- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- October 2008
- Featured Events
- Men's Baseball Event
- Men's Baseball News
- Men's Baseball Roster
- Men's Basketball Event
- Men's Basketball News
- Men's Basketball Roster
- Men's Cross Country Event
- Men's Cross Country News
- Men's Cross Country Roster
- Men's Football Event
- Men's Football News
- Men's Football Roster
- Men's Golf Event
- Men's Golf News
- Men's Hockey Event
- Men's Hockey News
- Men's Hockey Roster
- Men's Soccer Event
- Men's Soccer News
- Men's Soccer Roster
- Men's Swimming Event
- Men's Swimming News
- Men's Swimming Roster
- Men's Tennis Event
- Men's Tennis News
- Men's Tennis Roster
- Men's Track And Field Event
- Men's Track And Field News
- Men's Track And Field Roster
- Tommie Media
- Women's Basketball Event
- Women's Basketball News
- Women's Basketball Roster
- Women's Cross Country Event
- Women's Cross Country News
- Women's Cross Country Roster
- Women's Golf Event
- Women's Golf News
- Women's Golf Roster
- Women's Hockey Event
- Women's Hockey News
- Women's Hockey Roster
- Women's Soccer Event
- Women's Soccer News
- Women's Soccer Roster
- Women's Softball Event
- Women's Softball News
- Women's Softball Roster
- Women's Swimming Event
- Women's Swimming News
- Women's Swimming Roster
- Women's Tennis Event
- Women's Tennis News
- Women's Tennis Roster
- Women's Track and Field Event
- Women's Track and Field News
- Women's Track and Field Roster
- Women's Volleyball Event
- Women's Volleyball News
- Women's Volleyball Roster
Category Archives: magazine
Last January, I was at my son’s hockey game just prior to leaving for Uganda on assignment for this magazine. A parent asked me if I had ever been to Africa. I thought for a moment and realized this would be my third trip to the continent. In 15 years, my work for St. Thomas has taken me around the globe with my camera, lights, microphones and tripod. I never travel light.
I have never traveled anywhere for St. Thomas without learning something. And much
of what I have learned came from watching people’s hands.
On this recent trip to Uganda, I was filming in the street outside of Hope Medical’s Kasubi Clinic in the capital city of Kampala, surrounded by a group of kids. One had his hand on my microphone cable, another his hand on my tripod and a third with his hand on my back. They were all just curious – anxious to make a connection to me or my gear.
My first trip to Africa was to Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2003, with St. Thomas students and surgeons from Children’s Heartlink. The students were there to do a documentary on the work of the surgeons. I watched in awe as the hands of a surgeon opened a small child’s chest, stopped her heart, repaired it, and started it up again – all to give her a chance at a longer and healthier life.
When I went to Cuba with Coach Dennis Denning and his Tommie baseball team in January 2000, I watched Denning’s right hand as he held his index finger above his head while talking to his players. “Play hard,” he said, “because your opponents want
you to. Play with passion and respect.”
When in Rome in 2000, it was respect for the pope I was concerned about. I used my
own hands as signals to communicate with a Vatican police officer who escorted me
up the steps of St. Peter’s to shoot footage of our group with John Paul II. The guard held my right elbow the entire time, and when he felt I had enough video he squeezed my elbow and lowered my arm and camera. He guided me back down the stairs and gave me a look, as if to say, I just did you a favor.
In Bogota, Colombia, in 2009, it was the hands of a nun holding an infant in her arms that touched me. Sister Valeriana Garcia-Martin runs Hogares Luz y Vida, a home for abandoned and terminally ill children. She received an award of $100,000 from the Opus Prize Foundation for the work of her hands. I later discovered the child she was holding died shortly after we left. I was comforted knowing that she loved that child and all those in her care as if they were her own.
And Father Dennis Dease treated all those he met in Kampala as though they were
friends or family. He put his hands on their shoulder. He shook their hands. He held
their hands. And to the children he met, it was “high fives.” He used his hands as a
pastoral tool, reaching out to touch the lives and spirits of those he had just met.
They say a person’s eyes are the gateway to their soul. Perhaps, their hands are a
reflection of their spirit.
Ask any Ugandan attending St. Thomas what he or she thinks of life at the university, and the response is always the same.
“I love it here!” said Felista Mpanga, a junior human resources management major from Kampala. “The people. The teachers. The small classes.”
Her sister Olivia, a junior actuarial science major, nods in agreement. And if you asked their brothers, Paul (senior engineering major) and Edgar (2008 alumnus pursuing an M.B.A.), their answers would be no different.
The Mpanga sisters, who enrolled at St. Thomas at the encouragement of their uncle,
Charles Lugemwa ’03 M.M.S.E., are very self-sufficient and work long hours on top of their rigorous class schedules. Olivia is a School of Education office assistant and a Math Resources Center tutor and Felista works in a library computer lab.
The sisters and Paul live in the apartment buildings at 2171-2175 Grand, while Edgar
lives off campus. Like many Ugandan students, they are skilled in the kitchen.
“I do a lot of my own cooking,” Olivia said. “I love food. I cook and she (nodding at Felista) eats the leftovers. And on Saturday, Edgar buys us lunch!”
KITEMBE, UGANDA – It is 8 o’clock at night, and the trading center has come alive … with lights.
People wander down the gravel road and dirt paths flanking the brick buildings and stone or mud huts that serve as storefronts and homes. They pause to talk and to laugh. Dozens gather under two wooden canopies to watch young men shoot pool, and there is good-natured hooting and hollering as someone sinks – or misses – a shot … under the lights.
Nearby, Milton Muhaivwe stands in his doorway and surveys the scene. The 54-year-old
man was born across the road and has lived in Kitembe his entire life. Like many others, he is a subsistence farmer who grows matoke and beans, and he sells a few
items in his storefront, with a bed in the back for his wife and their baby girl. He only nods when asked about the lights.
A few doors away, Betsy Katushabe cradles her baby boy while grabbing a bottle of
water for a visitor. The 25-year-old woman has two other children and sells bananas,
eggs, onions and other staples in her storefront while living in back. She, too, is excited about the lights.
Lights … We take them for granted. Flip a switch, there is light. Walk into a room, a light goes on. When dusk falls, streetlights automatically shine.
Not in Kitembe, a village near the equator and the Rwanda border, about 180 miles
southwest of Kampala. The village encompasses a hilly region of several square miles,
and in the valley is the trading center, where for centuries there have been no lights.
As the sun would fall in the western sky early every evening, darkness would envelop
Kitembe for 12 hours.
And that bothered Brian Osende. He decided to do something about it.
The St. Thomas graduate, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, was raised in Kampala and moved to Minnesota in 2005. His mom grew up in Kitembe and her parents still live there. Only a handful of people can afford to pay for the electricity provided by power lines that run through the countryside, so the village has gone without power.
“As a kid, I was always tinkering,” said Osende, 25, a standards engineer for Xcel
Energy. “I figured out how electricity was made when I was in grade 5. I made a mini-generator, and I always had this dream to bring power to my mom’s village.”
Muhaivwe would burn wood outdoors for light or use kerosene lamps – if he could afford
the kerosene – but those bothered his breathing. So he went without light.
