant Professor of Religion in 1946. The following year, Boren organized a Department of Religion by drawing together the various course offerings related to religion which were scattered throughout the other University Departments. A degree program leading to a B.A. in Religion was available for student pursuit. With the addition of Dr. Winfred E. Garrison and Dr. Henry Nelson Wieman (both formerly of the University of Chicago), the Department of Religion received additional emphasis in academic excellence. In 1952, Religion was combined With Philosophy to produce a Department of Philosophy and Religion in which Dr. Garrison was prominent. [5]

The Abundant Years

The growth experienced in the 1940s was a mere prelude to the great expansion of the 1950s within the campus religious community. The beginning of the decade (1950) brought the Lutheran Student Association (National Lutheran Council) to the University of Houston. A second expression of Lutheranism in the United States, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod began their own chartered program in 1958. Just as there were two groups from Lutheran roots, two campus clubs from the Campbellite tradition were founded in the 1950s. [6] The Christian Youth Club (Church of Christ) began their work in 1955 under the direction of an enthusiastic laywoman. Two years later the Disciples Student Fellowship applied for membership. That same year (1957) Campus Crusade for Christ began their non-denominational Protestant work on the University of Houston campus, especially in the dormitories. Furthermore, two other groups began functioning as religious organizations but could not maintain their programs: the Unitarians and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Although the number of groups did not increase greatly, student participation was at a peak. Out of a student population of some 12,300, religious programs often drew a thousand attendees, particularly during the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter and the campus-wide Thanksgiving Service. Moreover, student religious affiliation registered approximately 91% on Religious Preference Lists; denominational allegiance ranged from A to Z, from Anglican to Zoroastrian. [7]

Student interest reflected American religious interest during this period. A brief survey of church membership statistics illustrates the increase in religious affiliation. In 194o, approximately 49% of the United States population belonged to a particular household of faith. After an era of 'no atheists in foxholes', religious membership increased to 55% in 1950. By 1956 62% of the American public affiliated themselves with a specific church or synagogue. The peak of this movement came in 1960, a year in which 67% of the United States' residents indicated a religious home. What is even more illustrative of this religious interest is the 1957 Census Bureau report which stated that 96% of the American people cited a specific affiliation when asked the question: "What is your religion? " [8]

This national espousal of religion included the University of Houston campus -- students, faculty, and administrators. In 1955, a Director of Religious Activities joined the University staff full-time (although 40% of his time was to be spent in the Philosophy and Religion Department). His duty was "to provide a religious orientation for students amid their diversified secular ambitions and to relate the various courses and aims inherent in the academic programs to the work of the church in the modern world." [9] The Director, George N. Thompson, fostered cooperation among the diverse religious traditions and attempted to generate new interest in religion on campus. Religious organizations were encouraged to make use of the campus radio station for devotional programming. Scheduling was centralized so that the various denominations and faiths might have organized the use of university facilities. Masses and worship services, fellowship opportunities, and religious instruction continued in the Ezekiel Cullen Building basement. Counseling and personal contacts by the religious advisors were relegated to the Cougar Den balcony -- at this point, a very crowded location. In addition, Religious Emphasis Week (or Days) began as a campus-wide program at the suggestion of a student in the 1955-56 school year. The first theme emphasized the Place of religion in the academic world, "Intellectual Respectability of a Religious Faith."

Such fervor and interest were not lost on the administration. In 1956, President A.D. Bruce began to mention the possibility of a chapel complex for the religious groups, in order to centralize their activities and to emphasize their presence on campus. Thus, in addition to their spiritual, social, and moral interests, the campus religious groups began to consider plans for a physical plant.

Concrete and Glass

The Years of the Proposal

Andrew Davis Bruce arrived on the University of Houston campus in 1954 after a distinguished career in the armed services, especially in military administration. He had been selected upon his retirement from the army at age 60 to succeed C. F. McElhinney as University President. Shortly after his arrival, the General (as he was customarily called) noticed an element absent from the campus but present on almost all military installations -- a chapel. The General considered religion essential to the purpose of the University, as he understood it. He informed the new Director of Religious Activities, "Exclude religion entirely from education and you have no foundation upon which to build moral character." [10]

After establishing himself on the campus and serving as president for just over a year, General Bruce began investigating interest in a religious center and chapel complex. Members of the Regents expressed interest, and the Director of Religious Activities began negotiations with the different campus ministers and religious advisors.

