Viterbo University History

Viterbo University began in 1890 as St. Rose Normal School, a preparatory school to train the Franciscan Sisters as elementary school teachers. The accredited school evolved into St. Rose Junior College, 1932; Viterbo College, 1939; and Viterbo University, 2000. The university takes its name from Viterbo, Italy, home to the thirteenth-century Franciscan, Saint Rose of Viterbo, patroness of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Viterbo Fine Arts Center History
In the Beginning

On Oct. 9, 1965, Sister Grace McDonald, FSPA, announced plans for the addition of a fine arts center to the expanding Viterbo campus. By 1967, the federal government had approved a $2.5 million loan and a $1 million grant. In addition, $500,000 was raised through donations by local corporations, individuals, and a capital fund drive, increasing the amount raised to $4 million. Saint Rose Convent pledged $500,000, with a contingency guarantee of another $200,000. Local banks backed the remaining shortfall of the $5.2 million project.


On March 19, 1969, ground was broken for the new Viterbo College Fine Arts Center. The exterior structure was to be completed by Christmas but, to the surprise of the Viterbo community, a "topping off" ceremony was held in late August when the last beam was set into place. The cornerstone of the building was placed on September 17, 1970. Music and drama departments took up residency in the new facility over the winter break, 1970-1971.

Facts and Statistics
  • Architects: Briemaier, Sherer & Sherer,  Milwaukee
  • Theatre Consultants: George C. Izenour Associates, Inc., New Haven, Conn.
  • Acoustical Consultant: Lyle F. Yerges, Downers Grove, Ill.
  • General Contractor: Nelson, Inc. of Wisconsin, Racine
  • HVAC Work: Kuetemeyer Plumbing Co., Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.
  • Electrical Work: John P. Mader, La Crosse
  • Plumbing and Sewer Work: Hengel Brothers, Inc., La Crosse
  • Construction cost: $5.2 million
Special Building Features
  • Main Theatre - Includes seating for about 1,200 guests; Converts from a proscenium theatre into a  concert hall with a specially designed acoustic shell; completely equipped and adaptable to accommodate drama, musical comedy, opera, ballet, concerts, lectures, and conferences.
  • Nola Starling Recital Hall - Includes seating for up to 178 for solo and small group ensemble performances with adjoining Hospitality Suite.
  • LaCroix Black Box Theatre - Includes seating for up to 184 for dramatic presentations and allowing for variable placement of the audience, such as arena staging with the audience on all four sides or thrust staging with the audience on three sides.
  • Dance Studios - For training dancers and presenting special dance performances, located in the basement and on the first floor of the Fine Arts Center.
  • Art Galleries - Located on the art floor of the academic wing and throughout the lobby areas of the building and the Main Theatre.
Reaching Out

An excerpt from the book Continuity and Change: The History of Viterbo College, 1890-1980, by Sister Theodine Sebold:

"A wealth of co-curricular activity paralleled the expansion of and diversification occurring in academic areas. With the opening of the multi-million dollar Fine Arts Center, the college had the facilities for showcasing campus talent in music, art, and drama, and for featuring nationally acclaimed guest artists."