“It’s hard to describe,” said Dr. John Abraham, a professor in the St. Thomas School
of Engineering, “but think of it this way: when the sun goes down, the light ends and you go to bed.”
“When it gets dark over there, it’s really, really dark!” Osende said. He recalled a night when “it was so dark I could not see the road. I would pause on the road and wait for lightning, and when lightning struck I would see the road. Things like that stuck with me.”
His mom, Dorothy Michori, smiles when she recalls her son’s dream.
“He started talking about it when he was young,” Michori said. “He would say, ‘Maybe we can create our own electricity!’ I would laugh at him and say, ‘How are you going to do it?’ I shut him up and told him to stop talking like that.”
Osende graduated from Woodbury High School, where he knew Chris Dease, an art teacher and the sister-in-law of Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. He persuaded Osende to enroll at St. Thomas, and Osende rekindled his dream of bringing lights to Kitembe.
Abraham and faculty colleague Dr. Greg Mowry encouraged Osende to develop a proposal for his master’s degree project. He made trips to Kitembe in 2007 and 2009 to do research; secured funds from Abraham, Dease and Xcel, where he had an internship; and recruited 15 people to participate in the 2011 January Term project.
Osende’s family still had its doubts.
“My mom thought Brian was crazy,” Michori said. “I told her, ‘Mom, don’t ask.’ He knew what he was doing. He was committed. He said, ‘I can do this. I know it can be done.’ He had so much confidence. Maybe too much confidence!”
Osende traveled to Kitembe in December 2010 to buy $7,000 in equipment and supplies. The St. Thomas contingent, including Abraham, Mowry and five students, arrived in early January and finished the project in less than two weeks, although not without some drama.
“The local Army chief came by and thought we were stealing power,” Abraham said.
“He had a belligerent, antagonistic attitude, but I showed him how the solar panels
worked and an hour later he became one of our biggest supporters. We had him provide security for us.”
Here is how the system works: Independent power lines extend in two directions along
a 300-meter path, and originate from a centrally located array of eight 175-watt solar panels that store energy in four 12-volt batteries. Up to 10,000 W-hours can be generated from each full day of sunlight; light bulbs collectively require 4,000 W-hours and four cell phone and battery-charging stations require 1,000 W-hours.
The power lines proved to be “immense and the most time-consuming issue,” Osende
said. “When I originally bought the equipment, I had 200 meters of wire. By the end of the project, we used 2,000 meters. I guess I didn’t plan very well!”
The crew installed 93 seven-watt fluorescent bulbs in 46 houses, a school and two
medical clinics and erected eight external “security” lights – what we think of as
Villagers’ curiosity evolved into interest and then excitement in the three years
between Osende’s first research visit and his team’s arrival, “and they were more than willing to help,” he said. They offered land for the solar array station, brought food from their gardens and became true believers, “and that meant a lot to me … that I could achieve this dream.”
When the day came to flip the switch for a test, nothing happened.
“I was so tense,” Osende said. “I sat down and had to think. It was such a simple thing but I couldn’t see it. When I looked at the schematic on how the inverters were wired, that’s when it occurred to me: I had designed a 24-volt system and I was trying to use a 12-volt system.”
He made the fix and the power went on.
“It was so big,” Osende said, gushing in stream-of-conscious superlatives. “Everybody was clapping – the volunteers, the villagers, everybody. We let the system charge up all night … and the next night at 7 the power went on … I have never been so happy in my life … Up to then, it had not sunk in that it would happen. … Was I dreaming? I guess it really happened. It was really, really something!”
Osende returned to Uganda in May 2011, after graduation, to check on the project and was amazed at the transformation in the trading center. It was vibrant at night, and he found a makeshift “house” had been constructed between two other houses – and around an external security light. He learned that Janet Musevini, the wife of Uganda’s president, had visited Kitembe.
Then came the news in September that lightning had struck the solar arrays and knocked out the power. Osende’s grandmother Sarah, 85, a former teacher, was blunt
“She said, ‘You introduced people to power, and now they can’t live without it. They keep bugging me every day: when is it going to be back on?’”
Osende met with Abraham, who joined with Dease to cover the $6,000 repair costs.
Osende’s cousin, Denis Bazalirwe, who will begin master’s degree studies in software engineering this fall at St. Thomas, traveled from Kampala to Kitembe to assess the problem. He returned a dozen times to coordinate repairs, including installation of a lightning mast, and collaborated by phone and email with Osende and Abraham. The system was fixed last Jan. 14.
Four days later, a St. Thomas group arrived to document the project for this magazine.
Osende couldn’t make the trip, but his mom did, as did Molly Rolfsmeier. She is
Abraham’s wife (and he joined her the following week in Kampala to go through a
monthlong process to adopt Avory Nanyunja Abraham, a two-year-old Ugandan girl).
Villagers greeted the St. Thomas group with open arms – it’s rare that a muzungu
(white person) travels through the area – and a party emceed by Robert Kayeyera,
a Kitembe native who works for the president of Uganda and assisted with the repairs.
Four hundred people jammed into a town square-like area where the solar array is
located for speeches, music and dancing by the Kitembe Cultural Drama Group. This
writer, after thanking the villagers for their warm hospitality, had the privilege of flipping the switch … and the power was on!
As satisfied as Osende is, he wants to do more, and he is not alone. Michori, his mom, and the Caring Hearts organization in Kitembe are raising funds to build a health care clinic up the hill from the trading center. Dr. Simon Emms, a biology professor at St. Thomas, hopes to find funding to bring lights to other Ugandan villages and demonstrate the university’s commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality.
Osende views the Kitembe project as proof that “you don’t need a million dollars” to bring light and happiness to others, and he always thinks about it when he goes into a dark room at work.
“The motion sensor that turns on lights here reminds me of the project,” he said. “It brings back memories of how, at the end, we saw the lights come on. It gives me joy. It makes me believe that at least one of my biggest dreams, that the reason I went to school, that the reason I became an engineer, that the reason I actually live, is being achieved – to make the world a better place.”
And Osende never will forget what it was like that first night 17 months ago, when his St. Thomas team walked through the dark to its lodging a mile away.
“You get on top of the hill and you can see the trading center,” he said. “All this
darkness around us and this stream of lights along the road that showed the trading
center. That was something else. That was something I will never forget.”
KAMPALA, UGANDA – Ever since he was a child, Morgan Kisitu wanted to be a tour
guide. He loved animals and he loved to travel, so it made imminent sense that he would end up right where he is today – as president of 1000 Shades of Green Tour and Safari Co.
But the path to arrive there is far different from the one most Americans would follow. An intuitively smart young man growing up in Uganda, Kisitu lacked the education, business acumen and finances to carry out his dream.
Enter St. Thomas and a chance meeting seven years ago between Kisitu and Father
Dennis Dease, who was in Kampala on business. Kisitu was working as a guide and
driver, and Dease asked him why he didn’t go to college. His response: he couldn’t
“He called me later and asked me if I was really interested in going to school,” Kisitu said. “I said yes, and he said he would see what he could do to help. Two weeks later, he sent me admissions information about St. Thomas. I was startled.”