In a memorandum of May 22, 1956, the Religious Advisors meeting reported their discussions to President Bruce. Many groups had planned on establishing their own off-campus student centers. Others were unsure about future plans. Questions were raised concerning whether a campus religion center would actually separate the religious groups from the students, segregate them into a holy ghetto out of the mainstream. They enjoyed the visibility of the Cougar Den balcony. Finally, as Director Thompson reported, not one advisor favored a "Chapel" because the various worship traditions precluded sharing of space. Instead, they stated that their "main need was for office space and counseling, working, and meeting space in addition to the office."[11]

Some rethinking was necessary. Serious structural faults were beginning to show in the Recreation Building, home of the Cougar Den. A new Student Center would be needed, as well as space for the religious organizations. General Bruce decided to continue negotiating with the religious groups.

He hoped to encourage support for the Religion Center idea by proposing a military solution. The General advanced the model of the Armed Forces Base Chapel. Various faiths shared the same worship space in military quarters because such a chapel was considered “neutral” when not in use by a specific group. It was hoped that this formulation would answer religious objections. With such objections countered, a united front might be presented to the public as a symbol of religious harmony. The administration recognized their location in the “Bible Belt”. Religion was important to the community; its importance to the University needed visible expression. Otherwise, it was feared that the University of Houston might be "hampered in public relations.” [12]

Another factor which General Bruce and others recognized in this decision-making process were the plans in progress at Rice Institute for a Chapel and Religious Center. This competitive element coupled with a recognition of the need to support a religious presence on campus, and further recognition of the deterioration of present space, facilitated the University of Houston decision-makers to move forward with a plan for their own University Religion Center.

After further negotiations, clarifications, and much discussion, the Religious Groups Council met on April 8. 1957 and decided to support the administration, "A Religious Center was discussed and the recommendation came forth to have an architect draw up plans." [13] Movement proceeded quickly; Sterling Hogan of the Board of Regents engaged an architect, Frank Dill, to begin preliminary sketches. Plans were to include a "Chapel" (Auditorium), Main Lobby, Lounge Area, sixteen rooms for the Religious Groups (each 20’ x 20’), a Director's Office, Conference Room, Storage, and Workroom, and Rest Rooms. [14]

The Years of the Campaign

General Bruce, newly elevated to University Chancellor, moved enthusiastically with the Religious Advisory Committee to plan a fund-raising campaign to be launched in the Fall of 1958. Chancellor Bruce and the Religious Groups had a reason for high expectations. The Rice Institute Religious Chapel was completed in 1958, and one of the driving forces in the Rice campaign, J. Newton Rayzor, was credited with the first individual contribution to the University of Houston Religious Center on September 19, 1958. [15] The following day the Jewish congregations in Houston were recognized as the first denominational group to take up the campaign to raise funds for the Religion Center. [16] That same Fall the Roman Catholic Bishop, W. J. Nold, through the offices of Monsignor John J. Roach, contributed an initial $50,000 as their quota for the Roman Catholic students. Despite the early optimism, there were difficulties ahead: for the fund-raising campaign, for the Religion Center concept, and for the University itself.

Chancellor Bruce had envisioned an appeal centered around one date (Sunday, September 21, 1958) throughout Houston's religious community. Individual congregations were encouraged to have special offerings; Sunday Schools were asked to receive a collection on that date for the University Religious Center. A well-orchestrated campaign was placed in operation to spread the message. The campus newspaper, The University of Houston Cougar, proclaimed the Religion Center campaign with a banner headline in hopes of encouraging the students to transmit enthusiasm for the project to their home churches and synagogues. Meetings were held between the administration and area clergy. Mailings reached into the religious community with a specially prepared prospectus of the University Religious Center, complete with endorsements from active students, recognized civic leaders, and prominent clergy. Bruce's cover letter emphasized that the "University of Houston believes very strongly that religion must have a central role on campus, as part of the student's daily life." [17]

