- Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City with more than 800 stores nationwide, has agreed to pay $8 million for the campus of St. Gregory's University, a Catholic college in Shawnee, Oklahoma, that closed in late 2017. The agreement is subject to court approval.
- A motion to approve the sale filed Tuesday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma indicates the company has plans to keep the campus a college.
- The documents state Hobby Lobby will "permit the University Campus to be utilized for college education in a Christian environment."
In a statement shared with Education Dive via email, Hobby Lobby said it purchased the 73-acre property "to assure a meaningful, long-term future use" and that it was "committed to working with" St. Gregory’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that owns property surrounding the St. Gregory’s campus.
This isn't the first time the privately held retailer has purchased an educational campus. In 2009, it picked up the 217-acre campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school in Massachusetts. Hobby Lobby intended to donate it to the C.S. Lewis Foundation for the founding of a college, but the deal fell through, News OK reported. Later plans to donate the campus to Arizona-based Grand Canyon University also came up short, with the nonprofit Christian university exiting the deal shortly after it was announced in 2012, citing pushback from the local community.
In early 2013, Hobby Lobby announced it had made an "irrevocable" donation to the National Christian Foundation, a nonprofit grant-making group. In early 2017, NCF announced it had found a match with Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic institution that said the new campus would give it room to grow beyond its home in Santa Paula, California. It shares the campus with the Moody Center, a ministry organization.
In a statement issued when the deal was announced, Thomas Aquinas College said it thought it was "important to keep the student body on our California campus at 400 or fewer" and that the additional campus would let them do so while continuing to grow. The Massachusetts branch campus is expected to open to students next fall.
Donating land and buildings to groups affiliated with evangelical Christianity has been a priority for Hobby Lobby's owners, who have also advocated for Bible-based curriculum in public schools and were part of a high-profile and successful challenge to the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage requirement.
Its owner and CEO Steve Green has also been a major funder of the Museum of the Bible, a roughly $500 million, 430,000-square-foot nonprofit museum located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that opened in early 2017. The museum has been criticized for its representation of Christianity and other major religions, as well as the authenticity and sourcing of its artifacts.
In 2008, Green family funds were used to bail out Oral Roberts University, an evangelical Christian College in Tulsa, Oklahoma. NBC reported that Green "had no connection to the school” prior to making the gift.
Hobby Lobby did not respond to questions sent via email about whether it would donate or sell the campus. There are a handful of other colleges in the Shawnee area, which is located 40 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. They include Oklahoma Baptist University, a Christian liberal arts college, and Family of Faith Christian University, a nonprofit with ministry-oriented academic offerings.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the opening of Thomas Aquinas College's Massachusetts campus. It is expected to open in the fall of 2019.