The University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 1, 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 90 years ago – on the March 7 St. Thomas Day of 1918 – that the first Mass was celebrated in that chapel. This year, Flynn will consecrate a new altar that was installed as part of the chapel's recent renovation.
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 begins a weeklong series of events for the university’s annual Heritage Week. More information about the week is available on the Web at: http://www.stthomas.edu/mission/heritageweek/.
The five St. Thomas Day awards will be presented to:
Distinguished Alumnus – This year's award is being given to explorer and educator Daniel Buettner, a St. Paul resident who graduated cum laude from St. Thomas in 1983.
Buettner's major, Spanish, came in handy three years later when he rode a bicycle 15,500 miles from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America. It was the first of three Guinness world records he set on bicycles. On Sovietrek in 1990 he biked around the world, and a year later he rode 12,000 miles on a trans-Africa expedition.
The development of the World Wide Web helped him link his passions for education and exploration. In 1995 he founded Earthtreks Inc., which over the years has allowed more than a million people, including students in 30,000 classrooms, to follow his adventures in a series of nine interactive Quests. His adventures – described by the Washington Post as "the most successful experiment in interactive education to date" – revisited the Maya collapse, followed Marco Polo's footsteps and investigated the fall of the Anasazi in North America.
More recently, Buettner founded Blue Zones, a project that studies the world's best practices in health and longevity and passes along that information to the public through the Internet, lectures and articles like the 2005 cover story Buettner wrote for National Geographic on "The Secrets for Living Longer."
Over the past decade Buettner had delivered more than 500 keynote speeches, appeared on many television programs, and has been profiled in dozens of publications. Minnesota Monthly magazine included him in a story on "10 Minnesotans Who are Changing the World."
His Sovietrek won a Minnesota Book Award, his Africatrek won Scientific American's "Young Reader Award" and his PBS Africatrek documentary won an Emmy. The National Association of Campus Activities Directors inducted him into its Hall of Fame for his 200 college appearances.
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 – Paul Langenfeld, who holds a 1989 bachelor's degree in theology and a 1992 master of divinity, will receive the 2008 Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Langenfeld, of St. Paul, works as a personal-care attendant for those who are disabled. He founded the Langenfeld Foundation in 2006 to create opportunities in the areas of fishing, hunting, nature, sports and music for women and men with mental, physical and developmental disabilities.
His Hastings-based foundation, named for his parents Tony and Elizabeth, grew out of an experience several years ago when he took two of his disabled clients hunting.
"I want to show the world what people with disabilities can do," he said in a recent "On the Road With Jason Davis" television interview. "We want to take the world's thinking about disabilities and stand it on its head."
The "On the Road' segment followed two men with disabilities who went on a donated Safari hunt in South Africa.
Last summer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources partnered with the Langenfeld Foundation to conduct the state's first hunting and firearm safety classes for young adults with special needs. The foundation also helps arrange outings to nonhunting sporting and cultural events.
From 1993 to 2002, Langenfeld lived in a religious community of brothers and served as a youth pastor, pastoral minister and hospital chaplain in Indiana, Oregon and Minnesota.
Established 40 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association.
Professor of the Year – Sister Katarina Schuth, who holds the Endowed Chair for the Social Scientific Study of Religion at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas, is this year's Professor of the Year. The 47-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.
|Sister Katarina Schuth|
Recognized internationally as a leading expert on seminaries, Schuth came to St. Thomas in 1991 and currently chairs the university's Faculty Senate.
Schuth, since 1960 a member of the Sisters of St. Francis, Rochester, teaches and does research in the fields of theological education and the relationship between the church and American culture. She holds five degrees: a bachelor's in history from the College of St. Teresa; a master's in theological studies and license in sacred theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology; and a master's and doctorate in cultural geography from Syracuse University. Her doctoral research took her to India where she studied literacy in rural villages.
She is the author of many articles and five books: Cooperative Ventures in Theological Education (co-author, 1989); Reason for Hope: The Futures of Roman Catholic Theologates (1989); Seminaries, Theologates, and the Future of Church Ministry: An Analysis of Trends and Transitions (1999); Educating Leaders for Ministry (co-author, 2005); and most recently, Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes (2006). Her most recent book deals with the shortage of priests in the United States. The Lilly Endowment has supported her research and writing over the past 20 years.