Early progress was made. The previously mentioned gifts of the Roman Catholics, Jewish organizations, and individuals were soon joined by contributions from many other sources. However, one obstacle which the General had not for seen threatened the operation. Quite simply, Chancellor Bruce did not understand church polity. He first realized this potentially threatening concept when he met with the Roman Catholic Bishop. Bruce did not receive the Bishop's support for collections among the individual congregations, rather the Bishop, representing the Church, simply promised a figure based on an approximation of the percentage of Roman Catholic students. The Jewish synagogues obviously did not use the Sunday, September 21st, date because they gathered to worship on Friday evening and Saturday. Even the Protestants were not to be reckoned as one body. The strictly congregational Church of Christ refused any "united" appeal. Contributions were solicited primarily through the sponsoring church, although some interested persons in other churches also contributed. The Christian Science Organization appealed directly to "branch church members." Some Lutheran contributions were gifts from congregations; synodical offices directly responsible for campus ministry forwarded larger sums. The same was true of the Episcopalian Canterbury Club and its diocesan office. For the Westminister Fellowship, a direct appeal to the sponsoring Presbyteries was necessary, especially when the Presbyterian campus minister and local Presbyterian pastors displayed little interest. For the Wesleyans, the Methodist superintendent's support was enlisted for the final push after pressure from his bishop. [18] All Religious Groups had the opportunity to become "Charter Groups" in the Religion Center with guaranteed office space, in return for minimum contributions of $10,000. Goals were suggested above that base figure determined by religious representation among the student body, hence the differing "quotas." Many groups recognized the benefit; others had to be urged into participation.

Chancellor Bruce had hoped for final appeals in late 1958 or the Spring of 1959, in order to begin immediate construction. The Board of Governors of the University had stipulated that all donations had to be secured before any building could commence. [19] Unfortunately, the new decade began with a shortage still existent. On the positive side, those last years of the 1950's witnessed the further strengthening of support. Henry M. Rockwell and James W. Rockwell, trustees of the Rockwell Fund, Inc. established the James M. and Sarah Wade Rockwell Endowment Fund with an initial gift of $25,000; the "proceeds from which would be used annually for maintenance and operational expense of a year-round program of religious activities at the Religion Center of the University.” [20] Thus a vehicle for the long-term support of the Center was created. In addition, the Jewish Houstonians had oversubscribed their $20,000 goal; the Christian Science Organization claimed the honor of being the first group to meet its goal, followed in a short time by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; and the Lutheran Student Association was the first Christian group to oversubscribe its goal, shortly after the 1959 arrival of the new campus pastor.

However, there were difficulties as well. The initial contributions from individual Church of Christ members were returned because they did not meet minimum standards. Inclusion was insured by further gifts from the Central Church of Christ of Houston. As the Development Office representatives, particularly Ralph Frede and Patrick J. Nicholson, continued their diligent efforts to complete the campaign, a major shock was delivered in the Fall of 1960. Patrick Nicholson received what he termed "the only instance of reverse fundraising in which I was ever involved." [21] The Catholics asked for a return of their $50,000 immediately, with the understanding that the money would be returned when it would actually be needed. Nicholson did return the funds (as they had initially agreed on a 1960 deadline for construction). He was, however, relieved when a year later the $50,000 plus another $28,000 was contributed.

After a period of concern as to whether the Religion Center would actually be built' the next two years brought success. At a special meeting on July 25, 1961, the Board of Regents passed a resolution intended to allay fears of the Religious Groups Advisors. The second point of the resolution gave permanent possession of the subscribed office spaces to the “denominations…so long as they have a work on this campus." [22] Fears had arisen as to permanency due to two legal decisions of 1961. First, after much negotiation, the University of Houston was accepted by the action of the Fifty-Seventh Texas Legislature as a fully state-supported institution beginning September l, 1963. Though this action would relieve student tuition worries and the administration's debt concerns, the specter of a church-state conflict rose. Secondly, after some four years of legal wrangling, University Oaks' residents had succeeded in ousting four student centers sponsored by the denominations from their neighborhood. The State Supreme Court upheld deed restrictions for this area south of the dormitory quad and Wheeler Street. Thus the Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists were ordered to vacate their off-campus centers in University Oaks. This ouster by legal action caused hesitation; would they move into the Religion Center only to be forced to vacate due to another legal appeal? The University answered this concern by requesting a ruling from the Texas Attorney General. Will Wilson's office responded with a decision on March 5, 1962. A review of Texas Law appropriate to the situation was submitted as was a ruling. The Attorney General's office stated that "if in the discretion of the Board, the building is needed for the good of the University of Houston and the moral welfare and social conduct of its students…(then the) proposed non-denominational religious center building to be constructed and equipped with donated funds is a proper and valid facility of the University of Houston.” [23]

A collective sigh of relief escaped from administrators and religious groups as the proposed Religion Center seemed clear of all but the final obstacle, the last portion of the funds. A truly anonymous gift of $85,000 sealed the campaign. The building could be completed.

