Editors note: This article was published in 2008. Event details are outdated.
Father James Lavin with Connie Pocernick, the first female student to enroll in the College of St. Thomas.

Everyone invited to Monsignor Lavin’s 90th birthday celebration Nov. 12

Monsignor James Lavin, a member of the University of St. Thomas community for more than seven decades, will celebrate his 90th birthday next week on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Monsignor
James Lavin

All are welcome to help him celebrate at an open house in his honor from 5 to 8 p.m. that day in the third-floor lounge (Room 304) of Murray-Herrick Campus Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Light refreshments will be served and a program will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Lavin spent most of his life working for St. Thomas and is one of its most beloved ambassadors. He now resides at the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in St. Paul, and remains active, working for the university’s Alumni Association.

If you would like to send a card, please address it to:

Monsignor James Lavin
Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home
Room 504
330 South Exchange St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Reservations for the open house are requested to help plan the event. To RSVP, or if you have questions, send an e-mail to Jane Jackelen of Alumni and Constituent Relations at jack3826@stthomas.edu.

You are welcome to write a personal memory or note that will be presented to Monsignor Lavin. The messages can be sent via e-mail to Jackelen, or can be written on cards that will be available at the open house.

In lieu of gifts, donations are encouraged to the Monsignor James M. Lavin Endowed Scholarship Fund. Information about that fund can be found here.

Monsignor James Lavin watches a homecoming football game from the Morrison Hall patio Oct. 20, 2007, during an alumni gathering.

An article in the autumn 1993 issue of St. Thomas magazine, written at the time of Lavin’s 75th birthday, says that his unofficial motto is: “I’ve got my feet on the ground, the prayers rise up to heaven.”

The article also provides this overview of the priest’s life:

Five days after he was born in Aurora, Minn., on Nov. 12, 1918, Lavin’s mother died in a flu epidemic.  He and his older brother, Edward, and stepbrother, Dennis, were raised with the help of a widowed housekeeper and later stepmother, Mary Jane St. Arnaud O’Brien.

During the Depression, his father planted the family in Minneapolis and took any field office job he could get, coming home for Christmas and Easter; thus, Lavin went to De La Salle High School, graduating in 1936.  An English major, with a minor in Latin and Greek, he graduated summa cum laude from the College of St. Thomas in 1940.

As chapel sacristan, Lavin had “time to talk to God.  The idea of being a priest came in my sophomore year.”  He was ordained on Aug. 18, 1945.  He soon began teaching at St. Thomas and resumed his residence in Ireland Hall, where he had lived as a student.  “I taught religion for 21 years, though they called it theology toward the end,” Lavin said.

His work experience included teaching at St. Joseph’s Academy, the College of St. Catherine, St. Thomas Academy and Diocesan Teachers’ College.  He also earned an M.A. in counseling.  In 1967 he was named director of student counseling, until the department divided and he became director of academic counseling in 1973.  He “retired” in 1988 and immediately went to work in the Alumni Association office serving, as always, the St. Thomas community.

Honored as St. Thomas’ “Humanitarian of the Year” in 1973, Lavin also is perhaps the only priest to have a pub named after him.  In 1988, the alcohol-free “Scooter’s” opened in the lower level of Murray-Herrick Campus Center.  Lavin does not know who first named him “Scooter” but the nickname surfaced in 1963 and referred to his brisk walk.  “When I first came to St. Thomas I was called ‘Jumping Jim’ but I slowed down some and it became Scooter.”

He is well-known for his life’s work with students, taking them on rock climbing or snowshoeing expeditions while his health permitted and providing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (sometimes called Lavinburgers) twice a week on a table once owned by his father.  He led a nightly prayer and was a friend in times of crisis and grief.

On occasion, he lent students money to fix their cars and buy their textbooks.  He regarded the money not as a loan but as a revolving fund (most paid it back).  He has bailed students out of jail and has accepted collect phone calls from dropouts anxious to re-enroll at St. Thomas, some from as far away as Vietnam.

“Finding God is a matter of knowing him by what he does,” said Lavin. “And if we make a great effort to keep the commandments, a lot of problems of losing faith disappear. Deep down the roots of faith are there. Once you have them, you can, like dandelions, dig out the top, but below they are still growing, still alive.”