The University of St. Francis in Joliet officially unveiled two long-planned campus beautification projects on Monday to commemorate its centennial.

University officials dedicated the school's new centennial gateway and commons on the main campus as part of its yearlong celebration of 100 years of providing Franciscan education.

The gateway features a statue of St. Francis of Assisi himself with the school's mascot, Bernie, a St. Bernard, at the corner of Wilcox Street and Plainfield Road. The Margaret & William C. Benoit Commons features new vegetation and water features which USF officials said already serves as an important outdoor space for students.

"It's really great to see everything come to fruition," said USF President Arvid Johnson.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, USF announced a yearlong celebration of its centennial and while many of those plans have been altered, administrators were still satisfied to see such significant projects completed.

Johnson said he had been wanting to add a northern entrance to the USF campus for years. He said the unique statue of St. Francis with Bernie the St. Bernard is a "fun way" to welcome visitors to campus.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Imler, USF's vice president for mission integration and ministry, said she thought the "sense of beauty" in the new commons area enhances the campus and that it's already become a home to students. She also lauded the many partners USF had in making these plans a reality after months of work.

"It really is an expression of our fraternitas (fraternity), of how we work together as brothers and sisters to make that dream come true," she said.

Despite the challenges of this year, Johnson said it was heartwarming that several alumni and donors still wanted to support the university's yearlong fundraising campaign for the projects and to help students. He said USF has raised over $1 million for scholarships.

"Quite honestly, that's the most important part for us, enabling us to stay affordable for students who want to come here to get their education," he said.

The Sisters of Saint Francis of Mary Immaculate, known as the Joliet Franciscans, founded USF in 1920. The school was originally called “New College" and later the “College of St. Francis” before reaching university status in 1998.

The university transitioned from exclusively preparing the Sisters to teach, to becoming an all-women's college, to becoming coeducational in 1971.

Today, USF has over 50,000 alumni in 50 states and over 20 countries.

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