The Years of Construction

The Religion Center plans had been drafted for some time. The proposed floor plan and exterior perspectives were included in the 1958 Prospectus. The contracted architect, Frank Dill, had used innovative design features for this unique structure. Few chapels with offices for such a variety of religious groups existed anywhere. And on no other state university campus in Texas could one find a chapel and offices for religious groups, their clergy, and/or leaders. In order to cross the boundaries of religious particularities, Dill used very general spiritual and religious symbols, nothing specific. The arches which predominate were chosen as common symbols of the eternal and divine. Nonsectarian stained-glass windows were planned for the auditorium, as emblems of beauty rather than illustrations of tradition. The stained-glass motif was echoed in the bits of mosaic tile scattered as accents throughout the Center. Dill's greatest problem was designing a worship space compatible with Roman Catholics (before the radical changes of Vatican II), Protestants, and Jews. Plans allowed for moveable worship furniture (altar, lectern, pulpit, and exclusivist symbols) and a hidden space for the 'reservation of the host' (for Roman Catholics) or an Ark for the Torah of the Jews. Many hours were spent in negotiation with the twelve representatives of the eleven Charter groups (two Roman Catholic priests, nine Protestants, and the Jewish advisor). The image of the twelve (a symbolic number in Judeo-Christian tradition [24]) stuck in Dill's mind. When the time came for the Religion Center to be situated on the building site, Frank Dill viewed the possibilities and settled on a spot to serve as the center point for the design. Exactly at that spot, Dill discovered a single bush with exactly twelve branches; Dill considered it the perfect site. [25]

Frank Dill's plans served as the basis for bids on construction. In May 1963 bids were called for, and they came in far above initial estimates. The administration negotiated with the low bidder, Tellepsen Construction Company, whose owner, Howard T. Tellepsen, had served on the University Board of Governors. By omitting certain interior finishings, altering designs and specifications, and Tellepsen agreeing to work as the funds were received; construction began despite the initial, low estimate.

Frank Dill turned the on-site architectural supervision over to Card Elliott but continued to consult on changes. Tellepsen did excellent work in pacing construction to match the incoming flow of pledges. He also recommended many cost-effective substitutions such as plaster and steel supports rather than concrete. Only one decision received criticism and that from Ralph Frede of the Development Office.

The on-site contractor was tagging trees to be removed; Frede halted the tagging of one tree at the far end of the chapel auditorium. Though construction workers were inconvenienced, the tree remained (and does so to the present): beautiful evidence of nature in clear view of anyone sitting in the chapel. The clear view was afforded by the decision to use plain glass as a temporary substitute for stained glass until donations could purchase replacements. However, the clear glass was recognized quickly as an ideal symbol of the Religion Center. Any worshipping community would find itself surrounded by the University of Houston and all its activities. The University community could not miss the witness of the visible participants when religious activities occurred.

Other interior changes occurred because of Religious Group requirements and local codes. To meet local building requirements, two restrooms were removed to allow for an elevator which simplified access for the handicapped (and the custodial staff). However, criticism was leveled at this change because the women on staff were required to walk the stairs for access to the women's restroom. On a more serious note, further changes regarding the second floor were recommended by members of the Religious Groups Council in a letter to President Hoffman.

Alterations were suggested to assist the special requirements of the Roman Catholics. During the early stages of negotiation, the Roman Catholics indicated they needed access to the chapel facilities on a daily basis at noon, plus special privileges on their six holy days of obligation. In order to release the University Chapel-auditorium, the religious advisors suggested the construction of a smaller chapel upstairs in place of two offices. Charter groups numbered only eleven, but there was space for sixteen. By restructuring the excess offices, this second chapel and the eleven charter offices could be complemented with a classroom and large all-purpose room, in addition to the Resident Theologian's Office and one extra office for recognized, but non-charter religious groups. This suggestion was included in the final design.