When she received an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, the seminary's chancellor, Archbishop Francis Schulte, said that "not only Notre Dame Seminary, but the entire seminary community throughout the United States, is indebted to you for the valuable research and service you have provided for so many years. Your writings have brought enlightenment and renewal to priestly formation."
Schuth has received three other honorary degrees, including one in 2004 from Boston College, as well has many other awards for her research and writing.
Schuth lives in St. Paul, not far from St. Thomas, but grew up on a dairy farm on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, just above Wabasha. She was the middle child and only girl in a family with six boys.
In a book about the faith of many Catholics, Yes I Am Catholic: How Faith Plays a Role in My Life, Schuth talked about growing up on the farm and how her family taught her about faith and prayer, "a source of strength in her daily life."
"She believes it is especially valuable in her relationships with students," the book said. "She tries to get to know each one personally. 'When I learn about some of their family situations and about their goals and aspirations in life, I have a more positive and more complete view of them and recognize the struggles many of them are having.'"
Schuth has always taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels since coming to St. Thomas 17 years ago. One of her goals, she said, "is to open students' minds and hearts to the universe we share, be accepting of others, understand the religious backgrounds of others, and to appreciate that we are all children of God."
Schuth serves on many national committees and boards, and in recent years has been a member of more than 10 boards of theological schools. A friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, she was a 1996 charter member and continues to serve on his Catholic Common Ground Initiative. That project promotes seven "principles of dialogue" that foster respect, charity and civility, especially on topics related to the church.
Her work with that project was cited at St. Thomas' fall 2006 convocation by Father Dennis Dease, president. "I remember a column that James Shannon, president of St. Thomas from 1956 to 1966, wrote in The Aquin," Dease said in his annual address to the university's faculty. "He told his all-male student readers in the language of that day that even in the heat of debate there is one thing a gentleman never does: to question either his opponents' motives or his intelligence.
"This is counsel that would serve well today's polarized U.S. Catholic community. I appreciate the work of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who founded the Catholic Common Ground Movement. I applaud our own sister Katarina Schuth for her personal investment of time and energy in that movement as one of its founding board members."
Schuth spoke about the Common Ground Movement when she delivered the St. Thomas fall commencement address just a few days before Christmas in 2002. She concluded her address: " I invite you to be among those who renew the face of the earth one step at a time. In this season of hope that is celebrated in so many different traditions, may you be a reconciling messenger of peace to all you meet."
Monsignor James Lavin Award – Michael Thyken, who holds a 1983 bachelor's degree in business administration and quantitative methods-computer science, will receive this year's Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.
Thyken served as the association's president from 2004 to 2006 and has been involved in a host of alumni activities since his graduation. In addition to serving as the alumni representative on the university's Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2007, Thyken has been involved with class reunions, First Friday lunches, community clean-up days, the President's Council, William Finn Heritage Society, theater events and hockey alumni events.
Thyken, who also holds an M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota, is president of Corporate Information Technology, Merrill Corp.
Tommie Award – Dejen Tesfagiorgis was selected the 2008 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. The award recognizes scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.
Tesfagiorgis, of Madison, Wis., was selected from a field of 29 preliminary candidates and three finalists. He holds a 3.67 grade-point average and is double-majoring in music and business administration, with a concentration in entrepreneurship.
Principal saxophonist in the Symphonic Wind and Jazz Ensembles, he has served as vice president of the Band Club, as a peer tutor in the Music Department, and vice president of the Music and Entertainment Industry Student Association. He also has been a resident adviser in Ireland Hall and is in the Delta Epsilon Sigma National Honors Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
The Tommie Award is sponsored by university’s Division of Student Affairs.
The Aquin student newspaper on Feb. 22 carried a front-page story of Tesfagiorgis here. The Aquin said Tesfagiorgis "has an amazing work ethic, dedication to family, friends and colleagues, and general love for St. Thomas," according to Doug Orzolek, the music professor and band director who nominated Tesfagiorgis for the award.