Kisitu applied. A strong letter of recommendation followed from New York Times East
African Bureau Chief Marc Lacey, attesting to Kisitu’s intelligence and organizational and problem-solving abilities. Kisitu had served as driver, guide, translator and aide to Lacey and other reporters.
Kisitu arrived in Minnesota in 2006, took English Language Service classes on campus
to brush up on his speaking and writing skills, and majored in entrepreneurship. He
developed a business plan, graduated in December 2009, spent a year working in
customer service at a Best Buy store and returned to Uganda to open 1000 Shades
of Green, which offers safaris in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar.
Mike Moore, director of the William C. Norris Institute in the Opus College of Business at St. Thomas, worked with Kisitu on his business plan. Kisitu obtained a $75,000 loan to start the business and today has two vans and two drivers to handle safaris and tours.
“The plan was well put together,” Moore said. “Morgan knows the industry and the challenges he would face, and spent a lot of time examining how he would market his business through the web, tour groups and his St. Thomas connections.”
Kisitu’s experience is similar to that of many other Ugandan students who matriculate
at St. Thomas. They are highly intelligent and perceptive young men and women but
they need a connection, a lucky break or an angel – and in Kisitu’s case, all three
crystalized when he met Dease.
“Ugandans have a huge appetite for learning,” Dease said. “They know the opportunities are limited, and it is like a small miracle for them to get a college education in the United States. They are grateful, and I know that they will make a huge
contribution to society.”
After receiving their undergraduate degrees, mostly in the sciences, engineering or
business, Ugandans gravitate in one of three directions: they return to their homeland
to find a job, stay in the United States for graduate school, often at St. Thomas, or remain in rhe United States indefinitely to work.
Kisitu, 33, wanted to return to Kampala to be with his family and to pursue his dream,
and in the process became involved as a supporter of two nonprofit organizations. He gives Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi 40 percent of his profits from referrals and 10 percent of other safari profits, and he contributes clothes, food and money to the Kumbaya Child Care Foundation, an orphanage.
“I want to make a difference in my community,” he said. “I have been helped a lot. St. Thomas gave me a great opportunity – my education. I thought, ‘I have to keep this chain going.’ In Africa, there are so many people with so many needs. I can help the underprivileged here.”
Charles Lugemwa feels the same way. When the 2003 master’s in software engineering
alumnus returned to his job at the Uganda Revenue Authority, he decided to help recruit undergraduate students for St. Thomas and became involved in the Hope Medical Clinics.
“My prayer was, ‘How do I come back to Uganda and be a different graduate?’” Lugemwa said. “Many of us go to the United States to study and come back to work … but how as a graduate can you make a difference in the community?”
Olivia Lunkuse wants to make a difference, too. She graduated in 2002 from Makerere
University in Kampala with a degree in tourism and worked for a safari company and a
travel agency, but got frustrated with the industry and decided on a career change.
She went to work in 2005 for Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala. The institute,
which does research and provides clinical resources for HIV-AIDS victims, intrigued her but she wanted to be more than a clerk. Her brother Peter Musimami, a 2004 master’s in software engineering alumnus who is a health information technology specialist in Uganda, told her about St. Thomas, and she enrolled in the Master of Social Work program.
Lunkuse, 33, interned with the Domestic Abuse Project, graduated in 2009 and worked
for a year at Catholic Charities in Minneapolis before going home.
“My plan was to come back to the institute and incorporate the work of domestic abuse and how it interrelates with HIV-AIDS,” she said. “But IDI said, ‘We don’t talk about that here. People come to IDI to get free medications, but this is not the place to talk about domestic abuse.’ I thought, ‘There has to be a way to get these women some help.’”
She decided to focus on gender-based violence issues and is seeking funding for her “Voice Project.” She left the institute in January, volunteers at an HIV clinic and is doing research on a Makerere University project to examine the impact of global health initiatives on the health care system in Uganda.
“My dream is to create a center for women where they would be safe,” she said. “I want to work with women who are abused, who are vulnerable. They need to find a way to deal with their situation. They don’t know their rights.”
Albert Kertho and Godino Kalungi, who graduated from St. Thomas last December with
degrees in biology and biochemistry, respectively, are in graduate school and medical
school with every intention of one day working in Uganda.
Kertho, 24, grew up on a farm, attended a Catholic high school in Kampala and chose
St. Thomas over three other Midwest schools because he knew other Ugandan students
here. He is in a master’s and doctoral program in plant pathology at North Dakota State University in Fargo in hopes of developing winter wheat resistant to leaf, stem and stripe rust diseases.
“Uganda is 80 percent farmland,” he said. “It depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Food is grown mostly to eat. I want to see agriculture move to a higher level, to increase production by preventing diseases. Smaller farmers cannot afford to buy pesticides. They are living on $1 a day. If they can grow more crops, they can sell more.
“Every time I go home, I talk to farmers about their crops and the need to increase
production. They don’t know how, but they will listen to me.”
Kalungi, 25, began dual-degree medical doctor and master’s in public health studies in January at St. George’s University in Grenada. Sandy Grieve, a former St. Thomas
trustee, and his wife, Flo, are paying for Kalungi’s room and board at St. George’s,
which has a program for tropical medicine and has provided a full-tuition scholarship. After a five-year residency, likely in England, he hopes to create a network of clinics in Uganda for family and rural medicine.
“My dad died because he had no access to health care,” said Kalungi, a graduate of St. Henry’s College, an all-boys Catholic high school. “Many villages don’t have doctors, or the nurses are overwhelmed with work because there are so many patients. This has to change, and I can help make a difference.”
Doryne Tunanukye and Francis Ssennoga are alumni who have remained in the Twin
Cities, for now.
Tunanukye, 27, grew up in Kampala and, with her sister Mavreen Ananura, followed
their brother to St. Thomas in 2004. The sisters each hold bachelor’s and master’s
degrees from St. Thomas – Tunanukye in electrical engineering and software engineering and Ananura in accounting and business administration.
“I like to make things work, to handle something from concept to completion,” said
Tunanukye, a project engineer at Wunderlich Malec in Minnetonka since 2008. She
expects to eventually return to Uganda “once I have the skills to be independent”
because she wants to own a company.
St. Thomas taught her more than just book skills but also “how to work on a team and ask questions,” she said. “The professors were so open, and classes were small enough that we could get one-on-one instruction. That was a huge plus.”
Ssennoga’s aunt, who works in the Binz Refectory at St. Thomas, encouraged him to
enroll here. The one-time seminarian and photographer earned bachelor’s and master’s
degrees in computer science and software engineering before founding Ssensoft, a
software applications consulting company. He is serving a two-year term as president
of the Uganda North American Association.
“St. Thomas gave me the opportunity to acquire knowledge that I would not have
received in Uganda,” he said. “St. Thomas taught me how to do things – to build things that help people. It also gave me role models like Dennis Dease and Patrick Jarvis (a computer science professor).”
He is unsure if he ever will move back to Uganda, but his company and his association
work provide the opportunity to accomplish two objectives. “I want to keep one foot in America,” he said, “and one in Uganda.”