The final suggestion came from the liturgical churches (Roman Catholic and Episcopalian, in particular), as a point of information for Frank Dill, a Baptist layman. Their tradition required kneelers, a religious accessory unfamiliar to Dill. With only minor rearrangement, kneelers were added. Satisfaction was achieved quietly.

After the completion, dignitaries and designer clergy and faculty, students, and community members attended the dedication ceremony; A.D. Bruce even traveled from North Carolina where he had moved after his 1961 retirement. He beheld the chapel he had promoted for so long; the General realized his dream of a University Religion center. In truly militaristic fashion, the Houston Post reported the Religion Center Dedication, complete with photographs, and the banner headline, "An Arsenal for Men and Women Who Think Deeply…” [26] The "Arsenal" was built and suitably equipped. Entrusted with this structure, the religious advisors turned from the construction of a building to a vision of their objective and purpose on the University of Houston campus.

Conscious of the Trust

The Years of Organization

For some months, maybe a few years, religious excitement was waning. The campus-wide religious observances received only sparse attendance. "Religious Emphasis Week" was ridiculed as "Be Kind to God Week.”[27] The Houston campus groups began to feel the nationwide flagging of interest in religion. "Death of God" theology solicited public examination. For most folks, if God was not dead, God seemed to be taking a rest after the 1950's boom. In a self-study, the Religious Groups Council read the analysis that much of their recent work consisted primarily of "a holding operation", holding on to their own through the years of a college education. [28]

Even the administration's support for the religious program dimmed. The University Religion Center had figured prominently in the reports of President Philip G. Hoffman during its construction-phase (the reports of 1961-1963 and 1963-1965) and was termed a "vital component of student life” [29] The Biennial Report of 1965-1967 ignored the work which occurred at the Religion Center. Hesitation to promote the religious component present on the University of Houston campus coincided with the early years of state support of the University when relationships were first being established. In addition, on the national scene, the Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that religious ceremonies in public schools were unconstitutional. All these factors militated against strong public support.

Thus, the religious advisors in their "Arsenal" were forced to organize, to rethink their purpose. Since the University had dropped the Religion degree program in the Summer Term of 1962, some advisors proposed that the Center could be a teaching medium. They had approached President Bruce in 1960 with the idea of Bible Chairs as was common in many state institutions; he had recommended they wait until after state acceptance. However, 1963 brought no progress either with state support or from the new President, Philip Hoffman. True, Dr. W. E. Garrison was installed as the first Resident Theologian in the University Religion Center; however, that had little impact on the University program. After further discussion the campus clergy and religious advisors went on record as supporting credit courses in religion; in fact, they began work toward "initiating courses in Religion (religious) studies for credit." [30]

Alternative structures were investigated as well. The Baptists began considering a larger off-campus center of their own; space in the Religion Center was considered at best a "second office." [31] The Roman Catholics also acquired land for a separate facility, despite all the concessions given to them to encourage their presence in the Center. Not to be tied into an unhealthy union, the Church of Christ joined these others in purchasing individual parcels of land on Calhoun Street as potential sites for their own facilities.

Those not as fearful of cooperative endeavors actually explored ways to work more closely with one another. The two Lutheran groups had the wall removed which separated their offices. An even stronger bond was the creation of the E. U. M. (Ecumenical University Ministry), the uniting of three Charter Groups (Presbyterians, Disciples, and Episcopalians), and the United Church of Christ. At various times the Methodists joined in differing combinations to share secretaries or programs.

After a time of hesitation, a time to determine direction and formation, the Religious Groups seemed ready to face the needs of the students and University. And just in time, social changes were occurring which would draw in many of the religious advisors and campus ministers.

The Years of Challenge

Individual denominational programs continued. However, the broader world began to impinge on the University's religious community.

One of the campus ministers attended Summer School at the University of California (Berkeley) and brought back word of social fomentation. Closer to home Civil Rights demonstrations reached into Texas. And far away in Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War increased in ferocity which led to an increase in student fears and anti-war agitation. The University was thankful that these incidents were not yet common to Houston. The campus ministers, informed by their contacts with colleagues on other campuses, braced themselves and offered their assistance to the administration.

