At the Heart of the Matter

Faculty & Staff Workshop Address

Aug. 27, 2002

Good morning! It’s so good to see you. I hope your summer was full of sun, books, good friends, some time for good thoughts and planning and a liberal sprinkling of doing nothing at all. Earlier this summer, Ashley Dudley left the College for her husband’s new veterinary practice in Dallas. After a few days of "so what are we going to do now?" a miracle happened and Terri Blahoski began working in our office. She is highly competent, fun, a brand new bride and a graduate of a women’s college. She gave me a book for my birthday, which contains some admonitions I should heed...actually most of us should. The Art of Doing Nothing offers the following as arts we should develop:

Procrastinating
Breathing
Meditating
Lounging
Yawning
Napping
Bathing
Tasting
Listening
And waiting.

Not quite the "liberal arts," but very much part of becoming a more whole human being. I hope you - I - all of us protect some space to practice these arts. To do that means our work time must be efficient and purposeful. You can only afford to procrastinate, breathe meditate, lounge, yawn, nap, bathe, taste, listen and wait when your work time is focused toward clear goals. Try to remember that this year, I will do the same.

Once the intense work of June ends - Alumnae reunion, administrative retreat, year end evaluation, travel, I turn to the pile of books in my bedroom - spend time browsing in Border’s; savoring poems, listening to music, talking to people, scanning the New York Times - always on the lookout for a good metaphor to seize upon. I took a curious look at a book called, The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club - a fun read, but not exactly right for this talk I concluded. I’ve told folks when I run out of ideas for this talk I’ll know it’s time to move on. But that hasn’t happened yet. There is still lots to do; lots to think about, even as we can rightly congratulate ourselves for some outstanding accomplishments. My focus on the Heart of the Matter - will allow an enduring metaphor to unfold this morning I think, one whose meaning may deepen throughout the week and year as well.


So - sit back and relax - this may be the last or nearly last time you have to sit in these "well past their life expectancy O’Shag chairs." Have a little fun; hear what I have to say, think about your response but first, please welcome a great friend of St. Kate’s and my duet partner for this talk, local great, hometown girl, grand dame of the State Fair, Ann Reed:

Marching Back to School
Words & Music: Ann Reed

Hi! Ho! It’s off to school we go
And for sure we know this year we’ll do it better
Three cheers to start a brand new year
Here’s a song to march us back to school.

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

Thanks, Ann, for marching us back to school this morning. This is the one time in the year when, at least by invitation, all of us gather together. My remarks -though not encompassing the State of the College, will say something about where we have been and where we’re headed. My colleagues, Vice Presidents Mary DesRoches and Pat Hvidston tomorrow, and Mary Margaret Smith and Colleen Hegranes on Thursday will amplify my comments with more detail about particular segments of their responsibility. While we’re together, I want to thank each one of these women, and Cal Mosely and Stacy Jacobson, for extraordinary work. And, more importantly, for extraordinary results. I admire them. I respect them. I thank them - myself and for all of us.

Last year, I presented the proposed statement of mission for the College. Several hundred of you participated in feedback sessions and offered suggestions and recommendations. Among them, I took special note of comments shared by some august members of the English faculty praising the statement’s clarity and brevity - two of our goals in crafting it. The Board approved the statement on October 8. I am proud of our work and proud of our result. Many people - in and outside the college - have praised the strength and powerful directional stance evident in our mission. It does, and will, serve us well.

Here is our mission:

The College of St. Catherine educates women to lead and influence.

Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1905, the College integrates liberal arts and professional education within the Catholic traditions of social teaching and intellectual inquiry. Committed to excellence and opportunity, the College engages students from diverse backgrounds in a distinctive learning environment uniquely suited to women. Education at the College of St. Catherine prepares graduates to demonstrate ethical leadership grounded in social responsibility.

Last year, I outlined the plan for construction. Tomorrow, Mary DesRoches will report on the construction and I’ll talk about the financing plan in a moment. We are on time and on budget. No unhappy surprises. In late January, we’ll move into a beautiful new dining space. Sodexho and the transition team have done a pretty remarkable job transforming the grill into a temporary kitchen and dining room. I thank them and you in advance for your patience this fall with plastic forks, paper plates and limited selections. Perhaps it will be a hidden blessing for those who want to lose weight, save money or exercise rather than eat at lunchtime. Think if it as urban camping. If you get desperate for a real china plate, call me and I’ll invite you to my office. The few available ones are there.

