The University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 5, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Professor of the Year, Tommie and Monsignor James Lavin awards.
St. Thomas Day events begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Mass will be celebrated by the university’s president, Father Dennis Dease. A dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. More than 500 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.
The five St. Thomas Day awards will be presented to:
Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award – This year’s award is being given to Timothy Flynn, global chairman of Amsterdam-based KPMG International. With 140,000 professionals in 146 countries, it is one of the world’s biggest accounting firms.
Established in 1971, the Distinguished Alumnus award recognizes leadership and service to the university, to the community and in the person’s field of endeavor.
Flynn grew up in Bloomington and helped pay his way through St. Thomas by working as a truck mechanic at Overland Express on evenings and weekends during the school year, and 70-hour weeks during the summer. “It was a great experience,” he recalled, “and a great lesson in learning how to balance schedules.”
A member of the St. Thomas class of 1979, Flynn recalls other lessons he learned as an undergraduate.
“I really enjoyed my accounting classes and I was fairly good at them. But I remember my cost accounting class with Dr. Shirley Polejewski. She was really tough. Her rules when taking tests were: no calculators, no rounded-out answers, and strict time limits. I had A’s in other classes, but at mid-semester in her class I was at a C-plus.
“I went in to talk to her about it and she said, ‘Tim, look, when you are in the business world, there’s going to be different rules and different environments. You need to learn to adjust.’ That really was one of the lessons she was teaching us, not just cost accounting. And so I adjusted, and by the end of the class it worked out pretty well.”
Beyond cost accounting, Flynn says his years at St. Thomas taught him “a sense of purpose, a sense of community, a sense of right and wrong, my Catholic faith. All of these things came together. You get a fabulous education, meet wonderful people, and you’re in an environment where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
“That’s a terrific way to begin one’s move into the business world and into one’s personal life,” he said.
Flynn said the most important thing a leader does, “above all else and no matter how difficult it might seem, is to act with integrity. … St. Thomas gives you a great grounding in that.”
Flynn began his 32-year career with KPMG’s Minneapolis office in 1979, the year he graduated from St. Thomas. In the early 1990s he was chosen to participate in the firm’s Leadership 2000 program, which led to promotions as global managing partner in two areas – human resources and audit. In 2005 he was elected chairman and chief executive of KPMG LLP, and has served as global chairman since 2007.
Flynn, now of Marana, Ariz., joined the St. Thomas Board of Trustees in 2006 and serves on the Opus College of Business Strategic Board of Governors. Two years ago he delivered the Opus College of Business commencement address and received its Medal of Excellence.
His son Tyler is a senior at St. Thomas this year. Other family members with St. Thomas degrees are his father (Richard, class of 1944), two brothers (Tom, class of 1980 and Peter, class of 1981), a sister (Margaret, class of 1984), father-in-law (George Moskalik, class of 1939), and Moskalik’s father (Joseph Moskalik, class of 1910).
“You can’t pick your destination but you can pick your paths,” Flynn said. “The path I picked … my choice to come to St. Thomas … was a terrific selection.”
Humanitarian of the Year Award – Ryan Schlief works in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a program called Witness and lists his occupation as “human rights activist.” The 1997 St. Thomas graduate will receive the university’s 2011 Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Established 43 years ago, the award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association and recognizes those who “better the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.”
This will be the second time Schlief was chosen for a St. Thomas Day honor. In March 1997, he accepted the Tommie Award, given annually to a St. Thomas senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.
Schlief began his acceptance remarks for the Tommie Award by saying his “first semester was a nightmare. I felt out of place, out of sync and sometimes out of mind. I did not belong. To combat this, I involved myself in a variety of activities. However, it seemed this country boy from Glenwood, Minn., needed to prove something.”
He concluded his remarks by saying, “A student who once did not belong, can no longer picture himself apart.”
As an undergraduate pursuing his degree in international business, he was sophomore class president and was twice elected president of the student government. He participated in a university-sponsored service trip to Boston, and studied for a semester in Ghana. “Ghana is the largest learning experience of my life,” he wrote in 1997. “It was the uniqueness of the continent that first attracted me to Africa but it was the warmth and friendliness of the people in Ghana that will make me return.”
He also led an effort to develop a new school song for St. Thomas, participated in the Tutor-Mentor Program, and received the Heart of St. Thomas Award. A classmate at the time observed, “Ryan demonstrated that to be an effective leader, you need courage, passion, conviction and heart. Passion is seen through every aspect of Ryan’s being and what he touches.”