The extent of personal freedom was the first challenge. Experimentation was in vogue and limits were yet to be defined. A "Black Mass Theatrical" took place in the Religion Center Chapel-Auditorium. [32] The implications of Satanism and the bizarre were too much for the University. The Religion Center Policy Board called for a Special Committee to consider the use of their space. They recognized the difficulty in defining “religion” in this era and encouraged free expression, but called for a tempering of these actions to suit the local society. [33] This decision illustrated the position that many of the campus ministers and religious advisors were to take in events to come. They strived to be objective and neutral in conflicts. The Religion Center was promoted as a point of contact between an increasingly alienated student body, administration, and community.

The free expression became a problem once more in the person of the Coordinator of Religious and Leadership Activities, a University employee. Although no indictments were ever handed down, the Coordinator left after a period of extreme uneasiness, including the use of private detectives to inquire into the Coordinator's actions. In an effort to remove the cloud of suspicion, a Three Man Committee was formed from the campus ministers and religious advisors group. These three men ("Troika") took over most of the Coordinator's duties, and for approximately a decade various religious leaders served their churches and were salaried in a small way by the University of Houston.

As the Three Man Committee provided certain independence in the operation of the Religion Center, other campus ministers and religious advisors provided independent monitoring of administration and student interaction. Although violence never reached the shooting stage (as some ministers encountered at Texas Southern University), confrontative activities required the moderating action of the Religious groups. In the mid-1960s, BSU was not only the initialization of the Baptist Student Union but the Black Student Union as well. When certain radical elements 'trashed' the new University Center because of supposed racist policies, the religious representatives were called in to assist in negotiations. When ecological protests centered around a grove of trees scheduled to be removed to make way for new University buildings, the campus ministers monitored the removal of the protesters, in hopes of preventing excesses. For these and other moderating influences, the campus ministers and religious advisors were thanked by the Houston Police Force and gained the respect of students and administrators. It should be noted that initial involvement in draft counseling, as well as support for programs encouraging greater inclusion of women in University life, also took place under the auspices of some of the groups within the A. D. Bruce Center.

Yes, the name had changed. The Board of Regents voted On August 5, 1969, to change the name of the University Religion Center to the A. D. Bruce Center, as a memorial to General Bruce after his death. In October of 1969, the Religion Center Policy Board requested the inclusion of "Religion" in the building's name, while supporting the honoring of A. D. Bruce, On December 3, 1969, the name of the University Religion Center officially became the A. D. Bruce Religion Center. [34]

The Slow Years

For those caught up in the impassioned years of student activism, the post-Vietnam era was disillusioning. The normal rhythms of religious life continued: the services, the studies, and the fellowship. But the fervor was missing. The quiet work of the churches and synagogues continued, caring for their own people. The visible work in the broader University setting was no longer expected, possibly even desired. Several of the groups' sponsoring agencies had their own internal problems or issues. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod experienced a factionalization. The Church of Christ struggled over control and access to their Charter privileges. The other Lutheran churches and the Episcopalians introduced new Worship resources, raising ire among their members. In addition, most of the mainline Protestant churches faced membership declines throughout the 1970s, which meant cutbacks in some areas of church involvement. (Generally, when people leave the churches so does some funding.) This cutback affected the A. D. Bruce Religion Center. The Lutherans lost one worker, so also did the E. U. M. group. Other curtailments affected funds available for some programming.

Somehow the Religion Center itself seemed to suffer some loss in visibility and vitality. Early in 1971, University expansion required that the street running directly in front of the Center be replaced with a sidewalk. Thus, instead of fronting a major access street for university traffic., the Religion Center became a peaceful site nestled in a wooded grove.

The most visible function of this serene Center was serving as a Wedding Chapel, one of the most beautiful and expensive in the city. Weddings had been one of the most conspicuous activities in the Chapel for some time. However, many of the campus clergies struggled against the image of "Wedding Chapel"; they wished to be taken seriously for their efforts on campus. In 1974 provisions were made to allow all legally recognized officials to perform wedding ceremonies in the Chapel, in order to dispel any idea that the campus clergy were mere wedding functionaries.

In an effort to take seriously the academic aspect of religious study, some groups sponsored for-credit classes within their rooms. Credit was often granted by church college campuses; the credits were then transferred to the University of Houston transcripts. The University did not challenge the legitimacy of the course of study but strongly doubted the legality of the use of University space, the Religion Center. The University attorney suggested that all "sectarian" courses be discontinued, all courses taught by “a sectarian or denominational entity." [35] Thus one avenue of instruction was closed. Once again the idea of establishment of a Religious Studies program was proposed; once again it did not get far.