Lugemwa speaks for all Uganda alumni and students when he reflects on the value of a
St. Thomas education.
“The greatest gift is the gift of education,” he said. “I have utilized it, and it’s helping everybody here in my country. People are seeing what we are doing, learning from us and benefiting from the same gift. Everything else can go away, but that gift never will go away.”
KAMPALA, UGANDA – The miracle workers are busy here these days.
In a former retail storefront on a rut-filled dirt road in Ndejje, a poverty-stricken area southeast of Kampala, the first Hope Medical Clinic opened in November 2007. The sign outside says “Eddwaliro,” Ugandan for “health care,” in bold red letters, and 40 to 50 people show up every month or treatment of malaria, typhoid fever and the flu.
In an abandoned house two blocks off Kasubi Road, a bustling north Kampala thoroughfare jammed with merchants selling food, a second Hope Medical Clinic opened two years later. Patient No. 2,000 walked through the door in early January.
And three miles away on Bombo Road, the Ruth Gaylord Maternity and Pediatric Hospital is taking shape on three acres of land donated by the Archdiocese of
Kampala on the grounds of Jinja Kalori (Built on a Rock) Church. Two buildings are
complete and will open in March, and construction will begin on a third building when
funds are available.
These are impressive achievements – the result of efforts of a St. Paul priest disturbed by the lack of quality health care for the poor, a native Ugandan overseeing every detail of operations pro bono, and dozens of generous Minnesota donors. Everywhere you go and every person you talk to, one word seems to be repeated over and over: miracle.
“This is testimony for how miracles happen,” Monsignor Charles Kasibante, vicar general of the archdiocese, told an audience of 200 people on a mid-January day at
a formal blessing of the hospital. “This hospital was not only wanted here but it was needed, and lives will be saved.”
“I didn’t expect the hospital to be this big,” said Father Richard Kakoma, pastor of Jinja Kalori. “People are very happy about it. They call it a miracle.”
“This man is a miracle worker,” said Father Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas, as he points to Charles Lugemwa ’03, a St. Thomas master’s in software
engineering alumnus who lives across Bombo Road and supervises the hospital’s construction. “With his abilities and my big rosary, we are going to complete this project!”
The crowd laughed as a translator restated Dease’s remarks in Ugandan. He held up a
wooden rosary seven feet long and with beads two inches in diameter. “This is the
biggest rosary that I have,” he said, “and I’m going to need a really big rosary to raise the rest of the money” ($90,000 is needed to construct the third building).
The ceremony ended in song and dance, and people wandered through the buildings.
Dozens waited for free immunization shots or fittings for hearing aids; 5,330 were
donated and delivered in March in Kampala by the Starkey Hearing Foundation of Eden Prairie. Visitors marveled at the size and scope of the buildings, and Dease and Lugemwa found themselves in an unfinished room reminiscing about how the project
Dease never intended to become a health care entrepreneur in his spare time, but one
day several years ago a Twin Cities businessman told him about “minute care” clinics
that he wanted to establish in his native Ghana. He asked Dease to look at the clinics and he said yes – but only if the businessman would continue on to Uganda with him to ascertain the possibility of clinics there.
Dease turned to Lugemwa, a Uganda Revenue Authority administrator already helping
St. Thomas by identifying prospective undergraduate students, to develop a business
plan. Lugemwa admits he was “scared” by the challenge, “but then I prayed over it, and I realized we could do it.”
“The Ghana model was more like a business, a franchise type of approach,” Lugemwa
said. “Ours is not a franchise; it’s the idea that the community sustains the facility. We employ professionals to run the facility and the people around it sustain the facility.”
Lugemwa also was attracted to the project for personal reasons. His baby daughter died several years ago because she received the wrong medication.
“The way I could contribute was to make sure that did not happen to any other person,”
he said. “With our clinics, we’re preventing that from happening.”
Lugemwa had friends who, when hearing him describe the clinics project, would say, “I think this guy is mad.” So, was he crazy? “Yes, sometimes!” he said with a smile.
The Ndejje location has struggled to break even because of its location; the lower income of residents, many of whom are subsistence farmers; and the higher costs of
doctors whose travel expenses need to be reimbursed. Consequently, modest profits
from the more successful Kasubi clinic have subsidized Ndejje.
“We made mistakes,” Lugemwa said. “If I were to choose a site again for a clinic, I still would choose Ndejje, but that was a learning point. We wouldn’t give up just because we selected the wrong site. We benefited in terms of the knowledge we gained.”
Four employees staff Kasubi. An administrator, two nurses and a laboratory technician
work fulltime and receive free lodging and two meals a day, and a doctor drops in to
check on patients. Lugemwa calls or visits regularly, too. The renovated house has a
reception room with a small pharmacy, overnight rooms for men and women (two beds each), a laboratory and a pediatric ward.
Administrator Daphine Namyenya, 27, was the clinic’s first employee and makes 250,000 Ugandan shillings ($125) a month. She oversees the staff, patient files and
appointments, prepares monthly financial statements and keeps meticulous handwritten
records; there are no computers. She is proud to open a ledger that shows the clinic
treated 153, 178 and 100 people the last three Decembers; two-thirds were first-time
patients and the rest were returners.
“Those are great numbers,” Lugemwa said. “It shows the need for a place like this. We always want more new patients, and when they return, that shows we are doing a good
The clinic had two patients the morning of the January visit by a St. Thomas delegation: a young girl with malaria and 56-year-old John Tibenkna, who lives in the neighborhood and came in at 2 a.m. with a high temperature, an upset stomach and the sweats. Namyenya, who lives upstzairs, summoned a nurse from an adjacent apartment
building and they put him on an IV.
“This is a good clinic,” Tibenkna said. “My family members have been here – my children and grandchildren. They are taking very good care of me.”
Lugemwa said Tibenkna was a typical patient in terms of his illness – most patients have malaria, typhoid fever or diarrhea – and the clinic’s treatment philosophy.
“Other clinics do not have lab facilities,” he said. “They treat you without knowing the illness you have. It is trial and error. We insisted on having a lab here. Before you are treated, you are tested. We also don’t want to have to refer them to a hospital. That means the patients will need to pay more than they can afford, and it’s like you are condemning them.”
Over time, Dease and Lugemwa realized the need for just that – a hospital. The conditions for pregnant women at Mulago, a large public hospital in Kampala, shocked Dease.
“For me, it was something like out of horror movie,” he said. “Mothers were giving birth on the floors in rooms and in corridors. It was really a very disturbing picture, and that was what prompted us to decide to find a better way to serve mothers in delivery. I think Charles captured what the mission of this hospital is when he said our motto should be, ‘Every mother goes home with a healthy baby, and every baby goes home with a healthy mother.’”
A hospital, however, would be expensive. As plans were drawn up and the price tag
jumped over $200,000, Dease mulled over ways to raise funds. Monsignor James Habiger, the retired Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director who lives at St. Thomas, became aware of plans for the clinics after reading a Dease column about Lugemwa in the fall 2008 issue of St. Thomas magazine.
“The hospital will become a model for the rest of the country in terms of care for women and then for their children,” Habiger said. “It will save so many lives.”