Last year, we told you about publicly announcing our Campaign, and on November 18, we did that. Splendid liturgy; a creative and energetic announcement, my script helped along fabulously by James Sewell’s ballet, Patty Nieman’s PowerPoint and Steve Paul’s computer animation. Not to mention Patty Lynch’s no nonsense direction and the O’Shaughnessy staff magic. A delicious meal and unveiling of our campaign video in an elegantly transformed Butler Center followed. Event planning staff outdid themselves; communications folks - first rate in garnering great press in both papers and the Catholic Spirit, and finally, print materials prepared for the campaign were - and are - exceptional.

Last year, I laid out a plan for the year but no one - no one - could have imagined or anticipated September 11. In the weeks following, I spoke to many colleagues across the country. In addition to the social and economic uncertainty that day inflicted, many presidents struggled with on campus horror stories that isolated and terrified Muslim students. Our experience was different. From wise and caring counselors comforting students; to campus ministers crafting meaningful opportunities for prayer; to faculty members illuminating deep voids of ignorance about Muslims, American foreign policy and the middle east; to students affairs staff easing the anxiety of worried parents here and abroad - all made me proud to be President of St. Catherine’s. Even acknowledging bias, nothing in many conversations with presidents would lead me to conclude that another college in America has surpassed the compassion, thoughtfulness or wisdom of this community.

Our community experience around September 11 prepared us for other tragedies that remained still unimagined on that September morning. Simulated anthrax and very real fires. The accidental death of Todd Wiley after his fall from the Derham roof. The tragic loss of Lana Le during the week before commencement; the death of a young and talented faculty member, Scott Azuma, after his struggle with leukemia, the illness and death of mothers and dads, close friends, beloved pets; the struggle of so many of us with aging parents. Throughout all, this community revealed its substance again and again - with compassion, competence and style. Thank you on behalf of Todd’s and Lana’s and Scott’s families; thank you for many to whom you showed compassion and made your love visible, including me.

Community is what folks do when they believe that they belong together. In a community, each knows who she or he is; all know the power of their collective energy focused on common goals. At St. Catherine’s we know our individual contributions and talents, and, yes, shortcomings; as well as celebrate and accept the same in others. We know who we are as a College.

Last year, to express our corporate identity, we rolled out a new graphic identity for the College. Thank you for your efforts to comply with the guidelines for its use. Our efforts will solidify a single "look" for St. Catherine’s through all of our print materials - strong, clear, visual images of who we are. To thank you for your efforts, we have a little gift for you. So, listen up, because this may be your only chance to sport a tattoo given to you by the President of the College. Lahens, you listen up too. It’s definitely your only chance. Baskets with logo tattoos are passing through the aisles now. Please take and enjoy one.

NOW that each of you has an indelible sign of who we are (well at least until about three showers down the road - so give some thought to where you put it), let’s take a look at some of this year’s accomplishments. Lots of work. Measurable results. Pushing and leaping forward with purpose, diligence, and careful attention to our strategic plan, our desired future. New ideas and projects. Civil discourse. Respectful disagreements. The community at work. Obvious accomplishments - incomplete and in no deliberate order:

  1. The College met accreditation standards necessary to offer our first degree at the doctoral level, the Doctor of Physical Therapy.

  2. St. Catherine’s and the Alumnae Association had very important discussions about future collaborative work.

  3. Our reputation among leaders in Workforce development initiatives grew stronger through expanding programs and partnerships, many addressing critical healthcare labor shortages.

  4. The College of St. Catherine is nearly seamless - an increasingly unified whole with a common vision. Our conversations, our efforts, our results here are noted, notable, admirable.

  5. The Centers of Excellence are breathing, shaping themselves, taking on personality, emerging as true multidisciplinary lenses on complex issues facing women.

  6. O’Shaughnessy and Luncheons speakers - Madeleine Albright, Dava Sobel, Molly Ivins, Jehan Sedat among them, brought increased visibility and wonderful opportunities for students to connect with women of substance.

  7. The Health and Wellness Center provided topflight service to many more students in wonderful new space.

  8. The Leadership in Mind Campaign has raised nearly $53 million dollars - the largest amount ever raised by a Catholic College for women. Staff and faculty are participating in record numbers; you both humble and inspire me.

  9. We are chipping away at a huge pile of deferred maintenance projects that, just a few years ago, seemed absolutely insurmountable.

  10. O’Neill Center and Learning Center staff earn the praise of students and parents, as well as national leaders in disability services.