Finally, the religious groups were notified that the Rockwell Fund which had been established to fund "maintenance and operations" had been transferred to the President's Discretionary Fund. [36] Administrators argued that continued full state support for utility costs and upkeep should be expected. The legality of the A. D. Bruce Religion Center receiving power from a state-subsidized power plant had never been challenged. Thus, the Rockwell Fund could be transferred to the President's power. Until this time, the Three Man Committee and Religious Coordinators before they had monitored the expenditures related to a portion of the Rockwell Fund income. Books were recommended for purchase (and paid for) to augment the M. D. Anderson Library collection. Repairs were suggested; minor expenses covered. With the transfer Of the Fund, all control or access was denied the religious

In a further effort to tighten the University supervision of the A. D. Bruce Religion Center, the Three Man Committee was replaced with a representative from the Vice-Chancellor, Dean of Students' Office. Some representatives worked more in harmony with religious advisors and campus clergy than others. During the 1979-1980 school year, one particularly positive coordinator promoted a "Religious Awareness Week" in the Spring of 1980. She seemed unaware of the Religious Emphasis Week tradition, claiming her program "our first annual". [37] Perhaps "Awareness" was a well-chosen substitute for "Emphasis". Each group set up a display to inform and promote. Gone were the years when religious groups simply emphasized their on-going work. Informing students was stressed with this program. Assumptions of affinities for one group or another had to be abandoned.

The religious groups themselves organized a program the Previous Fall, "Religion in Dialogue". This series attempted to illustrate points of contact between faith and life. The residents of the A. D. Bruce Religion Center realized that a natural following of students would be slight at best. Thus, active programs were pursued in attempts to make contact with the students.

Contact was attempted on the faculty level by the reinstitution of the Resident Theologian under the new guise of "Rockwell Visiting Theologian/Scholar in Residence" and later "Scanlon Visiting Theologian." Funding for these resident theologians was provided through the generosity of local foundations rather than university resources. Scholars of various traditions were hired for a semester, perhaps two, within the academic year; the theologians' courses were approved and offered under the Interdisciplinary listing. Religion received somewhat official recognition as an academically viable subject.

One further promising development, a point of contact between the Religion Center and students, the academic community, and the larger Houston community, was in the creation of a Peace Studies Center to collect materials and to share them with interested parties. This Peace Studies Center capped the efforts during the slower years to regain recognition within the University and to provide religious resources for the study of the whole person in the broader community of the world.

The Years to Come

This desire to serve the broader society and the University community remains the thrust of the religious groups resident in the A. D. Bruce Religion Center, as they seek to apply their diverse religious traditions to the issues they encounter in the present. Conscious of the trust given them by sponsoring agencies and the students and faculty they serve, the campus ministers and religious advisors endeavor to make use of their ‘concrete and glass’ (the A. D. Bruce Religion Center building) to address the spiritual and social needs of their day. They strive to participate as well, in the life of the University community. However, most staff members do question whether they are solely chaplains for the students, or if there is a broader ministry for the University and the larger community.

In service to students and faculty, lunches are sponsored by many groups as times of fellowship. Worship services of the various traditions occur with regularity. Social activities are scheduled, as are informational and educational events. At the present time, approaches to the broader activity of religion on and from the campus are focused on the continued sponsorship of a Visiting Theologian, in the promotion of the "Religion and Dialogue" series, and in the creation of a Peace Studies Center. In addition, because of a strong resurgence of interest with considerable support, a Religious Studies program seems likely. The campus ministers and religious advisors seek to balance the personal, corporate, experiential, and academic needs of the University community. They strive to fulfill the hopes of General Bruce the challenge of Pastor Stephan, and the definition of former University President Hoffman. He remarked at the groundbreaking for the Religion Center,

In this central location -- in the mainstream of campus student and faculty life -- we shall find a meeting place for the exchange of ideas between the academic and Judeo-Christian disciplines. Here we shall together build a facility where man may continue his search for eternal truth. [38]

Each religious group maintains its unique identity in action. In commonality, all strive to promote the vision of the Religion Center and to create new occasions for service. All of their activities are promoted to enhance the continuation of the tradition for religious witness on campus and in the community.


