Christian Brothers College was first chartered and authorized to grant bachelor and master degrees in 1871. The Christian Brothers purchased The Memphis Female Academy from the Rev. C. G. McPherson and took possession of the property at 612 Adams on November 17, 1871. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the Brother’s Academy on Van Buren Street in Chicago, Illinois and left a number of Brothers free to undertake work elsewhere. Three of the Brothers from the Chicago area were sent to Memphis, and Brother Maurelian was brought from Pass Christian, Mississippi to head up the new community.
Christian Brothers College continued as a high school and college and conferred both bachelor and masters degrees to its college graduates. It continued under the leadership of Brother Maurelian and others who followed him to serve the educational needs to the Memphis Community until 1915 when the college division was forced to close due to World War I.
The high school was continued at the location at 612 Adams until the time when the college could be reactivated. For the following 25 years, CBC remained only a high school.
The school was moved to a new campus at 650 East Parkway in September 1940. At that time, the total enrollment was 267, including 17 junior college students. This move and expansion, it planned to return to its former status of a degree granting institution; However, with the start of World War II, many of the junior college students entered the military service and enrollment dropped dramatically. In March 1943, the Board of Directors met to discuss the question of the junior college. As a result of the war, only fourteen students remained in the school. It was unanimously decided to close the junior college for the duration of the war.
The junior college was re-opened for the 1946-47 school year with an enrollment of seventy students, of whom were 45 veterans. Veteran students were able to receive financial help through the GI Bill of Rights.
Demand from returning servicemen for more education on the college level led to planning for a full four-year program granting a Bachelor of Science degree.
It was the vision and determination of one man, Brother Lambert Thomas, CBC president from 1953–1962, which laid the groundwork for an engineering program that later evolved into one of the top engineering schools in the Southeast. After much discussion Brother Lambert Thomas made the decision that CBC should go ahead with four-year programs in both Electrical Engineering and Business Administration.
In the spring of 1952, Brother Lambert asked Brother Philip Morgan, who was teaching at St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago, to visit the Christian Brothers at Manhattan College in New York City to find out what would be needed to establish a four year electrical engineering program.
Brother Philip met with Brother Amandus Leo Cal, the Engineering Dean, and Bob Weil, the Electrical Engineering Department Head at Manhattan College. Brother Philip reviewed course requirements and curriculum, toured laboratories and examined equipment, and reviewed faculty qualifications. Upon his return to CBC, Brother Philip told Brother Lambert that the college would need qualified faculty, adequate classroom and laboratory space, and equipment that would cost over $500,000.
While CBC was considering this four year engineering program, the college was also considering a five year or 3+2 agreement with those Tennessee colleges which had strong Engineering programs: three years at CBC, followed by two years at the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, or another established Engineering college. Unable to work out an agreement with any of these colleges, Brother Lambert decided to pursue the four year electrical engineering program.
At the time, CBC did not have the money, classroom or laboratory space, or equipment. Brother Lambert had faith that the Christian Brothers would find the resources to build an electrical engineering program. He selected Brother Phillip to set up this program. Since Brother Phillip did not have an Electrical Engineering degree, he enrolled that same year in the Illinois Institute of Technology and earned his Engineering degree by 1954. Brother Phillip returned to CBU to establish the first engineering degree program in West Tennessee.
CBC already had a successful two-year junior college program, which could provide some students for this four-year program. The two- year program expanded to a third year by the 1953/54 school year and to a fourth year by the 1954/55 school year. Brother Lambert selected architect A. L. Aydelott to design a classroom building, Ave Maria Hall, and a laboratory building, St. Joseph Hall, for the engineering program. Both buildings were completed by September 1955. As the program grew, additional building were constructed: Battersby Hall in 1940, St. Benilde Hall in 1960 (completely renovated in 2003), and Nolan Engineering in April 1986.
Brother Philip, Brother I John, and Brother Claude were responsible for locating, purchasing, moving, and setting up equipment in St. Joseph Hall. During the summer of 1955, the majority of the equipment and laboratory books were purchased, at a fraction of their value, from Fournier Institute of Technology which was shutting down its electrical engineering program. Equipment was also donated or purchased from local and national companies: a DC power source, an AC generator, and a DC generator from Memphis Straus Laundry; electrical instruments from Great Lakes Naval Training Station; an Edsel automobile for the mechanical engineering lab from Ford Motor Company; and government surplus, including a bulldozer, power crane, dump trucks, and aluminum from Nashville. The Christian Brothers also purchased equipment from three local companies: Lazarof Brothers, Harry Lenehan, and Tri-State Armature, which provided materials and manpower to help the Brothers set up the laboratories. The Mother’s Club provided over $3,000 for construction, remodeling, and equipment.
Anticipating strong enrollment, Brother Lambert began recruiting engineering faculty. Early faculty included Dr. J.C. Tu in 1956; Mr. C. F. Chen in 1958; Donald Glaser in 1959; Brother Louis Althaus in 1960; and Dr. Robert Arzbaecher in 1960. By the 1956/57 school year, a B.S. in mechanical engineering was added as a part of the new four year college curriculum and 50 students enrolled. Brother Philip was granted a leave of absence to pursue his masters in electrical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology. At the same time, Brother Lambert secured a generous gift from Arthur J. Schmidt to send Brother Louis Althaus to the University of Notre Dame to earn his masters in electrical engineering. Brother Louis continued his education, earning a doctorate in 1969. Upon his return, Brother Louis served as dean of engineering from 1970–1972, during which time CBC received its first ABET accreditation in electrical and mechanical engineering.
During the 1956 graduation, the first electrical engineering students received their diplomas: Henry Bergman, Earl Choate, Charles Dennis, William Sipe (deceased), and Louis Werner. By 1959, enrollment had grown to 124 students. The reputation of the program and the quality of the engineering alums quickly earned CBC the title of “the Engineering School” in the Greater Memphis community. In 1963, CBC added a Civil Engineering Program, followed by a Chemical Engineering program in 1967.
Undergraduate engineering programs continued to grow during the 1970’s and 1980’s. In 1989, CBU began offering a master’s degree in engineering management for engineers with professional experience moving into management positions. During the 2006/07 academic year, the School of Engineering launched a Master of Science in Engineering Management geared toward students who have just completed their undergraduate degrees and do not have professional experience. Students can attend traditional classes or complete all coursework on-line. The program is based on a 4+1 model, allowing students to complete the Master of Science in engineering management in one year.
Since 1956, Christian Brothers University’s School of Engineering has produced over twenty-five hundred engineering graduates, over one thousand of whom are electrical engineers. Currently, the University offers undergraduate engineering programs in chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, all of which are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, and two graduate programs: a Master of Engineering Management and a Master of Science in Engineering Management. Our legacy includes engineers who work for local, regional, and national companies, including FedEx, Buckman Laboratories, DuPont, NASA, TVA, Lockhead Martin, Shell Oil, and US Army Corp of Engineers. Many engineering alumni have used their engineering background as a foundation for careers in law, medicine, business, education, science, and other areas.
This article is based upon a history of CBU engineering compiled by Br. Philip Morgan and Mr. Jim Guy.