After eight years in the works — including a one-year hiatus after the devastating flood of March 2016 - the new Rouquette Library at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College will be blessed and dedicated by New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Sept. 15.
The public will get a look at the building during an open house from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Sunday Oct. 7.
“It’s a state-of-the-art library that meets the needs for the present (and can adapt for the future,)" said the Rev. Gregory Boquet, rector-president of the seminary college north of Covington.
The 19,000-square-foot, $6 million library was built courtesy of donations to “I Will Give You Shepherds: A Campaign for Priestly Formation,” a fundraising drive kicked off by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2014.
Groundbreaking for the library, located next to the Abbey Gift Shop, took place in February 2016, just weeks before a historic flood swamped the grounds of the abbey and seminary college, flooding every building on the campus.
“The plans for the construction of the new library were indefinitely put on hold at the time of the flood,” said James Shields, manager of communications for the abbey. “We had to focus all our energy on flood recovery.”
Without flood insurance, the abbey raised money for repairs and also used the I Will Give You Shepherds funds for what eventually totaled $30 million of flood relief.
“As soon as we were in a better position, we were able to pay our library construction account back, which allowed us to re-initiate the plans for the construction of the new library approximately a year after it was put on hold,” Shields said.
“Thanks be to God and our many supporters who took care of us and patiently waited with us through that trying time.”
The trying time has given way to what Boquet calls a bright future, thanks in no small part to the new building.
Rouquette Library was designed “to accommodate the increasing number of seminarians attending SJSC,” Boquet said, adding that the fall semester began with a strong enrollment of 144 students.
“The new building will enable us to preserve our current theological and philosophical collections while providing space for new acquisitions. The new library is essential to St. Joseph's master plan to enhance its academic and formation programs.”
The old library, Savio Hall, is now home to a new academic resource center, which includes services such as ESL instruction, a writing center and tutoring.
Rouquette's walls are made almost entirely of glass. There are wide-open spaces for study, as well, which Boquet said were designed with the modern student in mind.
“Students now learn relationally rather than working in silos," he said. "The architecture of the building is deliberately built with few walls that isolate one from another.”
The building was designed around the idea of collaborative learning, added Bonnie Bess Wood, head librarian at the college since 2001. Wood worked with architect Steve Rome of VergesRome Archtitects and many others on everything from the site plan to the color of the carpets to create what she called a 21st-century library, where bringing students together is key.
Having worked many years in the previous library, which was a refurbished dormitory, Wood dreamed of a modern library to meet student needs. Rome and general contractor Voelkel McWilliams brought that dream to reality.
“The functions of today's academic library hardly resemble those of yesteryear. A building built around the warehousing of one particular format no longer serves the academic community well,” Wood said.
Wood said the need for libraries has not waned, but libraries have to offer what is demanded.
“The rise of digital content has increased the demand for library services, just new and different ones. Learning has become collaborative and social in nature.”
With that in mind, the idea was to shift design of the library from an extremely quiet place for individual study to a space where users can find some quiet but can also look for places to gather to study and learn together.
As for the design, Rome noted that in the old library, students seemed to always gather near the windows. And so the new Rouquette Library offers plenty of views.
“There is not a bad seat in the house,” Rome said, adding that the stairs are angled in such a way that when you reach the third floor, you have an unobstructed view of the abbey church, the tallest building on campus.
“Library users are drawn to spaces providing views of the college's beautiful campus,” Wood added. “The natural light provided by windows is essential to our human sense of well-being.”
The atmosphere was important in designing the library, Wood said. “Today's students want to study in the library, but will go elsewhere when their needs for space or atmosphere are lacking.”
Those needs include fast and easy internet access, and she said the new Rouquette Library provides both.
The library's second floor houses the college's collection of 35,000 books (more than 10,000 were lost in the flood.) The third floor includes a periodical collection, two conference rooms and comfortable gathering spaces for group learning. The first floor includes a covered outdoor space and easy access to the rest of campus.
A spot with a bench near the first-floor staircase is named “The Nook,” after a poem written by the library’s namesake, Father Adrien Rouquette, the first native-born priest in Louisiana and a friend to the Choctaws in St. Tammany Parish. The poem will be printed on a wall near “The Nook” which will overlook a meditation garden.
Rouquette’s archives, his altar and some of his original vestments also are in the library, Rome added.
“This was a great team effort," Rome said. "The collaboration was fantastic.”