In the first half of 2012, the St. Thomas Alumni Association conducted a survey to gain insights on how to further engage alumni in its programs and services.
What the association discovered was that alumni appreciate St. Thomas traditions, that continuing to be involved with St. Thomas is important to alumni, and that it is essential that the value of a St. Thomas degree is continually affirmed and improved.
The survey also revealed that alumni have a deep sense of loyalty to faculty, a characteristic that became apparent when more than 800 stories about faculty members who had strong positive effects on alumni’s educational experiences were shared by the respondents.
Faculty and administrative staff members from departments across the university were mentioned, in addition to some of St. Thomas’ most notable personalities.
Of the 800 names listed, here are the five who appeared most frequently:
Monsignor James Lavin
Lavin arrived at St. Thomas in 1936 as an undergraduate student and earned a degree in English in 1940. He returned to campus in 1946 after his ordination and taught religion until 1967, when he became an academic counselor. He went to work for the St. Thomas Alumni Association in 1988 as a special assistant to the president and a university ambassador who attended countless events, funerals, weddings and baptisms. Known widely as “Scooter,” he lived in Ireland Hall as an undergraduate and from 1946 to 2002. He began the practice of offering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, also known as “Lavin Burgers,” to residence hall students in the evenings. Scooter’s restaurant – the original in Murray-Herrick Campus Center and the new version in the Anderson Student Center – carries his name, as does an award for volunteer service to the Alumni Association.
Monsignor Lavin died on Sept. 17, 2012. The first Monsignor Lavin Day was celebrated on Nov. 12, 2012, at Scooter’s on what would have been Lavin’s 94th birthday. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were served.
A respondent to the alumni survey said Monsignor Lavin “Accepted me for the person I was. As a woman in a primarily male college, his classes were critical in my development as a professional.” Another noted his kindness and recalled a time when Lavin “Gave my wife and me money out of his pocket because we had very little.”
One respondent who lived in Ireland hall for three years said, “I will tell you without hesitation that the personal relationship and experiences I had with Father Lavin were far and away the most valuable of my college years.”
Read more about Monsignor James Lavin.
Father James Whalen
A native of Minneapolis, Whalen graduated from the St. Thomas Military Academy and earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota in 1948. He worked in advertising until 1953, when he enrolled in the Saint Paul Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1958 and the following year joined the St. Thomas faculty as its first full-time journalism teacher. He later became the first chair of the newly-formed Journalism Department. More than 900 St. Thomas journalism alumni studied under Whalen during his 35-year tenure at the university. Thousands of other students took his classes but did not major in journalism or, as the department evolved, programs in advertising, media studies, public relations or broadcast journalism. In addition to his work with the university’s undergraduate journalism program, Whalen, along with senior vice president emeritus Quentin Hietpas, conceived and developed St. Thomas’ Master of Business Communication program.
Father James Whalen died on April 8, 2003, 10 years after retiring from classroom teaching.
One survey respondent heralded Whalen as “The greatest teacher I ever had. He returned my homework to me covered in red editing ink – and this is what taught me to be the writer and PR person I am today.” Another respondent acknowledged Whalen’s impact on non-journalism majors, “He was always willing to listen and give advice even though I wasn’t in ‘his’ program. (He was) a wonderful man.”
One respondent said that he “expanded my critical thinking ability and strengthened my moral values.”
Read more about Father James Whalen.
Father John Malone
Malone attended Nazareth Hall and the Saint Paul Seminary, from which he was ordained in 1967. He earned a law degree, taught business law at St. Thomas for more than 25 years, did pro bono work for people who couldn’t afford a lawyer, and worked at the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office. He served as pastor of Assumption Catholic Church in downtown St. Paul before retiring as a parish priest in 2007 and serving as a special assistant in the president’s office at St. Thomas. In 2008, he was named vice president for mission, a role he continues today.
Respondents to the survey recalled Malone as both a teacher and mentor. “(He) is simply a great person to have in your network – spiritually, academically and legally one of the best professors out there.”
“He transcends the priest-teacher and religion-business prototype. He shows that both worlds can coexist.” Another respondent commented on the large personality Malone is known for. “He made B-law fun, yet we learned a lot. We also saw a human side to a priest – humor, great intelligence outside theology, and fantastic personal skills.”
Read more about Father John Malone.
When asked whether there was a person at St. Thomas that had a positive influence on his or her experience, one survey respondent answered simply: “Bill Malevich. Enough said.”
Malevich earned his St. Thomas undergraduate degree in 1955. He returned in 1965 to work in admissions and counseling. Two years later he became dean of students, a role in which he began writing his column “Ask the Dean,” which appeared in the university’s newsletter The Bulletin. Over the years, students wrote him about serious issues – alcoholism and abortion – as well as about the absence of onion rings in the cafeteria and the difficulties of the subjunctive tense in German. His answers mixed wisdom and wit. “What is the meaning of life?” one student asked. His reply: “If I really gave you the answer to that question, wouldn’t it take the fun out of discovering the answer for yourself?”
Malevich retired in 1993. Today, the university gives two awards in his honor: the William B. Malevich Award, presented by USG, and the Malevich Student Leadership Scholarship.
One survey respondent recalled that “He was accessible, understanding and willing to work with students and student organizations.” According to another respondent, Malevich is “a truly caring and understanding guy who was deeply concerned about the well-being of students.”
Read more about William Malevich.
Dr. John Buri
Buri has spent the entirety of his professional career at St. Thomas where he currently teaches a variety of courses, including the popular Psychology of Marriage and the Family. He also has served as the chair of the Psychology Department, as well as a clinical faculty associate in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology. He received his B.A. in psychology from Loras College in Iowa. He went on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. His book How to Love Your Wife was published in 2006.
According to one survey respondent, “He taught me and many other students many lessons about psychology, but he also helped prepare us for life and interactions with people … He was a great mentor. I routinely went to him to discuss issues and receive guidance.” Another respondent agrees, saying “My psychology mentor John Buri made marriage and family come alive.”
A former student of recalls Buri’s efforts to help during a particularly difficult semester: “He provided support and resources during a term when I was very ill that allowed me to successfully complete his class despite extended absence.”
Read more about Dr. John Buri.
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For more information about the 2012 Alumni Attitudes Survey, visit the Alumni Association website.