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
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
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
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
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 masters in engineering management and
a masters 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.