University to honor five at annual St. Thomas Day event

The University of St. Thomas community will gather this Saturday, March 4, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and to honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus, 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 Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the university’s board of trustees. It was 88 years ago – on the March 7 St. Thomas Day of 1918 – that the first Mass was celebrated in that chapel.

A 7 p.m. dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. More than 500 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.

St. Thomas Day is part of a weeklong series of events for the university’s annual Heritage Week. More information about the week is available here.

The five St. Thomas Day awards will be presented to:

Distinguished Alumnus – This year’s award is being given to Vince Flynn, of Edina, a 1988 St. Thomas graduate and author of seven best-selling political thrillers.

Flynn, who majored in economics at St. Thomas, had to overcome two significant obstacles on the path to becoming a best-selling author: first, he was dyslexic and for many years was terrified of the written word; second, he had to figure out a way to sell his first book.

Vince Flynn

To overcome the first obstacle, he forced himself into a daily writing and reading regimen. “I started reading everything I could get my hands on, Hemingway, Ludlum, Clancy, Tolkien, Vidal,” he recalled. “I read fiction, nonfiction, anything, but I especially loved espionage.”

His first thriller, Term Limits, was rejected by major publishers, so he raised $20,000 from three investors and self-published 2,000 copies. He delivered them to 20 bookstores in the Twin Cities. It became a local favorite and drew the attention of a large New York publisher.

When Pocket Books published Term Limits in hardcover in 1998, it failed to make the best-seller lists, but the next year a paperback version did. So did his 1999 Transfer of Power, 2000 The Third Option, 2001 Separation of Power, 2002 Executive Power, and 2004 Memorial Day. His seventh book, Consent to Kill, was released last fall.

More than 5 million copies of his books are in print in the United States. They also are sold abroad in 12 countries.

Starting a new career as a writer was scary, Flynn said. “I look back on it now and couldn’t be happier with my decision, but at the time I remember a lot of people thought I was nuts.”

Established in 1971, the Distinguished Alumnus award is presented for leadership and service to the university, to the community and in the person’s field of endeavor.

Humanitarian of the Year – William Roddy, of Eden Prairie, will receive the 2006 Humanitarian of the Year Award for his work on behalf of at-risk youth.

Roddy, a 1979 business graduate of St. Thomas, and his wife, Gail, had been volunteers at the Hennepin County Home School, a juvenile correctional facility located in Minnetonka, when they decided to launch a nonprofit venture called Osiris Organization, named for an ancient Egyptian god of renewal and transformation.

William Roddy

Osiris began in 1996 at the Home School with the goal of providing its at-risk residents with technology and computer training, as well as mentoring opportunities. While Bill and Gail acknowledge that no computer class will change a life, “it sets the stage for other aspects of the program that truly can.”

After establishing its program at the Home School, Osiris went on to open additional computer centers at more than a dozen Minneapolis parks. All of the park centers are open to the public, and one of the largest, at Powderhorn Community Park, has 14 computers. Participants learn a range of Web site, networking, graphics and other software programs.

By hiring Home School computer graduates to work at instructors in the parks, Osiris gives young people positive role models to look up to. The younger participants learn valuable computer skills, and the older participants learn the value of being positive role models.

About 70 Home School residents participate in the Osiris programs each year; about 25 of them are hired to teach at the Minneapolis parks.

According to an article in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper, there were some who questioned Bill Roddy’s decision to quit his job and start Osiris. “My friends thought I had lost my mind. But I didn’t listen to them,” he said.

Roddy, 48, grew up on the west side of Chicago. He was an outstanding high school basketball player and at St. Thomas earned a spot in the “Career 1,000 Points Club,” with 1,431 points during the years 1975 to 1979. He also played varsity tennis and was involved in the Tiger Club and President’s Student Development Council. As an alumnus, he has been involved in the African-American Alumni Committee.

Established 34 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association.

Professor of the Year – Frank Coglitore, of Lakeville, is this year’s Professor of the Year. The 45-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.

Coglitore, 63, has been teaching accounting at St. Thomas for 23 years and has no plans to retire. “I truly love going into the classroom and teaching, and plan to keep doing so as long as I enjoy working with our students and feel I’m making a contribution.”

Frank Coglitore

As a teacher, he has three broad goals in mind.

“Whether it is in the field of accounting, or in life in general, we want our students to learn how to learn. We use various teaching techniques to do this, and it’s one of the most important things we do.”

Next, he says, is teaching students to be competent in their field so they can pass the required professional exams and be prod
uctive employees.

Third is to expose students to situations in which they must consider the right thing to do. “This has to do with ethics, of course. While some could consider the field of accounting to be fairly cut and dried, there are many things that are open to interpretation; our students need to know what is the right thing to do,” he said. “We instill in them a professional code of conduct.”

Coglitore grew up in New York and remains a Yankees fan, something that comes in handy for starting good-natured arguments with his Twins-fan students. He majored in accounting and minored in philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx, went on to receive an M.B.A. at Scranton University, and continued his studies at the University of Minnesota, where he held a teaching fellowship.