  11. Staff Circles are up and running; providing opportunities for employees to meet each other, discuss important issues, assume leadership.

  12. The wall outside my office is filling up with framed faculty book jackets.

  13. In St. Paul, the legislature, and the Governor’s office, we have gained visibility and greater respect for the unique contribution of St. Catherine's to Minnesota higher education.

  14. In official reports, as well as informal conversations, the Board, corporate leaders in the Twin Cities and colleagues on a national level, including funders, accreditors, financial assessors, CEOs and higher education colleagues recognize and respect the College of St. Catherine as a well-managed and innovative institution – one where administrators, faculty and staff articulate goals together, pursue them effectively and have fun doing it.

  15. St. Joseph Hall is transforming itself right before our eyes. If you were off campus this spring, you missed a whole lot of fast, fascinating and beautiful work unfolding daily as the new construction progresses.

  16. Midterm strategic plan review assessed progress against goals; took new information, insights, opportunities and challenges into account; recalibrated the plan and then developed a new financial forecast. This work paid tremendous dividends as we approached lenders and financial rating agencies later in the Spring.

  17. Fall enrollment numbers are running ahead of budget and ahead of last year in every category.

  18. We have a financial plan for the building project that allows us to construct a state of the art student center and library, undertake significant renovation in Whitby and Mendel Halls, reimburse ourselves for the FCNS and health center facilities and, simultaneously, not cripple the operating budget. We have borrowed the entire amount through the Minnesota Higher Education Facilities Authority. To meet the debt service requirement of $3 million dollars annually, we have segregated about $27 million dollars of available campaign cash to be invested to generate earnings necessary to make the debt payments. Our borrowing rates are exceedingly favorable, combining a flexible array of fixed and variable rate bonds. We have conservatively forecasted earnings expectations for our fund and, barring a national or global economic disaster, should have funds available for debt service without encroaching on the operating budget. Kudos to our "czarina of the bonds," Mary DesRoches, as well as the cabinet and staff who helped bring this very effective plan to fruition. This was the combination of very hard work by a lot of folks - and some very good luck to go along with it.

  19. Certainly less intimidating and a lot more beautiful than bond documents, our College publications are informative, attractive, and consistent. We have a new view book, a new look for development publications, a "knock your socks off" website, as well as new outreach publications for parents and neighbors, and an "out there" electronic newsletter called @ St. Catherine.

  20. We are out there. The College is more visible– through the print media, but also through the individual contributions and stature of people like June Noronha, Margie Mathison Hance, Paul Haugen, Julie Jones, Jeannie Bailey, Joan Robertson, the deans, and Cabinet members serving on Boards. All extend the reach of the college and enhance its image in very positive ways

  21. Student affairs staff displayed their stuff in admirable form in the wake of 9/11; the fires in St. Mary’s Hall, the anthrax scare and student angst that accompanied all of that

  22. The Bush Grant has yielded measurable and honorable results as well as revealed the next level of diversity work.

Some words about our financial position. I share them with a good deal of pride and a good deal of gratitude for my Cabinet - of course, to Mary and her leadership - But to Pat, Colleen, Mary Margaret and Cal for their roles in managing complicated and complex endeavors to secure resources, use them wisely and recruit and retain students, our principal source of revenue. Their work has been intense, difficult, exhilaring and successful.

New York based Moody’s rating service upgraded our Credit rating to BAA1, a significant achievement. Their rationale praised the college’s solid market niche, strategic planning, fund-raising and management effectiveness. Bond Professionals and the MN Higher Education Facilities Authority eagerly packaged and sold 50 Million dollars of fixed and variable rate bonds to investors who believe in us.

Later in the year we will inform you more fully about the financial state of the college.

But by almost any measure, our financial news is good. We are stronger; People know it and resources attract resources, as we know

This is not to say we have no worries. We are very tuition dependent. Despite efforts to diversify revenue sources and increase fund-raising - that dependency is not likely to change appreciably in the next decade. It takes a huge endowment to do that and we just don’t have one. When I came to the College I decided early that we should NOT make the endowment the focus of this campaign. Some might reject that strategy as shortsighted, but some things needed to happen and they needed to happen sooner, not later, I believed. I still do. Nonetheless, a relatively small endowment, conservative investment strategy during the bull markets and diminished earning capacity now restricts our capacity to absorb any significant financial hits. Looming on the horizon - huge costs for technology, improved salaries and benefits, targeted hires; intensified student services.

