Baltimore architect redefines seminary entrance

Three solid wood doors sit behind graceful columns, part of the huge facade that marks the entrance to St. Mary's Seminary and University, a city landmark that has stood on Roland Avenue for more than 80 years.

The portal is imposing, but the cracked asphalt at its approach has until recently lacked the same grandeur.

A Baltimore architect whose family has for decades worked with the oldest seminary in the nation, established in 1791, has enhanced the entry to the white limestone building with the addition of a graceful stone balustrade and landscaped fountain.

Surrounded by men studying for the priesthood, the Rev. Thomas R. Hurst, seminary president, blessed the new entrance at sundown Monday. He blessed the circular stone fencing with its bronze dedication plaque, the ever-flowing fountain and all those in attendance — most especially William Gaudreau, the man who donated more than $100,000 to create what the priest called "a beautiful, welcoming entry to a distinguished building that has prepared men for the priesthood since 1929."

Bill Gaudreau had long wanted to improve the main entrance to make it more inviting "so that those who pass through, do so in peace with minds turned to God in their living and their learning."

"This is my gift to the seminary," he said. "I feel privileged to have had the chance to work here."

The Gaudreau family has lent its architectural expertise to St. Mary's for decades. The designers are familiar with every aspect of the four-story building. Lucien Gaudreau came from Boston to work as the site architect when the Sulpician fathers broke ground in 1928 on a building that would replace the seminary on Paca Street in the city. The new facility would house as many as 400 men. It is now home to about 85 seminarians.

Old photos show horse-drawn wagons carrying limestone to the site and state and church leaders attending the blessing of the building's cornerstone on Nov. 18, 1928. "I am certain my father is in that crowd," Gaudreau said.

Lucien, the family patriarch, ultimately stayed in Baltimore and founded Gaudreau Inc. in the city. Among numerous projects, his son William has helped to renovate and expand much of the seminary and "is familiar with every inch of the building," said the Rev. Robert Leavitt, who in his 27 years as president often worked with Gaudreau. Lucien's grandson David Gaudreau now serves on the seminary's board of trustees.

Hurst led evening prayers before the blessing, which took place during the feast of St. Luke — a Gospel writer, physician and church builder. In his homily, Hurst drew parallels between the first- and 21st-century builders, "who gave us places of beauty and harmony, places to pray, learn, serve and love." He thanked Gaudreau for his "wise gift of design and planning."

Gaudreau dedicated the project to his father and to Leavitt, and had their names inscribed on the plaque.

"Bill Gaudreau always dreamed of fulfilling his father's work on this campus," Leavitt said. "He took an eyesore parking lot at the front of this building and transformed the entrance. We are honored to be associated with the name of Lucien Gaudreau and grateful to the art the son has brought to this seminary."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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