Law School's History is on Display in the Atrium
On the west-facing wall of the Columbus School of Law’s atrium, near the Christmas tree, are two glass display cases that invite passers-by to stop, look and take a step back in time.
The history of Catholic University’s law school from 1897 to the present is the creation of Frances Brillantine, head of access services for the law school’s Kathryn J. DuFour Library. Brillantine spent a year researching, collecting artifacts and fact-checking to present an accurate timeline treatment of the law school’s 112-year history.
“It was difficult because there was no coherent history of the law school out there,” said Brillantine.
The first display case covers the period 1897-1960, the second case everything since. There are old newspapers and yearbooks, the grades earned by a student from the early 1930s (who aced her classes, by the way) and many other assorted artifacts.
Two facts come as a surprise to many first-time students of CUA law history. One is that Columbus University, founded by the Knights of Columbus as a college for returned WW I veterans, merged with Catholic University’s law school in 1954, resulting in its current name.
The second “I didn’t know that” piece of information is that the law school wasn’t even on the CUA campus for a dozen years. Rather, it was located downtown near DuPont Circle, in the former home of an extremely influential Washington insider and former secretary of state who has an international airport named after him: John Foster Dulles.
The Dulles mansion was demolished after the law school moved to CUA’s main campus in 1966. Prior to the demolition, students were invited to take mementos of the mansion. Robert J. Siciliano, ’66, selected the finial from the newel post of the grand staircase (above right). He has donated the restored finial to the law school on behalf of the class of 1966. The inscription reads:
Finial from Grand Staircase
Columbus School of Law
Catholic University of America
1323 18th Street, N.W.
1954 – 1966
Brillantine considers the finial, along with a brick from the dean’s office in those days (donated by Professor Lou Barracato) to be among the most valuable items in the historical collection.
The two cases honoring the law school’s past will remain on display for the foreseeable future, giving people plenty of time to drop by and soak up the past.
“I hope students look at it and get a sense of where we came from,” said Brillantine, (above).