I’m not a big fan of holidays – too anticlimactic, busy and commercial – but Thanksgiving always has set well with me. Part of the reason is the opportunity to view the glass as half full, not empty, and my life as blessed, not burdened.
One of the blessings is to still be associated with this place, years after I retired. St. Thomas is more than a place to be each day; it’s a state of mind: where someone is always 20 years old, change is welcome and everything is possible.
I’ve read a few letters recently to the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press from St. Thomas neighbors complaining about student behavior, especially on weekends. When I was in college, I recall that I occasionally was one of those behavior problems.
But the only behavior I see from students on campus, at least where I’m involved, is unfailingly cheerful, helpful and thoughtful. The students I meet heading to OEC say hello, offer a smile and hold the door – they always hold the door. Part of it is being respectful to their elders (otherwise known as old farts). However, I suspect another part is simply being aware of others in the world around them.
That awareness was a trademark of Monsignor James Habiger, the retired executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, who died last month at the age of 85. His unfailing good humor and sweet spirit were gifts to all of us on campus, where he was a pastoral associate in Campus Ministry.
My last memory of him was rolling down the sidewalk on a red, motorized chair a week after the semester started. Despite his congestive heart failure, the grin on his face – as usual – stretched from ear to ear. His work with the Catholic Conference gave hope to the poor. His presence on campus brought peace to the soul.
The gift that Paul Schons brought to the classroom was passion. When I first met him in 1989, he already had been teaching German for 23 years. When he died Oct. 21, he was the most senior faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Journalism Department and Modern and Classical Languages shared quarters in OEC, so I’d pass by his office daily.
He was welcoming from day one, puffing his Winston cigarette and pouring over students’ papers. “How are your classes, your students?” I’d ask. “Just fine,” he’d reply. And he never complained in the 20 years that followed; he told me that if it were his choice, he’d die in his classroom. He almost made it.
A few weeks ago, the opinions editor of TommieMedia made my day when she wrote that “there is something about holding the news in your hands, knowing there’s a beginning and an end. The images are still and the ads don’t blink.” Carly Samuelson was extolling the virtues of ink on paper – an old-fashioned newspaper.
But what impressed me most was her willingness to change the medium, as long as the emphasis on getting the story stayed the same. “We’ll move into the digital age with a happy turn,” she wrote, “or should I say click of the page.”
One reason the Opening Doors capital campaign gala last month was memorable was the music, from the Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Festival Choir. The music program at St. Thomas is growing and maturing, and it was as obvious as the ties and tuxedos, the glitter and gowns.
The choir’s close was a rousing gospel rendition of “Thanks” – and that said it all:
“Thanks. I give you thanks, for all you’ve done.
“I am so blessed. My soul is at rest.
“Oh, Lord. I give you thanks.”