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Archbishop blesses new anatomy lab at St. Catherine University

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt blesses the new anatomy lab in Mendel Hall at St. Catherine University on Monday, Sept. 19.
Archbishop John C. Nienstedt blesses the new anatomy lab in Mendel Hall at St. Catherine University on Monday, Sept. 19.
Photo by Rebecca Zenefski '10

St. Catherine University celebrated the completion of the second largest anatomy lab in Minnesota in September, second only to the University of Minnesota facility.

In line with Catholic tradition, the University invited The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, to preside over a blessing of the anatomy lab in Mendel Hall on Monday, Sept. 19. 

“All learning — all teaching about the world and human life in science and medicine — comes from this understanding: They have, as their final purpose, praise and thanksgiving for the Creator of Life,” said Archbishop Nienstedt. “Today, we ask God’s blessing on this anatomy lab, a space for learning and teaching. We come with deep gratitude and thanksgiving to God for those unnamed people, who even in their death, bring life to others by enabling the education of teachers, physicians, therapists and nurses at the University.”

Where faith and science meet

Archbishop Nienstedt said the blessing of the human anatomy lab marked an occasion when faith and science become complementary. He called on students of the University to work with the donated human bodies with reverence and respect, honoring those children of God in both life and death.

“In educational circles, one of the big themes today is the relationship between faith and science, and so often people think that there is no relationship,” said Archbishop Nienstedt. “What we are doing here today really is the highlight of the complementarity of these two forms of learning, of these two forms of living, because it’s our faith that really gives us the profound reverence and respect that we have for each human person as a son or daughter of God.”

The Hidden Wholeness
St. Catherine University's new human anatomy lab brings 'silent teachers' to campus.


It is science, Archbishop Nienstedt said, that leads Catholics to promote the discovery of the human body, which in turn leads to the discovery of healing therapies and insights into how human beings can live better lives.

“So it’s very appropriate, it seems to me, that we ask God’s blessings on this work today, because it really is the best of what we’re about: bringing faith and science together,” he added.  

Providing educational excellence

Penny Moyers, dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, spoke during the ceremony, sharing a sense of gratitude and pride with the audience of students, faculty and staff, donors and guests.

“I will never, ever forget the days when I learned in an anatomy lab. It’s a way of learning that so impresses upon you the true nature of the human body,” said Moyers.

Although other options for anatomy education exist, she said, little compares to the experience of working with a human body. Textbooks, diagrams and virtual reality all fall short of hands-on education. She also expressed gratitude to the persons who during their lifetime chose to dedicate their bodies to science.

“That has to be the ultimate donation to someone’s learning,” said Moyers.

Lindsey Kolnik, a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at St. Catherine University, shared her thanks for the “invaluable gift” of hands-on education. Kolnik completed her first eight-week clinical internship over the summer, and she said her experience learning from human bodies instilled a depth of knowledge that allowed her to be confident in her skills.

“Having access to this anatomy lab affords us the opportunity to learn from human bodies, which will teach us so much more than we can learn from any book,” she said. 

Blessing the anatomy lab

During the ceremony on Sept. 19, administration, faculty, staff and students of the University joined donors, partners and distinguished guests in celebrating the success of the anatomy lab project and dedicating the work of the anatomy lab through a Catholic blessing.

Guests listened to music and scripture, and they prayed for the future of the anatomy lab and the students who will learn from it. Among the prayer requests, those gathered prayed for those who offered the gift of their bodies at the time of their deaths, for the teachers, mentors and facilitators of the lab, and for the students, that they would work in the lab with reverence, respect and honor for all life.

With quiet instrumental music warming the dedicated space, Archbishop Nienstedt then blessed each of the two anatomy labs, concluding the ceremony in Mendel Hall.

About the anatomy lab

Since 1991, students of St. Catherine University have studied cadavers at the anatomy lab at the University of Minnesota, through a partnership between the two institutions. Due to increasing needs, the University of Minnesota announced in August 2010 that it could accommodate students from St. Catherine University for only one more year.

After the announcement, administration, faculty and staff at St. Catherine University made plans to bring a new anatomy lab to St. Kate’s, prompting a $1.1 million remodel of the fourth floor of Mendel Hall. In addition to remodeled classrooms and a mathematics suite, the renovations included a 3,600-square-foot anatomy space with two labs large enough to accommodate nine bodies each, as well as showers, lockers, storage and a cleaning room.

More than 500 students at St. Catherine will use the anatomy lab in the coming year, according to Cort Cieminski, associate professor of the DPT program and director of the anatomy lab. And that number will only increase as St. Kate’s adds new programs, such as the physician’s assistant program that will launch in 2012.

Below, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt speaks with Peter and Patricia Frechette, who contributed the Leadership Gift to St. Catherine University for the human anatomy lab.


Sep. 21, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Catholic Identity, Healthcare