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Fr. Renna Reading Room offers space to interact with literature

Photo by Isaac Myers ’18 – The Fr. Renna reading room offers students a quiet space to read and enjoy literature.
Photo by Isaac Myers ’18 – In the west end of Brophy Hall’s second floor, BLAM has created a space for students to read on campus.

By Cameron M. Bray ’16

Once a location that Mr. John Damaso ’97 called a “hallway to nowhere,” the western corridor of second-floor Brophy Hall hosts a new place for students to gather: the Fr. Renna Reading Room.

The Brophy Literary and Arts Magazine, BLAM, opened the Fr. Renna Reading Room Jan. 26, accompanying the announcement with a video crafted by Jake Lee ’16Anthony Cardellini ’17 and Graham Armknecht ’18.

The room is named after the Rev. Anton “Sam” Renna, SJ, who taught English at Brophy for 45 years and who passed away Aug. 9, 2013.

Mr. Damaso said the room came about primarily because of two reasons: one, the closing of the Information Commons last year, and two, a desire to fill that space.

The closing of the Information Commons and the subsequent opening of the Innovation Commons led Brophy to liquidate most of its book collection.

But before this happened each of the departments had the opportunity to collect books they wished to save, Mr. Damaso said.

Mr. Middlemist, when he was chair of the English department last year, was notified by Mr. Bopp that the school was essentially liquidating the book inventory of the Info Commons,” he said. “So departments got first crack at it, and Mr. Middlemist had English teachers go and save works that they used in class, as well as classic and contemporary novels that they thought should be saved.”

After collecting the books, Mr. Damaso said the question for the English Department became “Where do we put them?”

“At that moment, we realized if we wanted to save these books, we have to put them somewhere,” Mr. Damaso said. “Around that time Mr. Unrein and I had been talking about this weird ‘hallway to nowhere,’ as we used to call it.”

That empty hallway, where the Fr. Renna Reading Room now sits, once led to double doors and a concrete bridge between Brophy and Loyola Hall, Mr. Damaso said. It became a wasted space after the bridge and the doors were removed.

“[The doors] got drywalled and painted over, so it’s just a weird hallway to nothing,” he said. “It ended up being a collection point for junk and desks and students after school hiding back there, and we just decided we could make a great use of it by creating a micro-library.”

Mr. Damaso said his goals for this micro-library were to counteract an epidemic of young people not reading and to create a space where students could focus solely on print literature and not on their electronic screens.

Cardellini, the literary editor of BLAM, Ian Gray ’17 and the maintenance crew spearheaded the creation of the Fr. Renna Reading Room, beginning their work in October and finishing after winter break.

These two students, along with other volunteers, chose the famous first lines from novels that appear prominently in the room, affixed them to the wall and organized the books.

The maintenance crew installed the ceiling fans, the bench and the long power strip, and Mrs. Sherri Stephens ordered the bean bag chairs.

Gray said he was happy with the room he helped create.

“I’m pretty happy with it,” he said. “There’s definitely things that could be improved as we learn how students are using it and things like that, but I think it’s definitely a great start for an alternative library on campus.”

Brandon Ortiz ’16, who uses the reading room as a place to study, said he enjoys the quiet, comfortable atmosphere.

“Besides the hallway being loud, it’s quiet in here, especially with classes going on … so it’s a good time to spend in here during flex,” he said. “It’s very comfortable because of the beanbags. It’s better than laying down in the hallway with nothing cushioning you.”

Editor’s Note: Anthony Cardellini is a Roundup editor but did not take part in the production of this article.

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