New Jurica Museum exhibit touts Illinois' lengthy history with coal
July 2, 2008
Phil Brozynski, Media Relations Manager
The Jurica Nature Museum has a brand new exhibit 300 million years in the making.
The “Coal” exhibit at the Jurica Museum celebrates one of Illinois’ most abundant natural resources – how and when it was formed, how it is mined, how it is transported and the types of coal. The exhibit also features coal specimens and pre-coal fossils collected over the years by Fathers Edmund and Hilary Jurica.
“A couple of months ago, someone pointed out to me that there were still a number of items collected by the Jurica brothers that were stored in the basement of Birck Hall,” said museum curator Fr. Ted Suchy, O.S.B. “There were also two very large and heavy pre-coal stumps sitting on the floor.
“The Juricas collected a number of pre-coal fossils from the companies that sold the Benedictines the coal that was used to fire up the campus boilers years ago,” he added. “One of the stumps was in especially good condition, and we felt that it should be displayed along with some of the other fossils the Juricas collected.”
Coal, formed from the dead remains of trees, ferns and other plants that lived 300 to 400 million years ago, was first discovered in Illinois in 1673. Mining began about a century later. About 65 percent of the state’s surface lies over coal, and the state’s recoverable coal reserves account for nearly one-eighth of the total United States’ coal reserves and one-fourth of the nation’s bituminous coal reserves.
Forty-nine percent of the electricity in Illinois and about 51 percent of the electricity used in the United States is generated from coal.
“In the 1940s and ’50s, almost all big institutions and factories used coal energy for heating purposes,” Suchy said. “Benedictine University bought its coal wherever it could get the best deal. The abbey, high school, seminary and college were all located in Benedictine Hall in those days, and the building was heated by coal.”
Abbey brothers would shovel coal into large trucks, drive the short distance from the railroad to the campus and dump the coal on a concrete platform between Benedictine Hall and the old coal bin. The boilers located in the basement of the coal bin were used for heating the buildings on campus and making steam to turn turbines that generated electricity.
The coal bin, the oldest building on campus still in use by the University, was recently converted into the “Coal Ben,” an homage to the college’s history that features food, plasma TVs, Wi-Fi, an outdoor patio and a venue for dances, movies and live entertainment.
Designed by Vern Chindlund of Design Associates in Glen Ellyn, the “Coal” exhibit is located just outside the museum on the second floor of Birck Hall. Carl Gregorich of Burlington Northern Santa Fe secured two grants for the project.
For more information about the museum or the coal exhibit, visit the Web site at www.ben.edu/museum, call (630) 829-6546 or e-mail Jurica Museum education coordinator Mary Mickus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education
recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes
magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business
as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.