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A treasure on campus

Inside Lansing-Reilly, where the Jesuits live

By JENNA DANIEL / VN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
On March 28, 2017

Lansing-Reilly Hall, the Jesuit residence on the University of Detroit Mercy McNichols campus, is one of the few buildings on campus that most students never get to explore. 

It is locked, with entry by key, and only Jesuit residents and Detroit Mercy staff are allowed in the building on a regular basis.

“I didn’t even know that the Jesuits lived on campus with us,” said Patryk Koscielski, a senior software engineering major. “I wonder what living (in Lansing-Reilly) is like. I wonder if it’s like the dorms that the students live in.”

Lansing-Reilly is near the corner of McNichols and Livernois, and it is the only building on campus that protrudes from the gates.

According to the Detroit Mercy archives, Lansing-Reilly was one of the first buildings constructed on the campus in the late 1920s.

For awhile the building was referred to as “McNichols Hall,” honoring the Rev. John P. McNichols, president of the university from 1924 to 1928.

However, in 1955 when an elevator was being installed in the building, a Lansing-Reilly Memorial was uncovered.

Marie Louise Lansing, sister of Manette Lansing Reilly and sister-in-law of Cornelius J. Reilly, lived with the Reilly family for years because she was unmarried. 

Later, upon the death of her sister, Lansing inherited the Reilly family’s property, and she decided to leave $150,000 to the Jesuits and the university upon her death in 1925 to go toward a Jesuit residence. She wanted to honor her deceased sister, brother-in-law and nephew.    

Though the building did not always house Jesuits, many people resided in the hall for years, including the army student training corps in the early 1940s.

For many years, though, Jesuits have resided in Lansing-Reilly.

Some have been there for decades

For example, the Rev. R. Gerald Albright has been living on campus for 62 years.

Students are generally not allowed in the hall.

On occasion, however, special events are held in the residence, and students get the opportunity to visit certain parts, like the chapel or the courtyard.

“I have been inside the building once, for Sister Beth Finster’s 50th birthday celebration,” said five-year MBA student Rosanna Reynolds. “The Rev. Gerald Cavanaugh gave one of my business classes a tour of the courtyard my freshman year, as well. But I have never seen any of the actual residential rooms.”

The Rev. Tim Hipskind, a Jesuit resident of Lansing-Reilly and co-director of the Institute for Leadership and Service, gave The Varsity News a private tour of the main floor, the lower level, the courtyard and the living quarters.

Beyond the main door, a small lobby separates Lansing-Reilly from the conjoined College of Health Professions building.

Prior to the College of Health Professions location there, residential rooms existed in its place.

Some remnants of the Jesuits who used to live there remain in the portion of the building.

“This is an easy way to tell that you’re in a Jesuit residence,” Hipskind said. “We always have these napkin holders. Anywhere in the world, we always have them.”

The napkin holder boxes are simply a place where each Jesuit resident keeps his napkin for community meals. Nearly all Jesuit residences have some version of the napkin box.

The main floor holds one of the most unique spaces in the building: the chapel, dedicated to Walter and Helen Staskowski.

The chapel is unique because the walls are lined with Flint Faience ceramic tile.   

Flint Faience tile is often mistaken for Pewabic tile, a Detroit-style ceramic.

The tiles relate to Albert Champion, owner of Champion Ignition Company (later AC Spark Plug Company), who sold spark plugs for General Motors in the early 1920s. 

Champion came to realize that the kilns used to create the porcelain caps on spark plugs were getting damaged by repeated heating and cooling to make the spark plugs.

He decided that keeping the kiln constantly hot was a smart way to preserve it, so he used the kiln to create tiles after regular business hours.

The Flint Faience Tile Company was official in 1921, but after a relocation and a higher demand for spark plugs, General Motors closed the tile operation in 1933.

The tiles within the chapel were crafted to fit the room perfectly, as there are no tile cuts or small pieces. 

Also on the main floor is the dining area and a few small meeting rooms. 

Residents come together an eat dinner in the dining hall between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. daily.

The dining hall also houses a fish tank.

Meeting rooms are for when guests come to visit, as only residents are supposed to enter the upper levels of the building.

The lower levels holds some storage areas for furniture and bikes, the laundry room and a private fitness room for the Jesuits.

Clothes in the laundry room are hung to dry.

The second floor is mostly residential rooms, with a few guest rooms. 

The second floor also has a TV room for the residents to relax and be together, as they are not supposed to have TVs in their individual rooms, according to Hipskind.

“A lot of Jesuit residences are apartment-based,” said Hipskind. “But here we really emphasize community.”

Bathrooms in the residence hall are community-style, as well.

The third floor consists of more residential rooms and a library. 

In the library, there are several workstations, a homily-writing area and a few chairs and couches.

In the center of the building is one of its best features: an outdoor courtyard.

There are chairs and tables in the shaded areas and statues throughout. 

In the summer, many plants grow within the courtyard.

With only a few small renovations to the electrical and plumbing in 1996, Lansing-Reilly is one of the best preserved buildings on the McNichols campus.

“It is a great place,” said the Rev. Si Hendry. “Personally, it’s the nicest Jesuit community I’ve ever lived in, (with) both the physical features and also the people. I think the physical features enhance the interaction among the people.”

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