Julie Sullivan left no doubt about her vision for the University of St. Thomas.

She opened her inaugural address in the university’s field house Thursday afternoon saying she was honored, humbled and impassioned to serve as its 15th president. She concluded by describing a light and a bushel basket.

“St. Thomas will be a leader in improving the quality of life in Minnesota, the United States and around the globe,” she said. “We are the light under the bushel basket, and the basket is raised half way from the ground. The light is shining brightly within a certain radius. It is time to remove the basket and let our light shine more broadly into the world.”

Sullivan delivered her remarks before a crowd of 2,000 students, faculty, staff and community leaders. For most, it was the first time they have witnessed a St. Thomas presidential inauguration. This was only the third one in nearly half a century. And for everyone, it was the first time they’ve witnessed a layperson and a woman inaugurated as leader of Minnesota’s largest private college or university.

Her 20-minute address was marked as much by enthusiasm and optimism as it was by respect for the university’s history, mission and Catholic values. Early in her remarks, she quoted the man whose bronze statue overlooks the university’s lower quadrangle.

“Archbishop Ireland, following the lessons of the Gospel, vigorously urged American Catholics to be leaders in improving society,” she said. “He urged, ‘Into the arena, priest and layman! Seek out social evils and lead in movements that tend to rectify them.’ Catholics must ‘live in our age, know it, and be in touch with it.’”

Sullivan also reflected on challenges facing higher education in an increasingly polarized, multicultural society.

Noting that the United States is losing the middle of its socioeconomic spectrum and is suffering from growing gaps in achievement and income, Sullivan said “the call of the 21st century is loud and includes wide-ranging challenges, which are also exciting opportunities.”

“I stand here today incredibly optimistic and enthusiastic about St. Thomas’ capacity to provide the excellent education that Archbishop Ireland envisioned,” she said, citing the university’s:

  • Liberal arts curriculum, which prepares students for lifelong learning
  • World-class faculty
  • Commitment to create a diverse community and provide an affordable education
  • Catholic mission and identity
  • Efforts to promote social justice and to create effective and lasting change.

“I am immensely proud that St. Thomas is a university that is rooted in the Gospel values of the first century and reflective of our founder’s extraordinary aspirations for excellence, relevance and impact,” she said. “And I am energized by and optimistic about our opportunities to boldly answer the call of the 21st century.”

Sullivan, who received two standing ovations during the program, added that she has been welcomed to St. Thomas with “open arms and trust.”

“Trust is important in everything we do,” she said. “We will always address challenges and controversies with integrity and honesty, and we will work together as a community to help each other through any difficult times.”

The highlight of the program was the formal investiture ceremony. Father Dennis Dease, president emeritus, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, chairman of the university’s board, presented Sullivan with the presidential mace and chain of office.

Flynn asked: “Dr. Julie Sullivan, the Board of Trustees at the University of St. Thomas has selected you to be the 15th president of this institution. Will you willingly accept our call to this position of leadership?”

Sullivan responded: “I do accept willingly your call to the presidency of the University of St. Thomas. I will attempt always to discharge my duties and exercise my authority with patience, zeal and charity for all the members of this academic community as well as for those who sustain us with their prayers and benefactions.”

Audience awed by ceremony, remarks

St. Thomas students were given a rare afternoon off so they and their teachers could attend the inauguration.

Nick Dedolph, a sophomore electrical engineering and physics major, sings bass in the Festival Choir, which performed at the ceremony. “It was incredible to be part of something like this,” he said. “I’ve talked with Dr. Sullivan a few times already on campus and she’s very friendly. I really felt encouraged by her inauguration address; I think the whole choir was uplifted by it.”

Oumaru Bah, a sophomore computer science major from Liberia, called the inauguration “wonderful and spectacular; I’ve never seen anything like it. You could feel the emotions.”

Sullivan’s address was “absolutely a message of hope,” said Joe Plante, interim executive director of development. “She painted a picture for our future that is so inspiring. Optimism abounds. Everyone I encounter is so hopeful for our future, and we’re so glad she’s here.”

Al Rashid, a 1966 St. Thomas alumnus, put it more succinctly in assessing Sullivan’s speech: “She hit a home run.”

“I got emotional during her speech – I really did,” said Samba Dieng, assistant director of International Student Services. “She is such a wonderful person, and I think she will be a great leader for the university. It was so inspirational.”

