In 1896, a group of Benedictine monks from St. Procopius Abbey in Chicago headed west with a dream to create an academic community that was dedicated to helping students acquire knowledge and pursue a life filled with purpose and meaning.
They envisioned the possibilities from within the small, two-story limestone farmhouse they purchased in Lisle, and where they would lay the foundation for what stands today as their greatest legacy -- Benedictine University.
Now, the very same structure in which the monks lived and taught classes more than 100 years ago has transformed to once again serve the Benedictine community.
"Something incredibly significant happened at the Neff Farmhouse and is happening again more than a century later," University President William Carroll said.
"It's where the monks put a stake in the ground as marking the site of the permanent home of their growing college. This is why we decided to pay homage to their vision, revitalizing it and transforming it into a welcome center.
"As the university itself began its Lisle journey here in this place, incoming students will likewise begin their Benedictine journey in this building."
After a six-month construction process, the university will unveil the $2.5 million center, anchored by the historic Neff Farmhouse, one of the oldest stone structures in DuPage County, with an open house celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1.
Located near the College Road entrance on the eastern edge of the school's Lisle campus, the 2,700-square-foot center will serve as the new home for freshmen enrollment operations and the formal starting point where students and their families can learn more about the university.
"The Neff Welcome Center will be a place where prospective high school students can begin their tour of campus and be welcomed," said Kari Gibbons, vice president of enrollment services at Benedictine.
"We want to share the university's history and feeling of Benedictine pride with students in this historic building."
Work on the center began March 2, the 125th anniversary of the university's founding as St. Procopius College. The new facility includes event space, offices and a conference room.
First built in 1852, the Neff Farmhouse was a family home made out of limestone from a local quarry.
Along with the farmhouse, the monks purchased 104 acres of cornfield, furniture, a top buggy and 40 hens for $6,240 following an economic recession that spiked a run on banks, led to a stock market crash and increased the unemployment rate.
Undeterred by the financial situation, the monks quickly built a barn and tilled the land, and with limited resources began building classrooms and boarding rooms to offer the community a faith-based, values-centered education.
To retain the rich history of the Neff Farmhouse, it was decided to incorporate matching brick limestone into the rest of the welcome center. Inside the center, a gallery area will display historic photos and other memorabilia commemorating the work of the university's founders and the transformation of the Lisle campus.
An Alumni Plaza, complete with a limestone bench and commemorative brick from the Class of 2012, also adorn the entryway to the center.
The university is continuing to expand, offering and investing in more services to create an enhanced academic environment to preserve and advance the monk's mission of educating future generations of scholars.