[1] Remarks by The Reverend Philip G. Stephan, Chairman Campus Clergy and Religious Counselors, Houston, Texas, 23 May 1965.

[2] Patrick J. Nicholson, In Time (Houston: Pacesetter Press, 1977), pp. 35 and 37. H.C. Ziehe, A Centennial Story of the Lutheran Church in Texas: Section Two (Seguin: South Texas Printing Company, 1954), pp. 29-30.

[3] The Cougar Paw: 1954 (n.p., 1954), p. 66.

[4] E. E. Oberholtzer, The Growth and Development of the University of Houston – a Summation: March, 1927 – May, 1950 (n.p., 1950), p. 85.

[5] Penrose W. Hirst, "Church/University Relations: A 8ackground Survey", Religious Personnel and Structure (Houston: University of Houston, 1966) pp. 1-2.

[6] "Campbellite tradition" refers to the religious heirs of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, a father and son team of reformers and evangelists in the United States, circa 18091832. A 1906 division separated 'Campbellites' into the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Superficial distinctions between the two include opposition to missionary societies and instrumental music on the part of the Churches of Christ.

[7] George N. Thompson, Annual Report: September 1 1955-August 31 2 1956 (Director of Religious Activities) (mss.), p. 11.

[8] Statistics cited in Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972) p. 952

[9] Thompson, Report '55-'56, p. 8.

[10] Ibid., p. 81.

[11] Ibid., p. 104.

[12] Ibid., p. 110.

[13] George N. Thompson, Annual Report: September 1 1956 - August 31, 1957 (Director of Religious Activities) (mss.) p. 67.

[14] Ibid., p. 123 and Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting of the Board of Governors, 9 December 1957, p. 1.

[15] The Cougar clipping bound in George N. Thompson, Annual Report: September-1, 1957 - August 31, 1958 (Director of Religious Activities) (mss.), p. 117.

[16] Houston Post, 20 September 1958, Vol. 74, No. 169, Section 1 Page 8.

[17] Exhibit C, -p.

[18] For this section and what follows, I am particularly indebted to a Personal Interview with Ralph Frede (29 October 1984), the work of Das Kelley Barnett, "Religion at the University of Houston" (mss.), and Nicholson, In Time.

[19] Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting of the Board Of Governors, 12 May 1958, p. 1 and Minutes of the Meting of the Board of Governors, 16 June 1958, p.2.

[20] Minutes of the Executive Committee, 10 November 1958, p. 2.

[21] Nicholson, P. 367.

[22] Minutes of the Special Meeting of the Board of Regents and Executive Committee, 25 July 1961, p. 4.

[23] Attorney General Will Wilson, Opinion No. WW-1269, pp. 5 - 6.

[24] Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve months in the year, twelve signs of the Zodiac, for example.

[25] Interview with Frank Dill, Architect, 25 October 1984.

[26] Houston Post, 12 June 1965, Section 1A, p. 2

[27] Das Kelley Barnett, "Religion at the University of Houston" (unpublished mss. 1962), p. 17.

[28] Ibid., p. 4.

[29] Philip G. Hoffman, Biennial Report of the President: University of Houston, 1961-1962 and 1962-1963, and Biennial the President: University 1963-1964 and 1964-1965.

[30] Minutes to Campus Clergy and Religious Advisors Meeting at Camp Allen, 6-8 September, p. 2.

[31] Barnett, p. 21.

[32] The Cougar Paw: 1967-68 (n. p., 1967), p. 42.

[33] Report of Religion Center Policy Board: Special Committee for General Purpose Space in the Religion Center, 5 January 1967.

[34] Minutes of the Regular Meeting, Board of Regents, 5 August 1969, p. 5; Religion Center Policy Board Minutes, 22 October 1969, p. 4 and 3 December 1969.

[35] Pat Bailey, "Inter-office Memorandum", 18 December 1973, p. 5 and Report of Meeting Regarding Bible Extension Courses, 22 January 1974.

[36] Douglas MacLean, "Inter-office Memorandum", 19 September 1977.

[37] Jackie Crowley, "Letter to Rev. William A. Lawson" 31 January 1980.

[38] Philip Hoffman "An Opening Statement", Brochure of Festivities: Religion Center Dedication.