Sara Jane Moore, Sullivan’s mother, lives in Florida and made her first trip to Minnesota for the inauguration. “She did a fantastic job, but I knew she would,” Moore said of her daughter. “I’m very proud of her. I always have been proud of her, but this was tops.”

Caitlin Collins, Sullivan’s daughter, also talked about pride.

“I am really excited for her, but in a different way than I have been before,” said Collins, who lives in California. “It’s little things, like she has a whole new purple wardrobe!” On a more serious note, Collins explained that she resonates with her mother’s ideas about how to use change as a positive force. “If you see a problem, how do you fix it?” Collins said. “Or how do you create change so the problem doesn’t happen again?”

“It was a fabulous inauguration, with beautiful music and an inspiring message from our president,” said Virgil Wiebe, a School of Law professor. “The idea of engaging students more in experiential education is right on target for the future.”

Father Michael Joncas appreciated Sullivan’s emphasis on the importance of values that he said have long-characterized the St. Thomas community, “and they are values that will continue to guide us.” Joncas, the university’s artist-in-residence, wrote new words to the Welsh hymn, “We Gather Together to Hallow This Moment,” for the inauguration, and they were sung at the inauguration and at the morning Mass.

In a lighthearted moment during the 90-minute program, trustee John Morrison, the search committee chair who persuaded Sullivan to seriously consider the St. Thomas presidency, recalled a conversation with her. “She said, ‘Isn’t it cold in Minnesota?’ I said, ‘Have you ever been to Minnesota?’ She said no. I said, ‘It never gets below 50 in Minnesota.’”

Thursday’s events included a lunch on the lower quadrangle and a post-inauguration reception with faculty, staff and delegates from other colleges and universities. One delegate, Mary Lyons, is president of the University of San Diego, where Sullivan was executive vice president and provost before coming to St. Thomas.

Thursday morning was overcast and there were predictions of rain for the afternoon. But by the time lunch was served, the sun was out and it turned into a good day for a picnic. The university’s popular Show’d Up Band provided the entertainment.

Gayle Lamb, a St. Thomas employee for 30 years and operations manager for Dining Services, was happy for the good weather. She said they were serving lunch for 3,000 on the John P. Monahan Plaza.

What was she going to do if it started raining? “I don’t know, we didn’t really have a rain site,” she smiled. “I guess that’s when we count on our faith.”

“You are the salt of the earth”

The ceremony concluded with a benediction from Father John Malone, vice president for mission, and he opened with Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth.”

“Every home needs salt and every community needs salt,” Malone said, because it:

  • Adds flavor and taste: “May we at UST add the flavor of truth to all we do.”
  • Has cleansing value: “May we cleanse our community of hatred and violence.”
  • Has healing powers: “May we be healers to all.”
  • Preserves food: “May we preserve the truth of our religious tradition and faith.”

“As we go forth from this inauguration,” Malone said, “let us pledge to be ‘the salt of the earth,’ with all the richness of this image.”

Text of St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan’s Inaugural Address
Oct. 17, 2013

“Meeting the Age’s Call: Rooted in the First Century, Reflective of the 19th Century, and Relevant to the 21st Century”

Archbishop Flynn, Mr. Dougherty, Dr. Morrison, Mr. Fowler, and other members of the platform party; our students, faculty, staff, and alumni; delegates from other universities; and, of course, my loving family, welcome and thank you for being here to celebrate this occasion.  I particularly thank my mother, who made the journey from Florida for her first visit to Minnesota.

I stand here today honored, humbled and impassioned to serve as the 15th president of the University of St. Thomas.

I am deeply honored and humbled because of the rich history and traditions of this institution, which was founded in 1885 by the renowned Archbishop John Ireland.  His vision in founding St. Thomas was for it to be an intellectual engine equipping and propelling American Catholics to meet their age’s call and to engage in great work for God and the world.  The 14 presidents who preceded me nurtured this institution with inspiration, dedication and care, and under the skillful leadership of Father Dennis Dease, St. Thomas evolved over the last two decades into an excellent comprehensive university – one that is centered in the liberal arts and continues to equip and propel its students to meet the age’s call.

I stand here impassioned because of this very moment, looking out at this audience, indeed members of our community who are vested in the University of St. Thomas and who believe unconditionally in its future. All of us are rightfully proud of this university. Our mission inspires us: we educate students “to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.” Not only do we educate students, our responsibility also is to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.  Our timeless convictions – pursuit of truth . . . academic excellence . . . faith and reason . . . dignity . . . diversity . . . personal attention . . . gratitude – beautifully reflect a university wholly committed to Catholic identity and mission, dedicated to social justice and improving the lives of others, and tireless in its pursuit of a holistic education that integrates faith and reason.

