• Up Front: A Life of Service

    Fr. Dease in Uganda
    Photo by Thomas Whisenand

    As I took a few minutes recently to review stories and a news release about my retirement next year, I thought to myself, “It sounds like they are writing my obituary!”

    The thought made me chuckle. It is natural, I suppose, for media coverage of this nature to have an air of finality, but I have never viewed my retirement as a stopping – or a final resting! – point. I do, however, believe it is time to move on to pursue other interests.

    I also am quite ready for someone else to take up what I have long considered to be my most important task as president: to advance the university’s mission to educate students “to become morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.”

    That is a lofty charge, and one I have never taken lightly. For more than two decades it has inspired me and motivated me. I truly believe that as long as the university remains focused on this singular objective, it will continue to render its optimal service to society: to change for the better the lives of countless students, and in the process to change the entire equation.

    I see the mission statement etched in bronze on the wall outside my office every daywhen I walk in. It has been for me a constant reminder of what we’re about. At timesit has even served as an examination of conscience – for me and for the institution.

    I am proud to say a culture of service exists here at St. Thomas. Many professors and staff members could make more money in other occupations or less-demanding circumstances, but they remain here because they identify with our mission and the purpose of a St. Thomas education. They love to interact with students – to teach, to mentor, to advise and to coach – and they unselfishly share a common goal of providing the best possible education for each and every student.

    As it turns out, so do I – and that is why I have remained in education my entire adult life. I got my start, after ordination from the St. Paul Seminary more than four decades ago, as a religion teacher at St. Thomas Academy. I completed my doctoral studies and taught theology when this was the College of St. Thomas. After that I served as spiritual director and dean of formation at the seminary. Even when I left for six years to serve as rector of the Basilica of St. Mary, I remained active at St. Thomas as an adjunct faculty member and a trustee; and I was delighted to return to campus as president in 1991.

    My decision to retire next year didn’t exactly come as a surprise to many colleagues and friends who know where we are in pursuing significant milestones. Over the next year, we will wrap up another successful fundraising drive – our $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign – and enter the final stages of receiving our decennial reaccreditation from the North Central Association.

    It’s no secret, either, that I will turn 70 next spring. That’s a nice round number, and it is the same age at which my predecessor, Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy, decided to retire. As I looked at the convergence of these several events, I realized that 2013 would be an appropriate time to hand over the keys to my office to a successor who I have no doubt will serve with energy and distinction as our 15th president, carrying out our mission perhaps in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine.

    I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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