St. Thomas takes very seriously its role as a Catholic university. Its Catholic character is established in guiding documents, including its mission, vision and conviction statements and its bylaws, which allow only a Roman Catholic—priest, religious or lay person—to serve as president. (Until early 2011, the bylaws required the president to be a priest, and all 14 have been priests. The bylaws change was intended to ensure the university has the strongest possible president.) The university is not affiliated with any religious order and is known as a “diocesan” institution.
The university is active and intentional in its efforts to maintain a vital and robust Catholic character, as reflected in the reopening of its School of Law; the opening of its Rome campus; the outreach of its campus ministry programs; and the richness of its liturgies. This intentionality also is reflected in other initiatives and relationships that have been created explicitly and deliberately to strengthen and give life to the university’s Catholic identity, including those described below.
Collaboration with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
The university’s relationship with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis reaches back to its founding by Archbishop Ireland and its original mission to serve primarily the students of the archdiocese. Archbishop Harry Flynn, archbishop emeritus, is the current chair of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees, whose members currently also include the auxiliary bishop and a former vicar general of the archdiocese. The university collaborates with the archdiocese on many initiatives, some of which are described elsewhere in this section.
As part of its undergraduate core curriculum, the university requires three undergraduate courses in faith and the Catholic tradition and two undergraduate courses in philosophy, which specifically address the Catholic intellectual tradition and include readings from St. Thomas Aquinas. Many of the university’s schools expressly incorporate Catholic social teaching and the Catholic intellectual tradition into their programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. All parts of the university are committed to active exploration of the contributions they might make to the strengthening of values-based education.
To ensure faculty have a clear understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition and effectively incorporate it into their teaching and scholarly work, the Office of Academic Affairs sponsors a required four-day seminar for all new faculty members, “The Catholic Intellectual Tradition.” The Opus College of Business also sponsors a special seminar for business faculty, “Mission-Driven Catholic Business Education.”
St. Thomas is home to the undergraduate St. John Vianney Seminary and the graduate-level St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity is operated jointly by the archdiocese and the university and is described in more detail under Academic Divisions. The St. John Vianney Seminary serves undergraduate seminarians who live and worship as a community and attend classes at St. Thomas. The university supports the seminary operations in a number of ways. Enrollment at both seminaries has grown in recent years.
Center for Catholic Studies
The Center for Catholic Studies, long recognized as the preeminent such center in the United States, offers a wide range of activities and programs designed to enhance the Catholic mission and identity of the university and to contribute to national and international developments in Catholic higher education. The center houses a number of interdisciplinary institutes offering a host of programs: the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought (with a particular focus on business theory and practice), the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy (a joint venture with the law school), and the Joseph and Edith Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership.
The center also supports the Catholic Studies department within the College of Arts and Sciences. The program in Catholic Studies is the largest and oldest Catholic Studies program and offers undergraduate and graduate courses. The Catholic Studies department also offers a robust Study Abroad in Rome program.
Housed in and supported by the university, the Murray Institute trains Catholic school teachers and principals for service in the archdiocese without charging tuition. Approximately 700 teachers and principals in Catholic schools have received tuition-free graduate degrees through the institute.
Sponsorship and Support of Priests
The university hosts and shares costs of priests from other countries who come to the United States to pursue advanced degrees. Tuition discounts are given to priests of the archdiocese for credit and non-credit classes.
Community Service and Community-Based Learning Initiatives
The university has created an impressive array of community service and community-based learning programs cited by the Carnegie Foundation when it conferred its “Community Engagement” classification on St. Thomas.