The University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 4, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and to honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus, Professor of the Year, Tommy 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 82 years ago — on the March 7 St. Thomas Day of 1918 — that the first Mass was celebrated in that chapel.
A dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. The awards will be presented to:
Humanitarian of the Year —William Connelly, Bloomington, until recently the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Economic Development Fund, is being recognized for his work with Minnesota’s American Indian community. Established 31 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association.
Connelly, 62, is a 1959 St. Thomas graduate who spent the first 25 years of his career with the First Bank System. He was president and CEO of First Banks in Babbitt, Northfield, Grand Forks and Austin. In 1986 he was appointed deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development and two years later came to St. Thomas and its Graduate School of Business, where he now is director of urban economic initiatives.
In addition to teaching, for a time Connelly directed the university’s Small Business Development Center. While still associated with St. Thomas, Connelly in 1990 became the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Economic Development Fund, which he helped create. Supported by the McKnight Foundation and affiliated with St. Thomas, the nonprofit fund provides technical assistance to American Indian entrepreneurs who develop businesses on the 11 reservations in the state.
Just about the time he started his work with the fund, Connelly bought a new Buick. In nine years he put 264,000 miles on the car driving to the state’s four Dakota and seven Ojibway reservations, including the Red Lake Nation. Ten days after completing his work as the fund director, the car quit running.
“After all those years it never gave me a bit of trouble,” Connelly said. “But it died just after I stopped making those long trips to the reservations.”
Instead of meeting clients in nicely appointed bank offices, Connelly worked at the kitchen tables of reservation members hoping to launch a business. More than 20 companies now thriving on reservations have been helped by his efforts.
Although he no longer directs the fund, Connelly continues to work with both St. Thomas and the American Indian community. He has been involved with the American Indian Research Culture Institute at the Benedictine Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota. And from his office at the archdiocesan Office of Indian Ministry in Minneapolis, he conducts research on how parishes are affected by inner-city demographic changes, and programs that are successful in keeping American Indian students in high school.
Distinguished Alumnus –This year’s award goes to Gerald Heaney of rural Duluth, the senior judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Distinguished Alumnus award is presented for leadership and service to the university, to the community, and in the person’s field of endeavor.
Heaney, 82, was born in Goodhue and attended St. Thomas from 1935 to 1936. Like many from that era, he transferred to the University of Minnesota law school to complete his undergraduate and graduate law degrees.
Heaney enlisted as an Army private in July 1942; six months later he was commissioned an officer. After the war he was partner in a law firm until named to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1966; he became its senior member in 1988.
Heaney is a noted analyst on constitutional law and known for his work and rulings in the areas of civil and human rights. Through his efforts Duluth became the first city in the country to pass an open-housing ordinance, and he helped lead a team that built one of the first housing projects for low-income families.
On the civic front, Heaney helped organize the Northeastern Minnesota Development Association, was on the University of Minnesota board of regents and supported the development of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, worked to helped create the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth, and chaired the Duluth Inter-Racial Council.
Professor of the Year — Dr. Steven Hatting, of St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood and a member of St. Thomas’ political science department since 1982, is this year’s Professor of the Year. The 38-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.
Hatting, 53, earned his master’s and Ph.D. at Duke University and specializes in constitutional law and judicial politics. As the university’s pre-law adviser and educator-coach of St. Thomas’ highly successful mock trial teams, Hatting has worked with hundreds of students interested in pursuing legal careers. The St. Thomas mock trial team won the national championship in 1987, and has won the North Central regional tournament four times in the 1990s.
Hatting founded the St. Thomas Pre-Law Society in 1983, chaired the Political Science Department from 1986 to 1996, and directed the Division of Social Sciences from 1992 to 1996. He also served as president of the Minnesota Political Science Association from 1997 to 1999.
The university’s Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society called Hatting “tremendously dedicated” and said his “encouragement and integrity are inspirational” when it named him adviser of the year several years ago.
Monsignor James Lavin Award — Rachel Wobschall, a resident of downtown St. Paul, will receive this year’s Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association.
Wobschall is director of citizen outreach for the Minnesota Governor’s Office. An active alumna since her 1981 graduation, she is a past alumni board member and vice president and has helped with many projects and volunteer efforts.
This won’t be her first trip to the podium on a St. Thomas Day.
In 1981 she received the “Tommy” outstanding senior student award. St. Thomas became coeducational in 1977, and she was the first woman to win what previously had been called the “Mr. Tommy” award. During her senior year, Wobschall was president of the All College Council student government. She majored in political science.
The Tommy Award — Jon Merchant, of Norfolk, Neb., was selected the 2000 Tommy 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.
Merchant is president this year of the All College and has been active in many clubs and organizations, including Campus Ministry.
A public relations major, Merchant holds a 3.6 grade-point average and is planning to pursue graduate studies in higher-education administration.
Merchant told The Aquin student newspaper last week that he appreciates the “window of opportunity” college life provides. “The time between high school and professional life should be spent shaping one’s identity and learning to be independent. … Get involved. I think that’s the biggest component to truly appreciating the academic life of college,” he said.
Merchant was one of nine semifinalists and three finalists for the award, sponsored by The Aquin and the Alumni Association.