Providence College kicks off Centennial celebration

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PROVIDENCE — With the 2016-2017 academic year underway, Providence College has commenced celebrations for an important milestone in its history, the 100th anniversary of the college’s founding. The Centennial commemoration began in August and continues through the year as the college marks the occasion, with special events including notable guest speakers, the groundbreaking for a new campus building and a memorable birthday cake.

Providence College has a long history as an institute of higher learning in Rhode Island, one that has shared a close relationship with the Diocese of Providence since its beginning. In 1917, Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph founded Providence College at the invitation of Bishop Matthew Harkins, second bishop of Providence. The bishop wished to create a center of Catholic higher education in the state and granted the Friars approximately 17 acres of land and $10,000 in scholarship funds to begin the school.

With the opening to the general public delayed by the onset of World War I, the school’s first students were religious sisters who enrolled in classes with PC faculty in 1918. In 1919, the school opened its doors to its first graduating class, beginning an era of Catholic education for students from Providence and beyond. Over the next several years, the school would celebrate many important milestones, including its first commencement, first baseball, football and basketball games and the beginnings of a campus expansion that continues to this day.

“Throughout a century characterized by monumental change, Providence College has remained consistently true to its founding ideals,” said President Father Brian J. Shanley, O.P.

“That unshakeable commitment to rigorous education in the Dominican tradition, to welcoming and supporting all who are part of our community, and to serving the needs of others provides the foundation for all we celebrate at our Centennial.”

The Centennial celebration officially opened on August 31, when Bishop Thomas J. Tobin visited the campus to celebrate an opening Mass with Father Shanley during the school’s Academic Convocation. The Convocation also included a keynote address by New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Nicholas Kristof and a series of presentations by PC faculty.

This past weekend, several Centennial events took place as part of the college’s St. Dominic Weekend celebrations, including the groundbreaking for the new Ruane Friar Development Center on the campus’s northwest corner. The center will serve as an athletic facility and also include office and dining spaces. Later in the day, guests viewed a premiere of “The Promise of Providence,” a documentary by PC alumnus and NBC Today Show correspondent Mike Leonard, and attended a concert by Grammy Award-winning trumpet player Chris Botti.

A highlight of the weekend came late in the evening on Saturday, when Father Shanley conducted the ceremonial cake-cutting of PC’s 100th anniversary cake. The cake, prepared by Oakleaf Cakes in Boston, was a 6-foot-long, 2-foot-high replica of Harkins Hall, PC’s oldest and most iconic campus building.

The cake was assembled with the help of a dozen bakers and decorators at the Oakleaf Cakes Bake Shop and delivered on Saturday on a custom-made wooden platform, complete with landscaping and fondant Friars to top off the recreation. The final model included more than 100 windows as well as statues, a sugar façade, a fondant Dalmatian mascot and a fondant Father Shanley wearing the Birkenstock sandals he is known for around campus.

“There have probably been very few cakes that get made on this scale in terms of size,” Tyler Oakleaf, co-owner of Oakleaf Cakes, told Rhode Island Catholic during a visit to the Boston bake shop. “This isn’t something that just a single person can do. You really need a large team.”

Amanda Oakleaf, Tyler’s wife and co-owner, led the team of bakers and decorators that assembled the 12-layer cake and served it at the Centennial event. Though the cake was disassembled and eaten less than 72 hours after the assembly began, Amanda said the temporary nature of her creations is one of the staples of the cake business.

“It’s not meant to sit on your mantle,” she said. “It’s meant to be eaten.”

The evening concluded with a performance by alumni musicians on the campus lawn. More Centennial events are scheduled for the fall, with upcoming speakers including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pakistani social activist and co-founder of the Malala Foundation Shiza Shahid and editor of The National Catholic Review and America publications Father James Martin, S.J. On November 3, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan will present the keynote address for Providence College’s Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews, an event that also marks the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate.

The commemoration of the Centennial will continue through the year with more events announced during the upcoming months.