Butler University’s amazing run through the National Collegiate Athletic Association 2010 Men’s Basketball Tournament was an awesome achievement, especially considering that the Indianapolis college has only about 4,200 students. Not to be forgotten in all of the excitement over the team’s success, is Butler’s historic ties to the Stone-Campbell movement.
Butler University takes its name after one of its founders, Ovid Butler, an attorney, newspaper publisher and social activist. Butler’s family moved from Augusta, N.Y. to Jennings County, Ind., where his father, Chancey Butler, became one of the first Stone-Campbell movement preachers in the state’s history.
The Butler family moved again, this time to Indianapolis in 1836, where Ovid Butler’s wife, Cordelia, died unexpectedly two years later. In 1849, Ovid Butler established the abolitionist and political newspaper "Free Soil Banner." It was the same year that he gave up his law practice and concentrated on social justice issues.
The Indiana General Assembly approved the establishment of Butler University’s forerunner, North Western Christian University, on Jan. 15, 1850. In so doing, Ovid Butler, a member of the Church of Christ, realized his goal of founding a university for that Christian movement. He served as head of the university’s board of directors until 1871, and eventually became its chancellor. The school’s name was changed to Butler University in 1877 in honor of its celebrated founder and most generous financier, abolitionist Ovid Butler.
What’s more, the Butler School of Religion, a graduate school established to further the education of ministerial students, was opened in 1924 with significant financial support from Disciples businessmen William G. Irwin and Hugh Th. Miller, along with Disciples minister Z. T. Sweeney. Under the direction of the School of Religion’s first dean, Frederick Doyle, its faculty and student body included women, people of color and other religious traditions. The School of Religion severed its institutional ties to Butler in 1958 and became Christian Theological Seminary, which maintains formal ties to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). CTS settled into a facility located just south of Butler’s campus in 1966.
Over the years, many Disciples have chosen to pursue a liberal arts education at Butler. They are proud of what the men’s basketball team has accomplished this season – and with good reason. Butler made its first appearance in the NCAA national championship game after defeating Michigan State University, 52-50, in the semi-final matchup. The Bulldogs, who lost to Duke University 61-59 in a thrilling conclusion to their national title run, have an athletic budget of $1.7 million compared to Duke’s $13.8 million.
"It’s been quite exciting, said Virginia "Ginny" Spradlin, a 1966 Butler graduate and member of Allisonville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis. "They were confident, they were poised… they just looked good," she said of Butler.
General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins, who is also a Butler graduate and lived in Indianapolis for much of her youth, believes that the team’s work ethic and mental toughness helped them achieve so much this season. "It is always fun when your alma mater makes news in a good way," said Watkins. "Right now Butler basketball is hitting all the right notes: hard work, discipline and focus on their task have gotten them where they are. My biggest source of Butler pride, though, is in the tradition of its founding by Disciple, Ovid Butler, as an abolitionist school and as a rare place where women could receive a college education."
Watkins also recalls the generosity shown her by several Butler faculty members, who gave willingly of their time to help her with her studies. "As a kid in the neighborhood, I grew up hearing the Butler marching band practice, going to football and basket ball games, walking in Holcomb Gardens and visiting the planetarium," she said. "Butler has been a part of my life for most of my life!"
By James Patterson