Schlief went on to earn a master of law degree at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, with a focus on economic, social and cultural rights. He learned German and some French and Hindi. In addition to his current job at Witness, he worked at Amnesty International as acting head of research and campaign work in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei; the International Human Rights Law Center in London; with Senator Paul Wellstone’s office on immigrant and human-rights issues; as an AmeriCorps worker in St. Paul; and as intern at the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis.
As program coordinator for Asia at Witness, he works with local residents who use hand-held cameras to record human-rights violations. He then helps them edit and distribute those videos to help change policies and conditions. As an example, he recently worked with residents of a Cambodian HIV-AIDS community who were evicted from their homes near Phnom Penh and forced to live in a rural camp far from medical care, schools and jobs.
The videos, which showed the destruction of the homes, were then used in an international campaign. Witness, Schlief said, is “an amazing organization to work for. The local communities tell their own stories. It’s not the story I want to tell. It’s their story.”
The power of video, he said, is that “it brings the decision makers to the local community. It shows what their lives are like. We take these images to the United Nations or to the local councils, and that frames the discussions that follow. You really need to see the images; sitting in a board room is not enough. A few images are worth 10,000 words.
“I can’t parachute in and make something better,” he said. “But I can try to use some of the things that I and others have learned to support local efforts.”
Karen Lange, the dean of students at St. Thomas, knew Schlief as a college student. “He has really done what he said he was going to do,” she said. “He has made changes in the world; he has made changes for people. Fighting for human rights is so wonderful and he’s out there doing it. It’s easy to say that you are going to do that … but he has gone out and done it.”
Professor of the Year Award – Dr. Thomas Connery, who joined the St. Thomas Journalism Department (now Communication and Journalism) in 1982 and served nine years as dean of the College of Arts Sciences, is this year’s Professor of the Year.
The 50-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.
Connery recalls the first day he came to teach at St. Thomas in the fall of 1982. He met the late Father James Whalen, longtime chair of St. Thomas’ Journalism Department and winner of the 1983 Professor of the Year award, walking out of a classroom. “Here comes Father Whalen, his arms full of books and papers. He pulls out a handkerchief, wipes his brow, and says, ‘If I’m not working up a sweat I’m not doing my job.’ And I said to myself, ‘Yes! I’ve come to the right place.’”
Successful teachers, Connery feels, “have a passion for the subject matter and the students feel that passion. You know when they feel it and that’s one of the great things about teaching. When you are in the classroom and a student ‘gets it,’ it’s a great feeling. But passion is not enough; the ideas you are trying to get across have to be clear.”
A former newspaper reporter who holds a doctorate from Brown University, Connery is an authority on the history, nature and practice of literary journalism and chaired the Journalism Department for 10 years before becoming dean. Today he teaches courses on Communication and Citizenship, Literary Journalism, and the department’s capstone seminar course, Communication Ethics.
As dean and professor, Connery has been an advocate of service learning, where students apply in the community concepts that they learn in the classroom. “I’m proud in having a hand, as dean, in bringing service learning in from the margins. This was something our department had been doing for years.” As an example, hundreds of St. Thomas students in the introductory Communication and Citizenship course have partnered with ninth graders at the Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood.
Connery says that at the start of each year, “I’m still nervous going into that classroom on the first day. It’s exciting, and you get your energy from that. I want to do well and I owe it to the students to do well.
“Even when you have a thousand deadlines and all sorts of things you are working on, you still want to do your best going into that classroom. That’s the priority. Students need to know that you want them to succeed. I’m not trying to trick you, I want you to learn. What can I do? I’m cheering for you to get it.”
Connery said he was overwhelmed when he learned he has been chosen for this year’s award. “Even when I saw the slate of really wonderful colleagues (who were nominated) I thought it was good to be among those folks.”
Connery, whose B.A. and M.A. were from Ohio State University, has written on reporting and the journalistic writing style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He edited and wrote A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism and, with journalism colleagues at St. Thomas, he co-authored the media writing textbook, Writing Across the Media.
Connery has served as president of the American Journalism Historians Association and was book review editor of the organization’s journal, American Journalism. He also is a past president of the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Connery is from St. Paul.
Monsignor James Lavin Award – Dr. James McEnaney, a retired Owatonna physician and a 1952 St. Thomas graduate, will receive this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.
“I’m thrilled to death, getting an award named for Monsignor Lavin,” McEnaney said. “He is a pretty good friend of mine.