Let’s take a breather for a minute. Ann will sing a song that - happily - does not reflect our financial position. Stand up if you like, enjoy it and later today, thank everyone you can think of who helped make sure that this song is definitely not our theme song.

["Last Dollar Bill", music and words by Ann Reed]

We are, happily, not down to our last dollar. Neither are we down to our last challenge. A formidable number remain. Again, not in any determined order:

Mud, mud and more to come. With it, frustration, weariness and the hope that time will fly and do so without too much precipitation.

Detours - we’re sorry about library access. There isn’t much we can do about it. Try to make a game or an adventure out of it. Sharpen up your sled runners. Whine if you like.

Old buildings keep breaking down and down and down. They can be charming; they are also an expensive pain in the neck.

City, state government, and corporate relations, while improved, all need strengthening. Despite Margie Mathison Hance’s wonderful results, we started work with corporations long after the competition did. There is a lot of ground to make up.

We’ve made progress on salaries, but there’s still a long way to go and benefits beckon in the wings.

Enrollment will always be a challenge. Retention and graduation rates are huge and complex issues. The needs of our broadly diverse student body are growing exponentially and strain our ability to meet them.

Apathy among too large a sector of the community troubles me. We must bring more folks in from the restless margins or the "outwhining" edges. The inner circle of folks who consistently say, Present, ready, I’ll do it - is just too small. None of them are bailing out but I worry we will wear them out. We simply need more people to step into the inner circle.

The economy, although showing hopeful signs, is volatile, troubling and pretty much out of our control.

We have many more resources than we did a few years ago, but they are still quite limited; legitimate needs, however, are not.

Our decennial accreditation visit will be next February. Every one of us has responsibility before, during and after this important moment in the College’s life. Brian Bruess and Susan Cochrane will tell you more tomorrow.

None of these challenges are insurmountable. Most require a critical mass of intelligent and energetic people: they require YOU to get up, get involved, and get to it.

Some folks have recently come to St Catherine’s to help us "get to it". I’d like you to meet them. They have nametags on that will let you know they are among the "arrived since June". Please make them feel at home. Ann will welcome them in song and I’ll ask our new colleagues to stand when you see your name on the screen. Remain standing and perhaps the rest of us can signal our welcome by applauding when Ann concludes.

["Lisa's Song", music and words by Ann Reed]

As is our custom, we begin each academic year with reflection that begins today and culminates at opening liturgy next week. I want to imbed our prayer right within my remarks to signal that our words, our work, our coming together - all of it is holy. Mindful of balance as a sure sign of the Spirit; mindful of risks that lie ahead, and mindful of the beauty of a woman’s voice raised in song, let us become conscious of the community, ponder the possibilities of strong and intelligent people focused on good goals; ground ourselves in recognition of power and love greater than we can imagine; and strengthen our resolve for the work ahead.

Leap of Faith
Words & Music: Ann Reed

I am living in time
It's a rhythm I know
More and more I think life
Is all balance and hope
'Cause it's not black or white
It's any shade of my choice
Coming fully alive when I give it my voice

Chorus:
Oh, it is time
I will live out loud and
Open my eyes to the great divide
I'm walking my path
Finding my way
And every step's a leap of faith

Ev'ry story's a thread
In a weave that avows
I don't know what's ahead
But I'm standing here now
There are moments I fly
Days when I weep
Sometimes I close my eyes
And remember to breathe (chorus)

I walk on a fluid road
Ever changing where it goes
I wrestle my fear
And trusting my heart
That strength will appear
Oh, growing there in the dark (chorus)

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

Our work is holy. Action directed toward mission is sacred. So - from wherever you have come after what seems a summer that has been alternately horrid; hot; rainy and spectacular...welcome home. Our work begins anew.

From the point of deep reflection, we can ask, "What is; who is?" at the heart of the matter?

Our institutional heart beats strong and rhythmically - providing the backdrop against which we dance. It is a polyrhythm we recognize, we love, as it surprises and challenges; skips ahead; slows us down; pushes until we are out of breath.
The heart, we must remember, can always be strengthened.

At St. Catherine’s, three vital elements form and shape the heart - the 4th is the heart itself.