You have welcomed me with open arms and with trust, and your presence today fortifies my confidence that we will work together to stretch ourselves, to expand our vision and to create an even more relevant and impactful university in the years ahead. Trust is important in everything we do.  We will always address challenges and controversies with integrity and honesty, and we will work together as a community to help each other through any difficult times.

The Call of Our Founder
Archbishop Ireland, following the lessons of the Gospel, vigorously urged American Catholics to be leaders in improving society.  He urged, “Into the arena, priest and layman!  Seek out social evils, and lead in movements that tend to rectify them.”  Catholics must “live in our age, know it, and be in touch with it.”  Ireland further stipulated that the age tries “all things by the touchstone of intellect.”  Ireland insisted that Catholics be in the foreground of intellectual and social movements, and he believed this required that they have access to educational institutions of “the highest degree of intellectual excellence.”  And so, our everlasting foundation was created to provide this intellectual excellence, which would prepare Catholics for the public square and meeting the call and needs of their age.

The Call of the 21st Century
Today, we must ask ourselves several important questions.  What is the call of the 21st century?  Are we in touch with the needs of our state, our country and our world, and are we anticipating the needs of tomorrow?  Are we providing an education that prepares our students to be the leaders and definers of the 21st century?  What do we observe and what do we anticipate?  I offer a sample of reflections here.

First, the velocity of change in our society is rising exponentially.  The economic, social, political, religious, demographic, ecological, and moral forces that shape and reshape our lives are moving at a dizzying pace.

Data and information are ubiquitous, and social networks provide seemingly unlimited connectivity and flow.  Technology has put the power to create in the hands of the individual.  Ideas are being instantly brought to life through technology such as 3-D printers and scanners.  Major companies are supplementing their own internal research and development by running “contests” to enlist the best minds around the globe to participate in creating their newest innovations. Recent rule changes issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission allow companies to use technology to directly solicit capital from individual investors.  I believe these significant developments are signals that we are at the tipping point of more fundamental shifts in the nature of work and the nature of organizations.

The United States increasingly is a multicultural nation.  For example, in a recent conversation with the leadership at General Mills, we reflected on the fact that by 2020, the Hispanic population in the United States will equal the population of France.  All consumer product and service companies, and for that matter, universities, must be connected to and understand these large and diverse populations and cultures.

We are losing the perspectives of “the middle.”  Our society is becoming increasingly polarized.  What better example of the cataclysmic cost of political polarization than the recent government shutdown and today’s deadline to raise the debt ceiling to avoid U.S. government default that was narrowly missed as a result of legislation passed last night?  Likewise, we also are losing the middle of our socioeconomic spectrum.  Despite decades of work by the government and not-for-profit sectors, and recently the for-profit sector, to eliminate poverty and to increase access to quality education and economic opportunity, we continue to suffer from growing gaps in achievement and income.

Meeting the Call
Yes, the call of the 21st century is loud and includes wide ranging challenges, which are also exciting opportunities.  I stand here today incredibly optimistic and enthusiastic about St. Thomas’ capacity to provide the excellent education that Archbishop Ireland envisioned; in fact, an extraordinary education that prepares our graduates for lifelong fulfillment and opportunity to serve God and the world.  Why is this?

First, our education philosophy is centered in the liberal arts.  Archbishop Ireland recognized the value of this philosophy from the beginning.  He was a voracious reader and stressed the importance of cultivating the thirst for knowledge through reading.  In his view, the precise content of a school’s curriculum was not the concern, rather it was whether its effect would make the student a lifelong learner.  He said: “The decisive thing for each one, if there be any special significance and value in his life, is not what he is taught but what he teaches himself.”

We provide students the attitudes and skills to be capable lifelong learners and successful professionals.  This is certainly essential in today’s age, when the meteoric explosion of knowledge assures that what you know today in any field will not be sufficient for tomorrow.  Perhaps more importantly, a liberal arts education impels students to explore and strengthen their own morals and values, to understand art and culture, and ultimately to discover a greater purpose and mission beyond their own existence.  In essence, liberal learning prepares students to move beyond themselves and, as the gospel calls us, to be more fully “for others.”  We will continue to hold ourselves accountable for excellence in the pillars of liberal learning – the arts, the sciences, and the humanities – and for refreshing the relevance of our professional programs that build off of this liberal foundation.

