The Connection is Strong

Father Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas

There is nothing that I would like to do more than to sit down and write thank-you notes to each and every donor to the Opening Doors campaign.

That is a bit unrealistic, however, considering that 43,000 – that’s right, 43,000! – individuals and organizations made contributions to the most successful fundraising effort in St. Thomas history.

Whenever I think of that number, I pause to wonder just what inspired such generosity. I always conclude that a donor’s relationship with St. Thomas has been such that he or she feels compelled to join our efforts to provide the best possible education for our students.

Opening Doors focused on three themes that have been our top priorities for the past two decades: access, excellence and Catholic identity. A St. Thomas education must remain affordable to qualified students. We must pursue excellence through effective teaching, active learning and scholarly research. And we must become more intentional about our identity as a faith-based university.

Thanks to your support, I believe we have made admirable progress toward achieving our goals. We will never be finished, of course, because how society defines excellence can be so subjective. But I do know that a St. Thomas education is more affordable today, thanks to the $117 million you gave to financial aid programs, and I can confidently state that we have never been more attentive to the Catholic dimension of our mission.

I told the faculty at the end of my academic convocation remarks in September that St. Thomas, with its legacy, spirit and resources, “has tremendous potential to contribute meaningfully beyond its current scope and to expand its influence. You will be part of that.”

I conclude with the same six words today. You will be part of that – all 43,000 of you, and many more – because of your support of this fine university. God bless you!

You Answered the Call

John Morrison and Richard Schulze, campaign co-chairs

Thank you and congratulations, St. Thomas! In successfully completing the Opening Doors capital campaign, we have achieved a great triumph for our students and the entire university community.

Opening Doors began its public phase in October 2007, in the face of difficult economic times that have persisted throughout the campaign. It made the road more challenging, but the reaching of our goal all the more rewarding. Now that our long journey has ended, it is gratifying to thank each and every donor who has contributed to this achievement, whether during the public phase or the three-year “silent” phase, dating to 2004.

We would like to acknowledge that a significant portion of the campaign total was generated by several very large matching-gift opportunities or “challenge matches.” The important role of these as generators of additional support often is overlooked in fundraising recognition. Many individual donors, a major foundation, and the Board of Trustees itself used their own gifts as challenge matches to encourage other donors to participate in the campaign and multiply the wonderful effects of their generosity.

In addition to the obvious importance of alumni and other friends in this endeavor, much hard work from St. Thomas staff and faculty members – particularly those in the Institutional Advancement division – has brought to a very successful conclusion the largest capital campaign of any private college or university in Minnesota history.

Raising more than $500 million – much of it for scholarships and new and improved facilities – for the benefit of University of St. Thomas students already has opened many doors, and it will continue to do so for as long as St. Thomas exists. It is a legacy in which all involved can take great pride.

Thank you again to everyone who played a part in this monumental achievement.

Two St. Thomas Endings, Two Great Successes

Mark Dienhart, campaign director

Amid the normal excitement and enthusiasm of the start of another academic year, and the happy but frenzied work that accompanied the closing days of the Opening Doors capital campaign, came word from Little Sisters of the Poor residence that Father James Lavin’s health was failing him and that the end might be near. At 93, the news wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was heartbreaking for all of us, nonetheless.

I was scheduled to leave the country with Father Dease and some of our trustees, and I wanted to make sure that I visited Scooter before doing so. Father Lavin was someone I got to know well as a St. Thomas undergrad, the way almost everyone did, what seems now like about a century ago. He’d visited me in the hospital when, as a senior, I had sustained a leg injury playing football. He came to administer the sacrament of the sick. I, in my naïve way, suggested that he save the sacrament for someone with an affliction closer to the heart or brain. He, in his soft but inimitable way, suggested that I attend to the things I knew something about, and he would attend to those in which he had expertise. I remember “shut up” as part of his admonishment, and I promptly did so.

Father Lavin had pneumonia and had been sent back to Little Sisters from the hospital because the hospital couldn’t do any more for him than it had done, and it was his clear intent to spend his last years, days and minutes in that residence with the good sisters who cared for him in such a loving and gentle way.

Father Lavin approached his ministry at St. Thomas one student at a time and in a very personal way. When I had the good fortune to hire him to work in Alumni Affairs, it was clear that he took on his new responsibility in exactly the same way. Everyone who approached him was deserving of his undivided attention and best efforts to help. He was a lifeline to many troubled students. He was a connection to the Church for many who needed that at a particularly difficult time in their lives. And he served as a shining example to all of us who work in higher education and aspire to what jargon like “student-centric” really means. He went about his work one student, one alum, one person at a time.

The Opening Doors capital campaign, despite the economic travail that occurred during it, has been an enormous success. But it is a success only if it has a positive impact on individuals, one at a time, the way Father Lavin did and the way he would have wanted.

I think he would be happy and proud.

More students will have access to a St. Thomas education because of the record amount of gifts for financial aid given during this campaign, and they will walk away with less debt. More students will have access to the excellent faculty and extraordinary facilities that have been added to the institution with the resources made available by Opening Doors. And, the Catholic character of the institution has been strengthened by the resources and attention given those programs that are standard-bearers for the faith-based mission of St. Thomas. The great victory of the campaign is that it will assist individual students, one at a time, the way Father Lavin did.

Thanks to all of you who cared for those individual students in the same way he did when you made your gifts. I know he would have approved!