“I didn’t ask him for money,” Dease said. “He came up to me one day and said, ‘I want
to be part of it.’ He has been very generous, as nhave others. Roberta Mann Benson
(another benefactor) spontaneously told me one day that she wanted to make a substantial contribution.”
Habiger, as the lead donor, asked Dease if the hospital could be named for Ruth Gaylord, a lifelong friend who taught music in Minnesota schools during her career. She was flattered and embarrassed by the attention, but an acquaintance told her she was being “too Minnesotan.” Describing herself as a “plain, ordinary woman,” she asked Habiger why her name should be on the hospital.
“And he told me, ‘Because I want women in Africa to know that a plain, ordinary woman
in America cares about them.’”
Hope for the City, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit that distributes corporate surplus
materials around the world, has donated $800,000 in medical equipment, supplies and
furnishings to the clinics and hospitals.
“When Father Dease started talking about what he wanted to do with the clinics, we
wanted to be part of it,” said Megan Doyle, co-founder of Hope for the City with her
husband, Dennis Welsh, chairman of Welsh Companies, a Twin Cities real estate firm.
“We said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Brian Mark, president of RBC Tile & Stone in Plymouth, Minn., is another benefactor. He donated all of the floor and wall tile for the hospital buildings as well as funds for a wall around the hospital grounds because he thought it was important to be involved in this kind of humanitarian effort.
Gerald Schwalbach, a Twin Cities real estate developer, and his wife, Sue, made donations for the hospital’s labor and delivery room and a convent and chapel that will be built on the property.
Dease and Lugemwa knew how important it would be to hold down hospital costs, and
they came up with an idea on how to avoid acquiring land, paying rent and holding a mortgage.
“Uganda is 90 percent Christian, and there are churches all over the country,” Dease said. “We put two and two together and we approached the Archdiocese of Kampala. The archbishop said he would donate three acres of property from this parish, Jinja Kalori, for us to build our hospital.
“Then we began to realize other advantages to being associated with a very large parish. One of those is instant marketing. Another is instant credibility, because not all health service providers here are people of good will and not all the pharmaceuticals distributed are bona fide. We also realized that the parish would be a source of volunteers who could go out and teach people about water, mosquito nets and the importance of child immunization.”
A final advantage is the hospital’s interaction with the Catholic Church – a tradition that Americans have valued for more than two centuries. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix, founded in Uganda in 1948, will staff the hospital.
“The African people tend to see healing as not just a physical reality but also a spiritual reality … that spirit is an active agent in a person’s recovery,” Dease said. “That became another plus in terms of putting this hospital next to a church.”
Dease also is delighted that Dr. Timothy Schacker, a 1978 St. Thomas alumnus who is director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at the University of Minnesota, will be involved. Schacker has made more than a dozen trips to Uganda over the last five years to do research on why drugs for HIV-AIDS patients have different outcomes on Ugandans and Americans.
“There will be opportunities for our medical students in residency to assist at the
hospital and participate in what Charles and Father Dease are creating,” Schacker said.
“Their model is interesting because it’s sustainable. It could be a game changer in
medical care in Uganda.”
As hospital construction continues, Lugemwa and Dease are grateful for many things.
Lugemwa talks about how, next to his family, the greatest gift he has received in his
lifetime “is the gift of education – a gift that makes me do what I do” – and he credits St. Thomas with imbuing in him the spirit of volunteerism.
“I never did this before. I used to see so many people get involved in community service work, and I love it,” he said. “You can have money, but you might not be happy. I do this, I don’t get any money, but I feel happy. That’s what life is – it’s not
just about money.”
Dease nods as Lugemwa speaks and says his friend’s greatest gift is that “he embodies
as much as anyone I’ve met the mission of St. Thomas.
“How do you count the value of the lives that he already has saved, and will save?”
Dease asked. “He serves the common good. That’s what St. Thomas is all about, and
the day we forget that is the day the lights go out.”
KAMPALA, UGANDA – Nine years ago, Father Dennis Dease was preparing to leave for an international conference of Catholic university presidents in this east African country when he got a phone call that changed his life.
And, as it has turned out, the lives of thousands of other people.
The caller, arts patron Roberta Mann Benson, knew he would be in Uganda, and she had an idea.
“She gave me a sizable check,” Dease recalled, “and said, ‘This is for a qualified student who might come to St. Thomas.’ My first thought was, ‘How am I going to identify a qualified student when I am going to be there for five days in meetings?’
“But a member of the faculty at a Catholic university there approached me and said, ‘I have a qualified student who would love to come to St. Thomas. Is there any way you can help make this happen?’
“I said to myself, ‘It looks like somebody up there is looking out for this student.’”
For Dease, too. For the more than 40 other Ugandan students who have matriculated
at St. Thomas. For the dozens of St. Thomas students who have traveled to the country called the “Pearl of Africa” for community service work. And for thousands of poor Ugandans who have received care at two Hope Medical Clinics, which Dease helped to open in Kampala, and next year will be patients at a newly constructed maternity and pediatric hospital.
These programs and many others are part of a partnership between a Minnesota university and a former British colony separated by nine time zones and 8,000 miles of air space. Dease is the first person to admit that he had no expectations Benson’s scholarship offer would evolve, in less than a decade, into the most ambitious international venture in St. Thomas history. But he finds it a nearly perfect fit for one simple and, to him, obvious reason.
“This outreach program in Uganda reflects very clearly the Catholic mission of St. Thomas and the educational mission of St. Thomas: to contribute to the common good,” Dease said. “I can’t think of anything that is more on target with our mission.”
It is a sunny Saturday morning in Kampala, and Dease is sitting outside the Serena Hotel, where a 15-person St. Thomas delegation is wrapping up a weeklong trip during which it visited the medical clinics and participated in the blessing of the hospital. As he reflects on what he calls “the perfect trip,” his eighth to Uganda, Dease talks about vision, persistence, patience and, perhaps most importantly, a certain kind of “connection.”
“Sometimes the challenges here can seem overwhelming, but I always remember Sister Yvonne, who taught me physics at St. Michael High School,” he said. “She always used to remind us that the first law of physics is that everything is connected. She would write these long, long equations on the blackboard, and if she made a mistake on one little fraction, the conclusion would not come out right. She would erase everything and get chalk all over her black habit, and she would say, ‘Students, remember, the first law of physics is … ’
“And we would answer, ‘Everything is connected!’
“So you see, you correct one tiny fraction and the whole equation changes. That’s all we have to do – fix one little piece and somehow I’m confident the world will never be the same.”
Dease is quick to point out that St. Thomas isn’t the only change agent. The young men and women from Uganda have had an equally significant role.
“When I see how these students are involved in every aspect of college life – sports,
clubs, research with professors, tutoring, going on to graduate school – it makes me very grateful we have been able to see that kind of enrichment on our campus,” he said. “They help to fulfill our mission – to do exactly what we were founded to do.”
African students, he added, “enrich the education of our students here and better
prepare them for the increasingly international community in which they will work. …
“They are going to change the world – one fraction at a time.”
Besides Dease, the biggest change agent has been Charles Lugemwa.
