Faith and Reason

IMG_7917-sized1For many visitors and certainly for our alumni, Saint John’s has a special sense of place.  It is a rare combination of the natural setting of woods, lakes and prairie and the built spaces of handmade red bricks and brilliant Marcel Breuer architecture all interacting with the of people who live in Collegeville—the timeless stability of the monastic community, our deeply committed faculty and staff, and the youthful energy of each generation of students.  This magical mix makes so many Johnnies call Collegeville “home” long after they have graduated.  It is also a blend that we are careful not to tamper with.

This sense of place was certainly foremost in the mind of architect Gregory Friesen as he was tasked with renovating the iconic Alcuin Library as part of the library and learning commons project at Saint John’s.  While he certainly felt a strong obligation to preserve the spirit and design of Marcel Breuer, he also was aware of the need to have the renovated Alcuin and new Br. Dietrich Reinhart Learning Commons fit into the sense of place that is so central to Saint John’s.  To achieve this nuanced charge while also making the academic space thoroughly 21st century, Friesen went back to Breuer’s original conception which was tied directly to Benedictine and Catholic history.  The University’s central space and focal point is Abbey Plaza, where the Abbey and University Church stands on the south side of the mall and Alcuin Library on the north, with open green space in between.  Faith and reason are represented together and in conversation with each other, as has been central to Catholic teaching and preserved by the Benedictines for centuries.  There is no more succinct and beautiful manifestation of the mission of a Catholic, Benedictine university.  And Friesen is making it even better.

IMG_7923-sizedAnyone who has visited Alcuin Library knows it is a beautiful and innovative structure, with the two massive, concrete trees of knowledge gracing and supporting the building on the upper level.  There is certainly natural light in that space, but the need to have load bearing concrete walls required the windows to be relatively small and near the ceiling.  Fifty years of construction innovation gave Friesen options that Breuer did not have, and the outcome will be stunning.  The new design will open up the interior space as most of the books move to compact shelving in the lower levels, but most striking will be the natural light that will illuminate the interior, as concrete walls are replaced with glass.  A big part of the south wall will now be glass and allow visitors and students to look out at the Abbey and University Church across the mall.

As the pictures show, even in the midst of construction, the interior has a very different look and feel that is completely in keeping with Breuer’s vision and that of the monks who bravely commissioned this dream over fifty years ago.

The renovated Alcuin and new Learning Commons (which will offer similar views of the Church), will daily remind every visitor and our students that Saint John’s University is a place where faith and reason not only coexist but actively enhance on another as learning and the search for meaning are inextricably intertwined in a great liberal arts education.


By |July 22nd, 2016|Categories: Alumni, Kudos|0 Comments

At Our Finest

The community that is Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict is excellent in many ways.

We enjoy each other’s company and enthusiastically celebrate life’s joys together.  This can be seen at any Johnnie football game or commencement exercise or reunion.

We thrive at welcoming new members to our community, whether it is a visitor to our campuses who is delighted to find so many generous and helpful people in Collegeville and St. Joseph, or a new student or employee who feels almost immediately that they are part of this Benedictine community.

We are great at reaching across generations as older Johnnies and Bennies provide mentoring and personal relationships that make up the well-known and envied Johnnie and Bennie professional network.

But we are at our finest as a community when we reach out to others in a time of sadness and pain.


David Forster Jr. ’11

On Friday June 24, 2016, David Forster Jr. ’11 collapsed and died as he finished an evening run in Minneapolis.  David was a cross-country runner at Hopkins High School and at Saint John’s.  He was also a marathoner who had completed several races, including Grandma’s only a week earlier in which David had helped his Bennie fiancé complete her first marathon.

David’s death at 27 is a mystery and tragedy; a painful reversal of life’s rhythms as his parents, Sandy and David, were shocked to have to bury their first born.

David’s funeral was held at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis last Thursday.  It was an incredible tribute to David, his family and to the CSB/SJU community.  The Basilica, which holds nearly 2000, was full, with a number of mourners standing in the aisles and the back.