When he took the certified public accountant exam in Minnesota, he received the Harold C. Utley Award for having the highest test score in the state.

After two years in the Army, Coglitore joined the faculty at Mankato State University, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in accounting from 1971 to 1976. He then spent five years at the international accounting firm KPMG, where he was a manager, and joined the St. Thomas accounting faculty in 1982.

At St. Thomas he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in accounting and auditing. Over the years he has served as department chair, helped develop new programs, and has served on or chaired a host of university committees.

He also has given more than two dozen presentations at accounting conferences locally and nationally. One of his research specialties has been in the field of problem-based teaching, which emphasizes critical-thinking, writing and communication skills. A paper he co-wrote on the topic was voted Best Faculty Paper at a regional conference of the American Accounting Association.

A second research specialty has been gender issues in accounting. Women have been making promising strides in the field, Coglitore said. That’s even the case at St. Thomas, where slightly more than half of accounting students now are women. Coglitore recalls that when he started teaching at St. Thomas there only was one woman on the accounting faculty. Today, five of the 11 full-time accounting professors are women.

“We are tremendously proud of Frank’s accomplishments as Professor of the Year,” commented Dr. Christopher Puto, dean of the College of Business. “His approach to his classes and to his students embodies all of the elements we value so highly at St. Thomas.

“This prestigious award recognizes Frank for his many years of dedication and commitment to creating the best possible learning experience for our students. 

“From the first day I met him almost four years ago, it was evident that Frank was totally dedicated to our students.  This award could not go to a more deserving or worthy individual,” Puto said.

Monsignor James Lavin Award – Charles Duggan, of Edina, will receive this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.

Duggan was active on campus as a student in New College, a former undergraduate program for older and nontraditional students, and has continued to be active with the university following his 1984 graduation.

Charles Duggan

Duggan was a founding member of the New College Alumni Association and worked to develop social, educational and career-related programs for older students and graduates.

He also became a member of the main Alumni Association’s board of directors.

As one Alumni Association staff member described it, “A special place exists in the heart of Chuck for the University of St. Thomas. One of the first members of his family to receive a college degree, the education he received as an adult learner was a feat not to be underestimated.”

During his years of service, Duggan has been involved in a host of alumni programs that include career and entrepreneurship groups, First Friday lectures, taking students to lunch, young alumni events, and theater, golf and Christmas gatherings.

Tommie Award – Benjamin Kessler was selected the 2006 Tommie Award winner by a vote of students, staff and faculty. The award has been given annually since 1931 to a senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.

Kessler, of Janesville, Wis., holds a 4.0 grade-point average and is majoring in philosophy and business. He is member of St. John Vianney Seminary, a community of undergraduate seminarians located on the university’s St. Paul campus, and his years at St. Thomas have blended scholarship, athletics and service to the church and community.

Benjamin Kessler

Father William Baer, rector of St. John Vianney, said, “I don’t quite know how he does it. Ben finds time in his schedule where no time seems to exist, coordinating activities and projects around the campus and surrounding community that have brought together seminarian students, nonseminarian students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff, parents, church leaders and local community social-service agencies."

“As Ben’s seminary rector, I watch him engage in bridge-building efforts among various sections of the university community unlike any others,” Baer added.

At 6’2” and 250 pounds, Kessler played defensive tackle for the St. Thomas football team for four years and was team captain in his senior year. He was named an ESPN the Magazine Academic All American. He also was a finalist for the Draddy Award, often referred to as the “Academic Heisman.”

At St. John Vianney, he served as both assistant and head sacristan, was the athletic tournament coordinator, and led a mission trip to New Orleans in 2003.

He has been a founding member and grand knight of the St. Thomas Knights of Columbus Council and chaired the council’s food drive and pancake breakfast. His volunteer activities are many and varied: Loaves and Fishes food program, St. Phillips After-School Program, Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home, St. Mary’s Nursing Home, Segrado Corazon Hispanic Ministry and Spectrum Lighthouse Rehabilitation Home.

He is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and Delta Epsilon Sigma National Scholastic Honor Society. He received a William B. Malevich Leadership Scholarship and a Monsignor James Lavin Award. He also chaired a Divine Mercy Hour of Prayer at St. Thomas and a 24-hour pro-life vigil in Madison, Wis.

“Ben is very intense in all facets of his daily life,” noted his football coach Don Roney. “When he is on the football field
or in training for the season, Ben is extremely determined and works very hard. He has the same intensity in the classroom and when talking about his faith and the Catholic Church.

“He is a great role model for our other players and for other students on campus. He is equally a great role model for his seminarian classmates; a man exploring his calling can be aggressive, intense and proud of his faith while being successful in everything that he does.”

This unusual combination of gritty football player and devoted seminarian has been covered in a host of media accounts that have appeared on campus, in Minnesota and nationally.

Kessler is the son of Anne and Ralph Kessler of Janesville. Following graduation from St. Thomas this spring he plans to continue his studies in Vatican City at the Pontifical North American College.

The Tommie Award is sponsored by university’s Division of Student Affairs.