The Uganda native and statistics graduate of Makerere University in Kampala came to Minnesota in 2001 on the advice of his college roommate, who had moved here with his fiancee and enrolled in the master’s program in software engineering at St. Thomas. The roommate, Victor Lukandwa ’02, thought the program would benefit Lugemwa in his job at the Uganda Revenue Authority.
Lugemwa faced a difficult choice. He was married with a young son and lived in Kampala. But his wife Maria, a veterinarian, encouraged him to follow Lukandwa’s advice and he moved to Minnesota. He was amazed at what confronted him – not just
the weather, which all Ugandans joke about in a wry manner, but the nature of the education he was about to receive.
“It was totally different from the kind of education I was used to,” Lugemwa said. “At Makerere, we did computing, but most of the programs we wrote on paper because we did not have computers. At St. Thomas, everybody had a computer! It was amazing. The professors were friendly, always willing to help. They exposed me to a new teaching style. They were interested in making you what you actually wanted to be.”
Lugemwa and Dease met at an African students dinner on campus and the president
later sent him an email about his trip to the Kampala conference. When Lugemwa
graduated in December 2003 and returned to Uganda, Dease knew he had to stay in
touch with his new friend.
“He’s our man in Kampala,” Dease said. “The first time I saw Charles in Kampala, I was walking in the parking lot of the hotel and I saw a car that had, in the back window, a University of St. Thomas sticker. I thought, ‘Here I am, on the other side of the world, and there’s a car with a St. Thomas sticker in the back window.’ It was Charles!”
Lugemwa kept asking Dease how to create change and provide opportunities for Ugandan students so they, too, could live out the university’s tagline: “Challenge yourself, change our world.”
The potential of enrolling more undergraduate students from Uganda intrigued Dease.
Humphrey Tusimiirwe enrolled, and his sisters, Doryne Tunanukye and Mavreen Ananura, also funded by scholarships from Benson (who died in 2010), soon followed.
Dease conferred with Lugemwa about a more structured way to recruit students, and he suggested they explore a relationship with St. Henry’s College, a Catholic junior and senior high school for boys near Masaka, 90 miles southwest of Kampala. Lugemwa, a St. Henry’s graduate, introduced Dease to its headmaster, Brother Francis Brian Matsiko.
“Charles took me to St. Henry’s and we were touring the campus,” Dease said. “You could hear the birds singing, like in a cemetery. Charles said, ‘But it is a totally different place when the students are here.’ Then the bell rang and 1,000 students were outside, chatting and laughing as they scurried to another building for their next class. Three minutes later, once again, silence.”
Matsiko, a member of the Brothers of Christian Instruction order, promised to identify up to three St. Henry’s graduates a year and Dease agreed to provide full-tuition scholarships. Benefactors have funded many of those scholarships.
The St. Henry’s-St. Thomas pipeline “just kind of grew, naturally,” Dease said, and this year 10 St. Henry’s alumni were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs (two of them have St. Thomas bachelor’s degrees). “I wanted to provide an education to students who had lots of good qualities and good character. The students from St. Henry’s have been tops – extremely well prepared for university studies, with self-discipline, a thirst for learning and great study habits.”
Ugandan students also have what Dease called “deep, deep gratitude.”
“For them, it’s a one-in-a-million chance to get a university education in the United States, which they recognize as still the best in the world,” he said. “They often say they still feel like they are dreaming and they are afraid they are going to wake up, so they make use of every learning opportunity the university provides.”
Dease said the Ugandan culture has a special reverence for a residential university such as St. Thomas – as a family – and with that understanding come certain responsibilities.
“The faculty and staff are regarded as in loco parentis, as we used to say in the United States,” he said. “We would say mentor figures, but they use the image of father figure and mother figure. We’ve all been humbled by that – the way they look to us for guidance, and you’ll find that’s a common feature of the culture here in Uganda.
“They have great respect for elders. They looked to elders, especially before education became more common, for answers regarding the appropriate time to plant a certain crop or how to deal with an illness. There is an African proverb that an elder dying is like a library burning.”
He paused and added, “I have found it very satisfying to find people looking to me for advice.” He leaned back and roared in laughter.
Dease also admires the Ugandans’ genteel, unassuming personalities and the uncanny
way they use proverbs to address issues. When a student arrived late for a lunch one
day, others admonished him by saying, “Latecomers eat bones.”
During a disagreement a student had with a professor, friends advised her to wait until the end of the semester, when she had her grade in hand: “Do not insult the crocodile before you cross the water.” And Dease finds comfort in the counsel he once received when he was criticized during a controversy: “The lead cow always gets whipped the most.”
Dease cites Alex Migambi and Alexander Ssengendo as two undergraduate students who have taken utmost advantage of their St. Thomas experience.
Migambi, a St. Henry’s alumnus, will graduate this May with degrees in political science and international business and will enroll in the St. Thomas School of Law. He wants to work in government in Uganda.
“There are not many people in the world, especially Africa, who get this kind of opportunity,” Migambi said. “It’s given me a special appreciation for St. Thomas, and I am going to do my best for my country and to make St. Thomas proud of me.”
Migambi, 25, has been a whirlwind on campus. He has served on the Undergraduate
Student Government, Globally Minded Students Association and African Nations Students Club, worked in Residence Life and Academic Counseling and studied in the London Business Semester. Last fall, he helped to organize an event that raised $10,000 to build a medical clinic at St. Henry’s.
“I felt I had to prove I could do well at St. Thomas and could compete with American
students,” he said. “I worked hard to keep my dream of going to law school.”
Ssengendo is a junior majoring in communication and journalism and would like to own
a business in special events planning or advertising. He has organized trips for students to Chicago, New York and Notre Dame because, “coming from a different culture, we don’t want people to be isolated. We want them to explore new things.” He has been back to Uganda only once.
“Some people back home said I had changed a lot – that I had become more social,”
he said. “Here, I say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ You wouldn’t do that in Uganda. People are more open here. They want to know how I came to America, and to St. Thomas.”
At St. Henry’s, Matsiko carefully chooses the students who will go to St. Thomas; Migambi, for example, was head prefect there. Matsiko refers to the relationship between the two institutions as “a partnership, a family,” and believes it reflects the St. Henry’s tagline: “For Greater Horizons.”
“We look at students who have been here for six years and those who have three other
characteristics: a wonderful reputation, academic performance and the right economic
background,” he said. “They need scholarships, and many of them work (at St. Thomas) to send money to their families in Uganda to help out.”
As the family has grown, so has St. Thomas’ involvement in St. Henry’s, located on 36 acres on a hill overlooking Masaka. The school has 40 buildings, mostly single story. One newer building is a computer center with three laboratories, furnished with 800 used computers donated by UnitedHealth Group and shipped by Hope for the City, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit that gives away surplus goods. Dease facilitated those gifts as well as another rather unusual gift in 2006.
“Brother Francis gave me a list of the school’s needs,” Dease said. “I took them to Sandy Grieve (then a St. Thomas trustee) and asked him if anything on the list interested him. He said, ‘Yes, the bus.’ The school had an open cattle truck at the time to take students places, so we provided a bus.”
Lugemwa and Dease kept the bus a secret.