Secondly, our world-class St. Thomas faculty are student mentors, and they teach in context.  Our professors, across a multitude of disciplines, immerse students in real world problem-solving every day, whether they are designing a machine to dry breadfruit in Haiti, growing produce for food shelves as part of a biodiversity research project, or providing counseling and legal services to underserved local populations.  Our faculty develop and hone the skills our graduates need to lead, prosper, and flourish.  These skills are curiosity, ingenuity, collaboration, creativity, and confidence.  I am becoming increasingly convinced that confidence may be their precursor.  In a recent conversation with leaders at 3M, we discussed what is necessary to cultivate curiosity, and we agreed that the confidence to ask questions and make mistakes is a critical ingredient.  One of my dreams, is that every student who graduates from St. Thomas will have participated in an experiential learning opportunity that brings students together from multiple disciplines to collaborate, create, innovate, and solve real-world problems and challenges.

Thirdly, we are committed to creating and nurturing a diverse community and ensuring that a St. Thomas education is affordable and accessible for future generations of talented students.  We must be a microcosm of the world if we are to provide the richest and most transformative learning experience possible.

I was extremely moved to learn, in reading about Archbishop Ireland and the early days of St. Thomas, that our community has long recognized the power of diverse perspectives and our responsibility to advocate for inclusion for all.  In our first decade, the faculty hailed from a multitude of countries.  The earliest students’ interactions with professors from widely different backgrounds was described as providing “that quickening of curiosity and expansion of imagination that are among the indispensable ingredients of liberal learning.”

The first black student enrolled at St. Thomas in 1888, three years after our founding.  No other American prelate of his time was a stronger leader in the cause of civil rights than Archbishop Ireland, who denounced racial discrimination and demanded full political and social equality for black Americans.  “We are all brothers in Christ, and brothers do not look at color or race,” he said.  “I know no color line; I will acknowledge none.”  Thus, it is no surprise that the first diocesan black priest ordained in the United States was in St. Paul by Archbishop Ireland in 1910.

Finally, and of paramount importance in meeting the call of the 21st century, is our Catholic mission and identity.  As a Catholic university, we promote and respect the dignity of every human person.  We are called to live within the context of Gospel values such as empathy, compassion, dialogue, and understanding.  Our values impel us to be in the world – where, as Ireland said, “we can prove our love for it and render it service.”  We are called to be leading voices in the Catholic political conversations of our nation and the global interfaith dialogue.  We advance the common good, and we create and cultivate the space – the common ground – that joins us together as one humanity created by God.

This is consistent with what Pope Francis envisions when he urges all to work for justice for the poor.  In his trip to the slums of Brazil this past summer, Pope Francis implored us to “never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!”  We, the St. Thomas community, heed this call.  Yet, I know that we alone cannot create change for others.  We will work with others, the poor and resourceful alike, to create effective and lasting change.

Conclusion
So, today, I am immensely proud that St. Thomas is a university that is rooted in the gospel values of the first century and reflective of our founder’s extraordinary aspirations for excellence, relevance, and impact.  And I am energized by and optimistic about our opportunities to boldly answer the call of the 21st century.

As Thomas Aquinas, our patron saint, wrote, “Faith has to do with things that are not seen, and hope with things that are not at hand.”  We are filled with faith and hope, and we exude the buoyant optimism of Ireland when he said, “I believe that God intends the present to be better than the past, and the future to be better than the present.”

St. Thomas will be a leader in improving the quality of life in Minnesota, the United States and around the globe.  We are the light under the bushel basket, and the basket is raised half way from the ground.  The light is shining brightly within a certain radius.  It is time to remove the basket and let our light shine more broadly into the world.

Thank you, and God bless you for everything that you do for the University of St. Thomas.

2 Responses

  1. HILARY NGU NDONGNYAM

    Madam President congratulation! I am glad you will be taking as mission to promote Catholic mission and identity. With the birth of several denominations Catholic doctrines seem to be sleeping we need to wake it up.

  2. Linda Long

    Dear Dr. Sullivan,

    Congratulations on this day of your inauguration ceremony at the University of St Thomas! I wish you much success and wisdom, and bless everyone at the university to prosper under your leadership.

    Best, Linda