Walk into Horrigan Hall today to get a snack at the food court, and you’ll soon see a sign alerting you to the fact that you are passing into another part of the building: Treece Hall. Current plans call for the expansion of Treece Hall as the Bellarmine Centro project develops. But if you ask most Bellarmine students rushing past you just who this Treece was, you’ll get what amounts to a blank stare.
Practically all of these scholars would know that Msgr. Alfred F. Horrigan was the founding president of their university. Msgr. Raymond J. Treece was “the other founder,” serving as vice-president for over 20 years and finally as acting president in 1972-73. Msgr. Treece, a native of Louisville’s West End who was proud of his Irish bloodlines, died on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1985, at the age of 73. An obituary in The Courier-Journal described him as one of Bellarmine’s “earthiest and best-loved personalities.”
When Louisville Archbishop John A. Floersh decided to found a college for men in 1949, he didn’t pick just one person to lead. He picked two. Msgr. Horrigan came to be the most highly visible figure in the public eye. But Archbishop Floersh had been particularly savvy in naming his “one-two-punch” team to lead the new academic venture. Not only did Msgrs. Horrigan and Treece complement one another, Horrigan also said that Treece was “the most selfless and affable man” he had ever known—and that in all their decades of collaboration, they had never had a disagreement. For two top administrators in any institution, you would have to chalk that up as an amazing statement.
Raymond Treece was intimidating to some because he was quite capable of being direct—occasionally blunt—in his verbal exchanges. He became known as “old steely eyes,” with The Courier-Journal even using that title in his obituary. But most Bellarmine people eventually came to know that underneath the sometimes gruff exterior, there lurked a man with a very tender heart.
I myself was one of those people. I first knew Fr. Treece not in person, but when I listened to his scholarly weekly radio program on scripture study as a high school kid. When I did meet him, as a Bellarmine freshman, I frankly found him to be a little stern; however, I soon came to know the greater truth. Years later, when I got to know him as a clerical colleague, I also learned that he had a salty vocabulary and a wry sense of humor.
Fr. Treece was Bellarmine’s patron saint of the possible. He was an idea man, but he could also make things happen. I remember one time when he took very direct action indeed. He was in charge of the old Lenihan Hall, where the priests lived. One day college maintenance installed a new wooden door without his knowledge. He quickly—and literally—chopped it down.
He could do some intellectual chopping, too. In one of his sermons from 1983, he was discussing a point of Christian theology. It needed re-thinking, he said, continuing: “St. Paul is unclear. Augustine is dead wrong. Aquinas and Newman are nervous. Few understand.” That is more direct talk than you hear in many sermons.
In 2011, a family who wished to remain anonymous gave a seven-figure financial gift to Bellarmine to fund the university’s first endowed academic chair. Once this was matched dollar-for-dollar by other donors, it yielded the “Fr. Raymond J. Treece Endowed Accounting Chair,” now an academic fixture at the university.
One last thing: Msgr. Treece always claimed that one of the greatest things he ever did for Bellarmine was the hiring of the Petriks. Plural intended. He was deeply involved in the search process for a new college president and quickly turned his attention to the young Gene Petrik from California. But he was most decidedly impressed by his mate, Helen Petrik, who was destined to be Bellarmine’s first first lady. “I knew Petrik would be good for the place,” I once heard Msgr. Treece say, “but I knew that Bellarmine had to have her here,” referring to the poised, intelligent and witty Helen.
During Bellarmine’s formative years, Fr. Horrigan was the polished “outside man,” the truly impressive external face to the community. Fr. Treece was the “insider,” combining the roles of priest, financial wizard, counselor, scholar, and general friend-at-large to the academic community. “Treece was Horrigan’s right-hand man,” says current President Joseph J. McGowan. “And now the Treece wing stands to the right of Horrigan again.” The area that once held Fr. Treece’s office now bears his name—a name that Bellarmine truly can be pleased to perpetuate.
Fr. Clyde F. Crews | firstname.lastname@example.org