“I was a terrible student in high school,” he recalled. “When I came to St. Thomas, I had to learn how to study all over again.” He credits counselors and professors like Mary Keefe, Lavin, and a Father (later Archbishop) John Roach for “gearing me exactly for medical school at St. Louis University.
“Father Lavin’s legacy to me is being prayerful and helpful to others, to concentrate on what you’re doing, and that there’s joy in life.” And as for being a physician, he said you “have to understand people and be gentle when they are facing problems. Compassion is important; you have to be passionate about being compassionate.”
McEnaney says he loves coming back to St. Thomas for events. He has served on the Alumni Association Board and has been involved with Christmas concerts and luncheons, First Friday speakers, class reunions, the “Old Guard” and St. Thomas Day. He also has been involved with events and committees at the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna.
McEnaney and his late wife, Patricia, had seven children; four of them are St. Thomas alumni (Michael, class of 1978; Robert, class of 1981; John, class of 1987; and Brian, class of 1985). Four generations of the family, including three of McEnaney’s grandchildren, have attended St. Thomas.
Tommie Award – Daniel Carr, of Dickinson, N.D., won the 2011 Tommie Award, an 80-year-old honor that has been given annually to a St. Thomas senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.
Carr is majoring in political science and holds a 3.91 grade-point average.
Chosen from a field of 21 nominees and three finalists, Carr “combines great intellectual curiosity and ability with immense affability and excellent interpersonal skills,” commented one of his professors, Dr. John Kronen, in a nomination letter. “He is the kind of student who will graduate with high honors and also have a large cheering section in the crowd. In addition, he has a strong sense of duty to the common good and gives of his time and himself to ensure that the world is a better place for everyone.”
Carr said that as a high school student, “coming to St. Thomas wasn’t on my radar.” But when plans didn’t work out to play football at a Division II university in South Dakota, he started looking at St. John’s and St. Thomas in Minnesota. Coming from a small town, he opted “for the big city. And I couldn’t be happier; my experience here is clearly what was meant to be.”
As a freshman he joined the football team where “I learned to put my head down and keep going.” And as a new student on campus, “I appreciated the friendship of other team members, and then growing with them in faith.”
Carr said that he went through a time of serious questioning in his junior year and “I took a break from a lot of things.”
In terms of athletics, he traded a Tommie football jersey for a Blue Ox rugby jersey. Rugby is a club sport at St. Thomas and, Carr said, has a less-demanding schedule and “is more purely athletic and hairy fun.”
In terms of his spiritual life, Carr co-founded and helped lead the university’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, and also was active with the Catholic Men’s Leadership Group.
“My faith means a lot more to me now than when I first came to St. Thomas,” he said. “It’s the reason to live. Faith is the realization there’s a bigger plan.”
As a nearly straight-A student, Carr has participated in the Aquinas Scholar Honors Program and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He was a member of the university’s student government as a residential senator, and was a student assistant in both the Political Science and Geography departments.
He was a volunteer with Feed My Starving Children, Open Arms of Minnesota, Los Pequenos Hermanos Orphanage, and the People Serving People and Catholic Charities homeless shelters. He also participated in a January Term program at the University of London and in a retreat trip to Rome with his Catholic Men’s Leadership Group.
Carr’s post-graduation plans are far from set. The son of an organic crop researcher, he has worked at a local vineyard and is considering that as a possible career path. After graduation this spring, he has a vineyard job lined up near Milan, Italy. “We’ll see what happens; I’m looking at some job opportunities around the world. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but wine-making is an interesting world, and I like to be outside.”
Two of Carr’s favorite sayings are “Drink to the point of hilarity” by St. Thomas Aquinas, and “Saints are the sinners who kept on trying” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “We all need to have a little more fun,” Carr said.
He says receiving the Tommie Award is not about academic achievement or involvement in campus activities. “But it means that, in some small way, I’ve reflected what it might mean to be a Christian … a genuinely loving human being despite my failures. It is a little bit of an affirmation that I’m trying, and that’s why I’m extremely honored by this award.”
His advice to freshman is to treat college seriously, have fun, get involved with things you care about, explore your faith and ask the bigger questions. “You might never have a time like college to ask those questions, so take that seriously,” he said.
The Tommie winner is selected by a vote of students, staff and faculty. Sponsored by university’s Division of Student Affairs, the award recognizes exceptional scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.
Nominations – Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian and Lavin awards are welcome throughout the year, but are required by July 1 for consideration for the following St. Thomas Day in March. For forms and more information on how to submit a nomination, visit the Alumni Association’s web site.