On September 13, 2023, Seminary of the Southwest (Southwest) hosted several hundred donors, trustees, friends, students, faculty, and staff for a ceremonial ribbon cutting event that marked the grand opening of the Bishop Dena A. Harrison Library and new Learning Complex at Seminary of the Southwest. The event marked the completion of a transformational $23.6 building project seven years in the making.
“I am so proud of our seminary community for hosting a celebration of such grace and style,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president. “There were wonderful reunions and new connections among those gathered here, and friends around the country reached out to us while they joined us online. This is a day we will remember for a long time.”
The outdoor Ribbon Cutting portion of the event had been moved inside by rain, but the moods were not dampened in the slightest. The joyous celebration of completing the work that had begun with a master plan in 2016 was palpable and electric on a day that marked a new beginning and exciting future for Seminary of the Southwest.
“The library and learning complex stand as expressive gifts of God’s grace – the fruits of an enormous coming together – of the generosity of all those who brought this dream to reality,” said the Rt. Rev. Kathryn M. Ryan, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Texas and Chair of the Southwest Board of Trustees. “Bishop Harrison herself gave decades of wisdom and work to strengthen the mission of Southwest to transform the Church and the world. She inspires our continued efforts. When we gather in these beautiful and wonderfully functional spaces, we will be giving our continual praise to God for surrounding us with such friends.”
The naming of the library portion of the construction project was announced in early March, 2023, following a leadership gift to the building campaign from the Episcopal Foundation of Texas and an unanimous recommendation by the Southwest Board of Trustees.Harrison, who graduated from Southwest with a Master of Divinity in 1987, joined the Board of Trustees in 2005, and served as Chair from 2009 to 2018. Under her leadership, Seminary of the Southwest enjoyed tremendous growth in areas of leadership, facility, faculty, and reputation. She played key roles in the recruitment of the Very Rev. Doug Travis as Dean in 2006 and appointed the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge in 2013. As Chair of the Board of Trustees, Harrison oversaw the long-needed renovation of the Bailey Center at Rather House and the Austin Diocesan Center on the Southwest campus, ensured the long-term fiscal health and academic integrity of the seminary by leading the $16,000,000 Campaign for Leadership, and laid the groundwork for the transformational Forming Leaders at the Frontier campaign that allowed for the construction of the academic complex which includes the library that will bear her name.
“The library dedication was such a thrilling and inspiring event!” said Bishop Harrison. “It is a great honor to have the library named for me, and the new facilities are truly beautiful and functional. These significant improvements to our campus will shape the seminary’s ministry of formation in amazing ways. The buildings represent the deep commitment of the Southwest community and embody our shared faith and our hope for the future.”
Many of the guests in attendance at the Ribbon Cutting included the leadership of the Forming Leaders At the Frontier campaign that raised the funds for the building project.They included honorary chair The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, chairs Kenny Jastrow and the Rt. Rev. C. Andy Doyle, as well as Bruce McDonald, president of the Episcopal Foundation of Texas’ board of trustees. Said McDonald upon the announcement of the naming of the Library: “The Foundation’s support for construction of this library, named after devoted Southwest alumna Bishop Dena Harrison, reflects the seminary’s commitment to develop pastors with the sound training in scripture, theology, psychology, and other disciplines, to address the difficult questions faced by today’s believers.”
Among the many remarkable achievements of the campaign – notwithstanding the fact that most of it occurred amid the pandemic – is the number of leaders and donors. Volunteer fundraisers on several campaign committees numbered at 93, and the total number of donors to the campaign exceeded 600.
“The effort to build this building was made possible by an impressively large community of supporters and volunteers from across the world, and at Southwest, there are few words we treasure more than ‘community’,” said Dean Kittredge.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, who served as the campaign’s honorary chairman, had been scheduled to attend and preach, but was unable due to his recent surgery. Dean Kittredge preached in his stead, representing the Presiding Bishop with aplomb.
With a freshly cut ribbon and newly opened library and learning complex, the seminary community is excited about what comes next for Southwest.
“These extraordinary buildings reflect the pedagogical and curricular excellence for which this seminary has become known.,” said Dean Kittredge. “We cannot wait to put these amazing facilities to good use, to fulfill our mission, rooted in the reconciling ministry of Christ, to form people for vocations of ministry, service, and healing.”