Cross country runners from SJU, across many years, formed an honor guard that stretched the length of the center aisle.  Hundreds of Johnnies and Bennies from David’s parents’ and grandparents’ generation were there, and there were many current and recent students, who never met David but simply wanted to be there to support the many people who loved him.  And of course David and his fiancé’s friends turned out in droves, many flying in from across the country.

A young woman from David’s class said, “I have never felt more proud to be part of this community than I did at David’s funeral.  To see the number of people at the funeral was amazing.”

A monk from Saint John’s who has attended hundreds of funerals over many years noted that, “It was impossible to be at this event and not be proud and impressed by Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s.  I felt so proud of the community.”

None of this is to forget the deep tragedy of David’s death.  May we have few opportunities to show the strength of this community.  But it is deeply consoling to be part of such a community, knowing that they will wrap you in their arms during the inevitable painful events of life.

By |July 6th, 2016|Categories: Alumni|1 Comment

Parental Promises

Photo: Tommy O'Laughlin '13

Photo: Tommy O’Laughlin ’13

With graduation behind us and about 400 new Johnnies launched into the world, we are feeling pretty good in Collegeville.  The weather gods gave us a spectacular commencement day—70 degrees and a light breeze.  Our speakers, Joe Cavanaugh ’81 and Paul Knaak ’16 were both great. And, most importantly, our parents were happy.  Fine weather and pleased parents: it is a hard combination to beat.

While we certainly want our graduates to feel good about Saint John’s, and most do, parents’ opinions matter very much to us.  They play a significant role in footing the bill, and they are what our admission staff calls “influencers,” those individuals who can sway young men and their parents to take a look at Saint John’s when they begin their college search.  So parents matter a lot.

Of course on commencement day, parents are very generous and appreciative.  Numerous parents took the time after the ceremony to find me and thank me for what Saint John’s did for their son.  I reminded them that it was our great faculty and staff who did the hands-on work with their sons, but I was more than happy to be the representative of the institution they were thankful for.  I asked them to send us their sons’ younger brothers and cousins (and their sisters to CSB).

I was reminded of these parents when I read the Star Tribune article entitled, “Goodbye, empty nest: Millennials staying longer with parents.”  Data included:

  • Living with parents is now the most common arrangement for people ages 18 to 34, an analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center has found;
  • The proportion of older millennials — those ages 25 to 34 — who are living at home has reached its highest point (19 percent) on record, Pew analysts said;
  • Nearly one-third of all millennials live with their parents, slightly more than the proportion who live with a spouse or partner. It’s the first time that living at home has outpaced living with a spouse for this age group since such record-keeping began in 1880.

Among young men:

  • Declining employment and falling wages are another factor keeping many 18-to-34-year-olds unmarried, Fry said. The share of young men with jobs fell to 71 percent in 2014 from 84 percent in 1960 — the year when the proportion of young adults living outside the home peaked.
  • Incomes have fallen, too: adjusted for inflation, wages plunged 34 percent for the typical young man from 2000 to 2014.

Young adults living at home is clearly not new, but Americans have tended to think of this as a European, maybe even specifically Italian problem, as stories like this one in the NY Daily News reported that, “52% of Italian men still live with their mothers.” Obviously these data suggest that for American millennials the economic challenges of leaving the nest are harder than in the past.

Photo: Tommy O'Laughlin '13

Photo: Tommy O’Laughlin ’13

Whatever economic challenges facing this generation of young people, education is certainly part of the solution.  At Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict we are doing what we can to help our graduates (and their parents) overcome these trends.  We make two promises to our incoming students: one explicit and another implicit.

The explicit promise is “four and done.”  If an incoming student meets their academic obligations and responsibilities, mom and dad can pencil in graduation for May four years hence.  This is not typical of most colleges as the Department of Education Scorecard uses a six year graduation rate as the standard.

The implicit promise is that your CSB/SJU son or daughter won’t be returning to their bedroom post-graduation—they will be employed (or at least gainfully situated). We are very proud of our placement rate: 99% of our graduates are employed, volunteering full-time or in graduate school within one year of graduation.  And we are happy to share the data by individual major or even by individual student.