Wednesday, September 24, 2008

St. Thomas keeps a place at the table for the archbishop

The St. Paul university settles questions over Nienstedt role

A year after a bylaws change set off speculation the University of St. Thomas was trying to distance itself from a controversial incoming archbishop, the school is starting this academic year on a new footing with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

An agreement announced this month allows Archbishop John Nienstedt to have his vicar general — roughly akin to a chief operating officer — on the school's board of trustees and calls for Nienstedt to attend one of three annual board meetings and to meet twice a year with board leaders.

In addition, the board agrees to consult with Nienstedt before making any decision that may affect the school's Catholic mission or identity.

In October, trustees at the St. Paul school voted to eliminate longstanding ex-officio seats that automatically made the archbishop chairman of the board and his vicar general the vice-chair.

Having an elected chairperson was one of several recommendations made by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in 2002 that the university had been adopting over time, said St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes, and was unrelated to Nienstedt's arrival.

But because it came six months after Nienstedt was named to succeed Harry Flynn, some saw it as a deliberate attempt by the university to deny a seat at the table to a leader widely seen as

more conservative and doctrinaire than Flynn. That perception was reinforced for some by the board's decision to elect Flynn to a five-year term as chairman.

"I am hopeful this mutual agreement will address concerns about the relationship between St. Thomas and the office of the archbishop," said St. Thomas President Dennis Dease in a statement earlier this month.

"It is unfortunate that some people have used this issue as an excuse to question the university's commitment to its Catholic mission and to challenge the integrity of a number of its trustees," Dease wrote.

Hennes said the expectation the board will consult with the archbishop on issues relating to the Catholic character of the institution is not really new.

"In practice it's always been there," he said, in part because as a priest and the university president, Dease reports to the archbishop and the board of trustees. "It isn't just at board meetings when they talk," Hennes said.

Asked whether the archdiocese will be looking for simple notification about key decisions or whether it will expect the university to seek its approval, archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said, "I think it's some of both, perhaps. It's an advise-and-consent sort of thing."

McGrath said the new agreement conforms with the understanding of the role of Catholic universities promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990 in a document called "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," which explored the dual nature of Catholic universities as communities of scholars but also as advocates of the church's mission.

"Even when they do not enter directly into the internal governance of the University," the document says, "Bishops should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic University."

Founded by Archbishop John Ireland in 1885, St. Thomas is fairly rare among Catholic universities in that it is connected directly to the local archdiocese.

Most Catholic universities are linked to the church through the religious group that founded them, such as the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the case of the College of St. Catherine, just down the road from St. Thomas. Such schools typically don't have an ex-officio seat on their boards for the local archbishop, said Andrea Lee, St. Catherine's president.

St. Kate's, though, happens to reserve a seat for the archbishop, Lee said, out of respect for the church and because the college was co-founded by Archbishop Ireland.

As for St. Thomas, McGrath said he doesn't expect the newly defined relationship with the archdiocese to make much practical difference in the way the school is run.

"I don't think it's so much of a big deal at all," he said. "It's just a clarification, a crystallization of the way things should be set up anyway. Sometimes, you have to go back to basics. We just had to get back to basics in spelling out some things." St Paul Pioneer Press

Interestingly, this news is three weeks old. Stella Borealis reported this on September 4. The cutbacks in local newspaper coverage will be getting more and more severe. Newspapers have lost almost all their want ads to eBay, Angies's List, Craig's List and other internet sites. That's where they made most of their money.

And Daytons and Donaldson's are no longer local department stores competing with each other with many weekly full page ads. Now it's Macy's with little other deparatment store competition.

Discount stores, mail order and specialty stores are the face of retailing today. The cost will be the local newspaper.

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