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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Breen-Phillips Hall builds on 79 years of community

Editor’s note: This article is one in a series profiling the dorms.

Situated on North Quad next to Farley and Geddes Halls, Breen-Phillips (BP) Hall is home to more than 190 undergraduate women. Founded in 1939 and named after alumni benefactors William P. Breen and Frank B. Phillips, the hall served as a men’s dorm until 1972, when it was made one of the first women’s residence halls at Notre Dame. Prior to becoming a women’s dorm, space in the hall was used for several purposes, including housing for naval officers in training during World War II and as the offices of the Athletic Department, including that of former Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Founded in 1939, Breen-Phillips Hall was converted into one of the first women’s dorm on campus in 1972. It has also served as housing for naval officers and the location of the Athletic Department offices.

Breen-Phillips hall president, junior Kristina Bonnet, said the community within the hall is tight-knit and welcoming to all residents.

“It’s a really great community,” she said. “Within BP, I think, is really special. We’re not a dorm that’s really loud on campus with big signature events, because I think we care more about doing things to keep all the members of BP involved with the BP community.”

The linear floor plan of the hall, she said, helps maintain the closeness of the hall’s residents.

“It’s a little smaller, and even the layout of it is pretty inclusive,” Bonnet said. “It’s just one long hall on each floor, so you see everyone every day and it’s really easy to know everyone in the dorm … You get to see everyone really easily, and I think what sets it apart is that everyone really likes being a part of BP. I think we do a really good job of having lots of events for people and I think we have a pretty strong community that a lot of other girl’s dorms don’t have — [off-campus] upperclassmen try to stay part of every event and keep traditions going.”

Every year, the hall hosts the Breen-Phillips Meal Auction to benefit charity Meals on Wheels, which most residents regard as the hall’s signature event. During the annual fundraiser, donors can bid on unique experiences or objects, such as a lunch with basketball head coach Mike Brey or memorabilia signed by campus sports teams.

The community was shaken last February by the death of Sister Mary McNamara, Breen-Phillips’ rector of six years, due to complications from a stroke. Bonnet, said the grief of losing their rector was difficult for residents, but the hall came together and grew closer during their shared struggle.

“I think it made the community a lot stronger, because it really brought everyone together,” Bonnet said. “We all had the chance to reflect on what made BP so special and a large part of that was Sister Mary and how much she cared about us and how much she cared about the dorm.”

Residents in the hall have ensured that Sister McNamara’s legacy will endure in the Breen-Phillips community. In McNamara’s honor, Bonnet said, the hall established an annual award last spring, the Sister Mary award, to be given to a resident who demonstrates the values of their former rector. Additionally, Bonnet said the hall’s annual spirit week this would focus on recognizing McNamara’s life and contributions

Beginning at the start of the fall 2018 semester, Mishawaka-native and Saint Mary’s alum Angela Hollar began her role as hall rector. She expressed gratitude for the kindness and patience of hall residence and described the community as one “that models what it means to be a people of hope” in an email.

“I know that last spring the women of BP banded together and relied on each other a great deal to process the loss of Sister Mary,” Hollar said. “What surprised me in the most beautiful, humbling way was how I was welcomed so warmly and generously by a grieving community. The women of BP are incredibly resilient and I'm tremendously grateful for the space they have made for me — both within the building and within their hearts.”