The Center for Catholic Studies’ advisory board consists of 16 community professionals who work with Dr. Don Briel to form long-range plans for the center’s activities. In June 2007, the longtime chair of the advisory board, David Koch, stepped down from the position. Jim Gearen has assumed the position as board chair. Perspectives interviewed Gearen as well as the other new executive committee board members, Lisa Anderson and Jason Brass, as they assumed their duties this year.
Jim GearenRaised in the Chicago suburbs, Jim Gearen is a third-generation Tommie. He graduated from UST in 1983. Gearen works in the commercial real estate business specializing in high-rise office buildings. He was the third person to join Zeller Realty Corporation, a firm that now includes more than 100 people in Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. He moved to the Twin Cities from Chicago in 1992 and lives in south Minneapolis with his wife, Mary Beidler Gearen, and 9-year-old daughter, Molly.
I know from my own experience that college is a time of exploration of who we want to be and who we are called to be as adults. The opportunities I had at St. Thomas to explore my faith and seek out constructive ways to live were invaluable to me. So when I was invited a couple of years ago to discuss with Don Briel the Center for Catholic Studies’ future growth, I was delighted. When Don asked if I’d consider joining the advisory board I agreed without hesitation. I see my involvement in the Catholic Studies program as a way of helping ensure that the next generation of students has similar opportunities to those I had.
I have known some of the families who have supported the Center for Catholic Studies for many years. They are all impressive people who are passionate about the program and committed to investing their time and resources to expand opportunities for students to understand and appreciate their rich Catholic heritage both here in the Twin Cities and on the Rome campus. The center’s vision of a loving and inclusive ethic is very appealing in a world that is more and more divisive. Working with the other advisory board members, faculty and staff, I hope to continue to expand these opportunities for students to study and live their Catholic faith. As the largest such program in the country and one of the fastest-growing majors on campus, Catholic Studies has a role to play in building St. Thomas from a regionally acclaimed university to one that is nationally acclaimed.
I think the relatively new on-campus living options for students sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies such as the men’s houses and the women’s dormitory floors are particularly important cornerstones of campus life. I also think the unique opportunities of the Bernardi Residence in Rome are important to the mission of Catholic Studies. Fostering efforts like these and ensuring the resources needed to fund them is a primary function of the advisory board. In the future, I’d also like to see the board explore postgraduate educational, lifestyle and service opportunities in conjunction with the Catholic Studies Alumni Association.
Lisa AndersonLisa Anderson completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota and her graduate degree at St. Thomas. While she has worked in education and real estate, she considers her real vocation to be raising daughters Tara and Marissa. Tara is currently finishing the joint degree in law and Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, and Marissa is studying art at the College of St. Benedict. Anderson’s husband, Rich, received his M.B.A. from St. Thomas and currently operates Anderson Capital Management.
I have long been involved as a volunteer in educational and Catholic organizations, and I’ve been on the Center for Catholic Studies’ advisory board since its inception. Monsignor Terrence Murphy wanted a board to help support the center’s mission and asked me to join. As my knowledge of the center has grown, so has my admiration of it. College is a critical time in the development of faith when students often make the choice to embrace or reject the faith of their childhood. Catholic Studies provides the opportunity for them to learn the intellectual tradition of the Catholic faith from excellent faculty and to study the faith in an interdisciplinary approach of great depth and breadth.
The most impressive thing about the center has been its dramatic growth, much of it by word of mouth, in an increasingly secular culture. Three elements that may contribute to this growth come to mind. First, great foresight went into implementing the undergraduate portion of the program. Most undergraduate students double major in Catholic Studies and another academic discipline. This possibility allows students to prepare for their vocation while at the same time pursuing an understanding of how their faith fits into their adult lives and future work. Second, the quality of the faculty is key. The advisory board has listened to many students over the years and without fail they have remarked on how impressive their teachers have been. The third element to the center’s growth has been the Rome program, which is frequently described by students as life-altering.
I have great faith in the wisdom of the leadership of the center and its programs, and my goal is to support these efforts in any way I can. I’d like to see the allocation of more financial resources for student financial aid, for the increasing space needs of the center and for additional faculty programs and other initiatives. I also would like to see the center explore more graduate courses off campus or online to serve a growing interest in the adult student population. Recent technology offers rich possibilities in online learning, and an online graduate course of study would allow St. Thomas to reach a much larger audience with what is truly a unique program.
Jason BrassA 1994 graduate of St. Thomas, Jason Brass majored in finance. He went on to receive a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on finance from the University of Notre Dame. He is now a principal at Goldner Hawn, a private equity investment firm located in Minneapolis. Over the past 18 years, the firm has invested more than $600 million in privately held companies located prima- rily in the Midwest. Brass and his wife, Erin, have been married ten years and have three small children.
While attending St. Thomas as an undergradu- ate, I took Dr. Robert Kennedy’s business ethics class and found it extremely rewarding. The class was case based, and it helped provide a real-life aspect to the many ethical decisions business persons must make. The class was also instrumental in my decision to do my graduate work at Notre Dame where the M.B.A. program emphasizes business ethics.
My aunt and uncle, Barbara and David Koch, established the Chair for Catholic Studies in 1996. Approximately three years ago, my uncle and Don Briel asked me to join the center’s advi- sory board. I believe they thought I would be a good addition to the board given my relatively young age, my past experience at St. Thomas and Notre Dame, my contacts within the local Catholic business community and my business experience.
The center has done a terrific job in helping to preserve St. Thomas’ Catholic identity and helping students grow in their faith. I’m espe- cially impressed by the strong growth of the center over the past ten years and the interna- tional recognition it has received. Hearing from students about the impact the program has had on their lives and faith is very rewarding. I also appreciate the great diversification of the student body in terms of the many different majors they combine with Catholic Studies: business, pre- med, education, social sciences, etc.
As an executive member of the advisory board, I would like to help the center’s programs continue to grow and play an increasingly signif- icant role in the identity of the university. It is important to me that the Catholic Studies pro- gram does not become isolated from the rest of the university. I would also like to make sure that Catholic Studies classes are accessible to those students who are interested in learning more about the faith but who are not in a posi- tion to take on a Catholic Studies major or minor. In addition, as a business professional, I see a significant need for more emphasis on busi- ness ethics within society. The Department of Catholic Studies should continue to enhance its ties to the business school at St. Thomas with more course offerings in business ethics. I would also like to see the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought continue to grow and provide additional outreach programs to the community.