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St. John's monks vote to return $2M Petters gift, rename building

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Another black mark on the Petters name, after Tom Petters was convicted of running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme: The monks of St. John's Abbey have voted to return a $2 million gift from the Thomas J. Petters Family Foundation for the construction of the Petters Pavilion and to remove the name.

Since the pavilion is already built, how does one "return" it? According to Brother Aaron Raverty, the money -- rather than the building -- was donated to St. John's Abbey. Since it has already been spent in building the pavilion,"We will be paying back the money out of the abbey's own operating funds. Arrangements with the court-appointed receiver have not been finalized, he says, "But we expect to send the repayment in two cash payments. One will be sent in January 2010, and the second payment about six months later."

No contractual obligations are needed to negotiate the name change, Raverty said. The order's community leader, Abbot John Klassen, has met with Tom Petters' parents -- in whose name the pavilion was named -- and his parents understand and support the monks' actions.

The 3,500 square-foot structure was finished in May 2007.

It's opening was described this way in the Abbey's Fall 2007 newsletter:

Several hundred guests joined the monastic community for the blessing of the pavilion on May 6, 2007. After brief remarks by Abbot John Klassen, OSB,Thomas Petters and architect Vincent James, Rosemary Petters read from the prophet Ezekiel who describes the new temple built to replace Solomon's temple destroyed by the Babylonians.

Earlier this month, the College of St. Benedict renamed its Petters Auditorium to Escher Auditorium, to distance itself from the disgraced former benefactor and to honor the late Sister Firmin Escher, a nun at the Monastery at St. Benedict who helped the school construct its Benedicta Arts Center. The auditorium was named after Petters' parents, Fred and Rosemary, after he handed the college a $3 million pledge.