On a beautifully sunny day in May, family members of Father Bede Ernsdorff, O.S.B. and Father Placidus Reischman, O.S.B. gathered with faculty, students, donors, and many others from the community to share memories of the two Benedictine monks and educators that worked with many students throughout their years at Saint Martin’s University. Together they celebrated the dedication of the Ernsdorff Center and Reischman Department of Natural Sciences.

“It is the dream of every president to dedicate new buildings,” said Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D., president of Saint Martin’s University, “especially buildings that have been long dreamed for.” The Ernsdorff Center is the third STEM building to open at the university since 2012. The state-of-the-art building includes 9 new research labs, including a nuclear magnetic resonance lab, instrument lab and dry lab, 4 new classrooms, and 6 instructional labs. The completion of the building represents the formation of a STEM complex, which brings together mathematics, engineering, computer technology and natural sciences into one cohesive location on campus. It also reinforces a continuing commitment to preparing students for the science, engineering, and technology fields of the future.

Father Bede Ernsdorff in the Lab
Father Bede Ernsdorff spent 44 years teaching chemistry at Saint Martin’s University. To carry on his legacy, the new Ernsdorff Center carries his name. Photo courtesy: Washington State Archives

Hannah Salapka, a sophomore pursuing a degree in chemistry, plans to enter the field of forensics. She looks forward to working with other STEM majors in the shiny new building. “The new STEM building will be a great addition to the entire Saint Martin’s community,” she says.

The Ernsdorff Center won’t just benefit science majors. When the natural science classes move out of Old Main and into the new building, that opens up room for other fields to spread out and utilize those unoccupied spaces, explains Philip Cheek director of grounds and facilities. “This building will benefit all the students and faculty.” Cheek worked closely with Forma Construction and faculty members to ensure classrooms were designed and built to best benefit student learning.

Both Fr. Ernsdorff and Fr. Reischman were longstanding members of Saint Martin’s Abbey and community. Fr. Ernsdorff taught chemistry at the university for 44 years, from 1938 to 1982. He served as a college counselor to pre-med students, and directed the choir and glee club. Fr. Reischman taught biology for 28 years, and led the department as well. He served as residence hall director and dean of students. He also served on the board of trustees. Fr. Ernsdorff and Fr. Reischman both contributed greatly to their fields with numerous articles published in academic journals. Known as the heart and soul of the chemistry and biology departments, their legacies continue to live on throughout the community with the dedication of this building and department.

Father Placidus Reischman
Father Placidus Reischman taught biology for 28 years at Saint Martin’s University. As the heart and soul of the biology department, his contributions to the advancement of the sciences are remembered as the Reischman Department of Natural Sciences bears his name. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

Family members of Fr. Ernsdorff and Fr. Reischman spoke to share their memories of the two educators. Both were remembered for their dedication to learning and critical thinking and for having great senses of humor.

David Jordan, Fr. Ernsdorff’s nephew, remembered his time visiting “Uncle Bede” fondly, first sharing stories about visiting his uncle at Saint Martin’s as a child, then later knowing him as a teacher when he attended Saint Martin’s as his student. Jordan graduated in 1964, a salutatorian with majors in both math and physics.

Rita Vernetti, Fr. Reischman’s niece, remembered him as a caring uncle with a dry sense of humor. She enjoyed visiting his classroom on the third floor to view fish that he kept and specimens that he displayed in jars.

After the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony, Abbot Neal Roth, O.S.B. blessed the Ernsdorff Center and then invited one and all to take a look inside the new building. The modest modern exterior led way to a cavernous interior with cool stone and cement, a welcome relief on the hot, sunny day. Generously sized classrooms, hallways and offices were designed and specially equipped for labs and research. Visitors quickly spread through the hallways, walking through classrooms, imagining students learning and researching, while others reminisced about their own experiences in biology classrooms and chemistry labs. Carefully placed throughout the building are gentle reminders of Fr. Ernsdorff and Fr. Reischman: histories, mementos, and memorabilia to share their legacies with future students and visitors. The opening comes just in time–moving has already started and classes for summer session will be taught in the new building beginning May 28.

The building was made possible by the hard work and dedication of the steering committee as well as the generous donor contributions to the Science Initiative at Saint Martin’s University. Donors have given more than $10.67 million to date, which supported the construction of the building and established a preservation endowment.


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