Brother William Mann is still getting accustomed to being Saint Mary’s University’s new president.
The 13th president of the school, Mann was named to the position in December but took over from SMU chancellor and interim-president Brother Louis DeThomasis on June 1.
Saint Mary's new president, Brother William Mann, right, talks with Al Smith of Winona during a welcoming party Wednesday at SMU's Toner Student Center Lounge in Winona. Brother William is SMU's 13th president. (Photo by Andrew Link/Winona Daily News)
Until he knows the school better, Mann said he wasn’t making priorities or promises just yet.
For now, he simply wants to get used to the Midwest, beyond just getting his Minnesota driver’s license.
So far, Mann’s time in Winona has been a whirlwind of meetings with the SMU community, including students, alumni and his cabinet. The people of Winona he has met have impressed, if not shocked him.
“Kind of startlingly friendly,” Mann said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in big urban areas, so the friendliness and people going out of there way is nice, but takes getting used to.”
He served in Rome from 2000 to 2007 as the Vicar General De La Salle Christian Brothers. He taught at the high school level in New York and Rhode Island before serving as an administrator for the Christian Brothers in New England, Rome and India.
“One of the nice things, while going through all the volumes of papers I’ve had to go through, is that they are all in English,” Mann said.
In most of those positions, he’s held leadership roles in guiding multiple institutions. As vicar general, he was the second highest officer of the international Catholic teaching order that comprises over 900 schools. Mann said he is excited to be able to focus on just one institution for a change.
A member of SMU’s board of trustees from 1996 to 2001 and a longtime friend of Brother DeThomasis, Mann knows the university, but he said he didn’t come to Minnesota to shake up the community.
“I said to the new students and their parents that we are all the new folks on the block together,” Mann said. “Let’s figure it out together. I didn’t come here saying this is how we are going to do it.”
Mann brings with him the reputation as a noted scholar of John Baptist de La Salle, the founder of the order, and holds a doctorate in family ministry from Colgate Rochester Divinity School.
He said he’d like to increase the university’s focus on making its academics more career orientated, pointing to SMU’s graduate programs as a model.
“The idea is that learning is enhancing not only someone’s life but also their career opportunities, in a way that they can then serve society and the church,” Mann said.
Mann has the summer to learn the school and the community. Fostering relationships with the other local schools, deciding on the Packers or the Vikings, those are things Mann hasn’t quite gotten to yet. He’s looking forward to getting to know Winona well, even though he won’t be at one of the biggest summer get-togethers.
“I won’t be able to make it to Steamboat Days, unfortunately,” Mann said. Winona Daily News