“Then on St. Henry’s Day, which we celebrate every year, a guy drove it in and presented it to the headmaster,” Lugemwa said. “It was a surprise to everybody.”
Matsiko gleams with pride as he shows off the 80-passenger bus and points out that
Grieve and his wife, Flo, mail him $1,000 every year to pay for gas. The printing on the back of the bus notes the Grieves’ contribution and says, per the couple’s request, “Go With God.”
That kind of attitude, enthusiasm and embrace of St. Thomas’ programs in Uganda buoy
Dease’s spirits and affirm for him the decision to become involved in the country – as a university and as a person. He insists the benefits are mutual and he believes the Ugandans have helped to change a campus culture that a generation ago was perceived as less than welcoming for students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“The Ugandans really enrich our classrooms,” he said. “They bring that perspective of
what a rare gift a university education is and they help our students better appreciate what we have. They bring a profound respect for the person – old-fashioned manners – and I just love the way they deal with people. They bring a rich cultural heritage that our students find rather remarkable and fascinating.
“They also bring a sense that the world is developing in ways that some of our students might not have been aware. I fully expect our Ugandan students and American students will be engaged in businesses where their paths may cross again and again in the future.”
VIENNA, Va. – Mark W. Gregg remembers his mom’s reaction several years ago when
he took her to see one of his real estate development projects near Washington, D.C.
“She told me that when I was a kid, I played in the sandbox a lot with trucks, building things, and that I get to do it for work now,” he said. “It’s just that the sandbox is bigger.”
A lot bigger.
Gregg no longer is molding miniature cities out of sand and water in the backyard of the Mendota Heights home where he grew up. He is the founder, managing partner and president of The Penrose Group, a development and commercial real estate firm whose imprint and influence have been unmistakable in the suburbs surrounding the nation’s capital for two decades. Housing, offices, industrial space, shopping centers – you name it, Penrose has built it to meet the demand for growth in even the bumpiest of economic times.
“Washington is like a big small town,” Gregg said. “Everybody knows what everybody
else is doing. Zoning and entitlement are more complicated and tighter here, and the
process takes longer. Some projects are years in the making. You just have to be patient.”
Gregg learned patience – and a whole lot more – from his parents. He went to St. Peter’s Catholic School in Mendota Heights and Cretin High School before matriculating
at St. Thomas, and he never will forget the lessons he learned there as well as around
the family dining table.
“We had Sunday dinners, often with priests or teachers as guests,” he said. “My parents were very into the arts, education and literature, so I knew a little bit about everything. They wanted to expose us to different cultures, and for 11 years in a row we had foreign exchange students living with us. It was interesting to sit around the table and hear them talk about their countries.”
Gregg enrolled at St. Thomas in 1975 as a biology major, having worked in his dad’s
dentist office and thinking he might follow him in that field, “but it wasn’t my calling.” He earned a degree in business, secured a job at IDS and took off on a five-month trip to explore Europe. When he got back, he showed up at IDS. “They didn’t know who I was!” he said. “The guy who hired me had left, but I had a letter of acceptance and they had to find a place for me.”
He worked in real estate lending at IDS and then First Bank Systems (now US Banks)
before moving to Denver with First Interstate Bank. He had the East Coast market, and after returning to First Bank he opened its first office in the Washington area in 1984 at age 27.
“I told them I believed Washington was a great opportunity to create profitable business,” he said. “I leased 2,000 square feet in this building – I’ve never moved from here – and told myself, ‘You’d better make it.’”
First Bank sold assets of its Washington mortgage subsidiary to Bill Reiling, a 1954 St. Thomas alumnus and trustee who owned Towle Real Estate in the Twin Cities, and Gregg worked for him. They remained business partners for several years after Gregg opened Penrose in 1990.
“I learned a lot from Bill,” Gregg said. “He is always thinking five years ahead. He would say that you always should make decisions based on your moral compass, that you shouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake but should fix it, and that you should have your next vacation planned when you go on the current one. I liked that about him.”
Gregg opened Penrose because he felt he was ready to take risks on his own, not just in running a remote office for Minnesota-based companies. He huddled with his employees and said, “Let’s come up with a name.” But they couldn’t agree on one, “so we went to the London phone book, looked at street names and found Penrose.”
“It’s not the name that’s important,” he said.
“It’s what you make the company into. You make your reputation not on a name, but
on how you treat people and how successful you are.”
Penrose certainly has been successful, thanks to projects like King Farm in Rockville, Md. Until the 1990s, the 450-acre parcel was a dairy farm surrounded by suburban
development and a new Metro stop (Shady Grove on the Red Line) two blocks away.
Gregg patiently pursued the land for five years before negotiating a deal to buy it for more than $30 million.
King Farm today is a planned community with 9,000 residents in 3,200 housing units, 1 million square feet of office space and a shopping center as well as parks, ponds and bike trails. The family barn was renovated into a cultural center. Gregg knew it was an incredibly ambitious project, but he sold his vision and arranged financing because of one trait he learned from his parents.
“I am always honest with people,” he said. “Real estate is a risky venture. Values don’t always go up, up, up. There are going to be troughs and crests. Identifying risks and how to mitigate them is important, and we present all of the risks so people understand their investment. They like our approach.”
Reiling appreciates Gregg’s approach, too, singling out his “great integrity” and an ability “to keep 13 balls in the air. I guess you call that multi-tasking. A lot of would-be entrepreneurs are out there – good people, but not willing to take risks. Mark is a real entrepreneur because he is a risk taker.”
Gregg smiled at Reiling’s description but waved off the praise as he defined his success as an entrepreneur.
“A lot of it has to do with my upbringing and how I approach things,” he said. “It’s not about me. I enjoy a challenge. I like people, and I motivate them to work hard, to be fair and to be honest.”
His 40 employees jokingly refer to him as the “benevolent dictator,” although there is little in his soft-spoken demeanor to suggest he reflects the latter word. He tries to define the moniker.
“I won’t tell you how to do your job, but I want to know what you are doing,” he said. “I want people’s opinions on how we can collectively do the best possible job. We have a lot of great people who can attack a problem, think outside the box and make a profitable deal.”
Ole Kollevoll is one of those people. He joined Penrose in 1996 as general counsel and owns a minority interest. He repeated Gregg’s assessment of their employees in talking about him.
“You have to move fast on your feet,” Kollevoll said. “Mark is a real creative guy who has an instinctual grasp of real estate. He thinks outside the box all the time, so you have to move quickly because he’s so quick himself.”
Gregg’s youngest son, Michael, has worked at Penrose for more than a year and grins
when asked what it’s like to work for his dad.
“Oh, you mean the benevolent dictator?” he replied with a big smile. “He’s great. He demands respect from employees, but he treats them the same way. He wants us to
stand by our work. You ask anybody in the market about us, and they say, ‘Those
Penrose guys are good.’”
Good, perhaps, because their boss always has liked playing in a sandbox. This one is just bigger.
As I took a few minutes recently to review stories and a news release about my
retirement next year, I thought to myself, “It sounds like they are writing my obituary!”
The thought made me chuckle. It is natural, I suppose, for media coverage of this nature to have an air of finality, but I have never viewed my retirement as a stopping – or a final resting! – point. I do, however, believe it is time to move on to pursue other interests.
I also am quite ready for someone else to take up what I have long considered to be my most important task as president: to advance the university’s mission to educate students “to become morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.”
That is a lofty charge, and one I have never taken lightly. For more than two decades
it has inspired me and motivated me. I truly believe that as long as the university
remains focused on this singular objective, it will continue to render its optimal service to society: to change for the better the lives of countless students, and in the process to change the entire equation.
I see the mission statement etched in bronze on the wall outside my office every day
when I walk in. It has been for me a constant reminder of what we’re about. At times
it has even served as an examination of conscience – for me and for the institution.
I am proud to say a culture of service exists here at St. Thomas. Many professors and staff members could make more money in other occupations or less-demanding circumstances, but they remain here because they identify with our mission and the
purpose of a St. Thomas education. They love to interact with students – to teach, to mentor, to advise and to coach – and they unselfishly share a common goal of providing the best possible education for each and every student.
As it turns out, so do I – and that is why I have remained in education my entire adult life. I got my start, after ordination from the St. Paul Seminary more than four decades ago, as a religion teacher at St. Thomas Academy. I completed my doctoral studies and taught theology when this was the College of St. Thomas. After that I served as spiritual director and dean of formation at the seminary. Even when I left for six years to serve as rector of the Basilica of St. Mary, I remained active at St. Thomas as an adjunct faculty member and a trustee; and I was delighted to return to campus as president in 1991.
My decision to retire next year didn’t exactly come as a surprise to many colleagues
and friends who know where we are in pursuing significant milestones. Over the next
year, we will wrap up another successful fundraising drive – our $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign – and enter the final stages of receiving our decennial reaccreditation from the North Central Association.
It’s no secret, either, that I will turn 70 next spring. That’s a nice round number, and it is the same age at which my predecessor, Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy, decided to retire. As I looked at the convergence of these several events, I realized that 2013 would be an appropriate time to hand over the keys to my office to a successor who I have no doubt will serve with energy and distinction as our 15th president, carrying out our mission perhaps in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Magical: That was the only description I could summon when I first walked up to the Anderson Student Center, after having passed through the new lower quadrangle and the John P. Monahan Plaza for the first time. It was a brisk Friday night in early September. A high school football game was roaring away on Palmer Field, a place once hidden from the rest of campus but now connected. I said with a smile to my friend, “Welcome to the new St. Thomas.”
Seeing the plaza and student center up close for the first time was not only exciting, it was emotional. Over the past year and a half I have witnessed this student center come to life – not by simply watching the construction but also through observing and listening to the people who dreamed it and ultimately made it happen. I have learned that this is much more than a building. It is an icon that represents our St. Thomas community.
As a representative on the Undergraduate Student Government, I had a unique opportunity to work with other students in giving feedback on the new building. After sitting on countless student focus groups and meeting with Student Affairs staff members, I received a rather unusual email last October from Jane Canney, vice president of Student Affairs. She asked that I and a few other student leaders join her for lunch with Julie Woulfe, the benefactor of Woulfe Alumni Hall in the new student center. With curiosity, I accepted the luncheon invitation.
Woulfe, a resident of Danville, Calif., had flown to St. Paul to visit campus and view the construction. When the other student leaders and I sat down to lunch, Canney was quick to start the conversation. She asked Woulfe about her late husband, James Woulfe ’43, for whom Woulfe Alumni Hall would be named. Woulfe was delighted to talk about him. Any nervousness she had quickly vanished as she spoke about the person she loved and the man who inspired her to give back.
James Woulfe made his living by working at a car dealership for most of his life. At the same time, he was deeply passionate about giving back to those institutions that gave so much to him. He often made significant contributions to a variety of Catholic organizations while doing his best to remain discreet about his giving. More than anything, St. Thomas was very special to him, and it was in this spirit that Julie made a contribution on behalf of James to the Anderson Student Center.
While speaking about James and his willingness to give so much, Woulfe’s words had a profound effect on everyone in the room, and I began to reflect on what this new student center meant. In part, it represents the ideals of giving back that the Woulfes so deeply cherish. But it also represents the hard work of many people like Canney and
Dr. Mary Ann Ryan, associate vice president of student affairs, who have dedicated years to this masterpiece. They and many others have worked with students every step of the way to build a center tailored specifically for students.
After the luncheon, I began helping Ryan give presentations about the Anderson Student Center to groups around campus. Whether speaking to an audience or having a chat with a friend over lunch in the Grill, I never get tired of talking about this wonderful new building and the people who made it happen. More so, I never tire of the excitement and joy it brings to those who listen.
When the new student center opens in January, may it be a reflection of our St. Thomas community and its incredible devotion to its students.
After the construction fences around the Anderson Student Center came down one afternoon in mid-November, I began to notice an interesting phenomenon.
The center wouldn’t open for two months, yet people kept walking up to and around it. They would cross Cretin or Summit avenues from the south campus, take the new sidewalk past the University of St. Thomas stone marker and peer into windows. They would step back and gaze along the Summit wing, from right to left and back again.
My sense is that they were in awe, and I say that only because I, too, am in awe of this incredible new building.
I was in awe in May 2010 when the crews from Opus began digging a big hole on the spot where only weeks earlier hundreds of cars were parked. That corner had been a parking lot, in one size or another, since 1932.
I was in awe in the fall of 2010, when the steel structure sprung into place for the new center. We held a “topping off” ceremony that November, signed a 26-foot, 312-pound steel beam painted half purple (for St. Thomas) and half blue (for Opus) and watched as the beam was hoisted into place on the northwest peak of the building.
And I was in awe whenever I walked or drove by the building as masons began to hang our signature Kasota limestone, shingle the roof and install windows. Every day, it seemed, another section was finished regardless of how cold it was, and then suddenly the exterior was complete and I could only marvel at how quickly the process had moved along.
Now that the building is open and teeming with students, I have to think hard to remember what that corner looked like when it was a 400-car parking lot flanked on the east end by O’Shaughnessy Hall. That wasn’t very long ago, but my memory seems to be failing me. It may just be age, or it may be that the student center is such a perfect fit that it seems like it has been there forever.
Jane Canney, our vice president for student affairs, likes to call the student center the “heart of the campus” and our “living room.” I think those are perfect descriptions. It bustles with activity – the place where students hang out with friends or just take a break from the stresses of class and work. They go there to dine, too, of course, so maybe the center also is our kitchen!
I also like the description from Mike Orth, executive vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government. In his Final Thoughts essay (Page 65), he calls the student center “magical” because that was the only word that came to mind when he returned to campus last September and walked through the expanded lower quadrangle and the John P. Monahan Plaza for the first time.
“Welcome to the new St. Thomas,” he told a friend.
New, yes, but with a wise appreciation for more than 125 years of history. All you have to do is stand on Monahan Plaza and look to your right to see Aquinas Hall, our first Collegiate Gothic building (1931), or walk to the north end of campus and check out venerable Ireland Hall (1912) or the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas (1918), one of the most beautiful college chapels around. There is plenty of the new and the old.
And I, for one, am in awe of all of it every day.