The first - Women

Earlier this year, a colleague - president of a college in Philadelphia - wrote a letter defending her institution’s choice to abandon its role as a women’s college - go coed to use the common parlance. The president’s published letter suggested that her college saw the light and acted ahead of others like St. Catherine’s, who will surely follow down the same path. The president was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying, "We have an alumna with five daughters and not one would consider our women’s college." Their most recent entering class was about 80 students. She went on to point out that successful women’s colleges have huge endowments, national reputations, vast resources. I, and several of my colleagues, were concerned and unhappy about being dragged into the death throes of a weak and weakening institution. Most of us - while not without concerns or challenges - enjoy robust enrollments and fund development; and eagerly trumpet our growing and vibrant institutions. The difference between succeeding and failing may pivot to a degree on resources. But all the resources in the world will not make up for a scrambled, anemic or cloudy mission. The real "make a difference factor" here is not money - it is mission. It is not privilege; it is passion.

For any of you who harbor doubt or wish that it will be otherwise, let me speak in the clearest terms possible. We are not going that way - not on my watch; we are not apologizing; we are not wavering. Forgetting who we are or sidelining our identity as a college for women courts disaster. This is not about exclusion - it is about focus; it is about the passion that built this place. And so, we reaffirm our commitment to be a strong, visible, college for women for one reason - the work that the CSJs began in 1905 is not finished. To wit, Nicholas Kristof’s recent remarks in the New York Times: The central moral struggle of the 19th century concerned slavery and the 20th century pitted democracy against nazism, communism and other despotic isms. Our own preeminent moral challenge will be to ease the brutality that kills and maims girls and women across much of Asia and Africa. The central issue, he says, is 500,000 women who die each year in pregnancy or childbirth; 100 million girls or women worldwide denied adequate food or medical care; aborted or killed at birth because they are female. Most children kept out of school are girls; indeed 2/3 of the 800 million illiterate people in the world are women. 130 million girls have undergone genital mutilation; nearly two million are trafficked into prostitution annually. If it is naïve to think that graduates of a small college for women on a Midwest prairie in North America can affect, in any way, the progressive escalation of these horrifying statistics, perhaps we do not have a compelling reason to exist. But – when I speak to women in Global Search classes; when I speak to faculty returning from Bolivia; when I speak to faculty partnering with local health agencies or inner city schools or witness them skillfully weaving threads of awareness, knowledge and resolve through classes in poetry, theology, art, history, and biology, then my resolve is strengthened; our purpose more sharply defined; our reason for being clear. Competent, caring, committed women seek the same for people the world over. Competent, caring, committed women will make themselves heard.

When struggling a few nights ago for an example to make my point here, a wonderful email showed up from our student, Delinda Tamagni. In part she said this:

As my senior year approaches, I have been asking God for guidance and direction as to where to go next. I know that I’ve been blessed with the gift of working well with kids and I'm pretty sure God wants me to utilize this gift because since my shadowing experience, I am more passionate than ever to go out and work in this field. I think I can make a difference. I’ve had many people tell me this outlook is naïve - to think that I can help in an area so large - but is it really? If I believe in something, and dedicate myself to it, I think some sort of difference can be made. Even if the difference is little, a little bit can always make room for more.

If you do not accept our deep commitment to the work of educating women, let us help you look for alternative employment. You will never be at home here.
Our undergraduate programs - centerpiece of our college, will remain - indisputably- for women only. It is our strongest, most enduring commitment - a most clear and indisputable mark of essence. Not because we hate men; not because we are stuck in the past; But because this is our mission, our vision, our raison d’etre. It is irreducible, primary, essential.

For All the Girls
Words & Music: Ann Reed

For all the dreams we hold
And for the stories told;
Joining the dance
Taking a chance
Out in the world

For the respect we earn;
And for the lessons learned.
Show how you feel;
Make it all real
For all the girls!

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

The liberal arts beat a deeply resonant rhythm at St. Catherine’s. During the strategic planning process, we claimed certain core elements as permeaters and the liberal arts stands at their center. A permeater is evident, discernible, palpable, something that weaves it way so tightly through the fabric of our curriculum, that it is unmistakable, beautiful, at once intricate and simple; of essence; something that drenches the curricular earth such that it reveals its power to transform in outcomes that may well forget the source of their strength, so pervasively imbedded are they. When I think of the liberal arts as permeaters and assess just how visible, discernible, palpable they are at St. Catherine’s - several possible answers emerge. Hearing student after student in our Antonian Scholars program integrate, assess, apply, make wise and useful connections, makes my pride runs deep. Yes - I can answer, the liberal arts permeate deeply.

To illustrate, I’ll quote from a recent email I received from a 1995 graduate, a chemistry major and recently minted PhD in Chemical Physics. Minda wrote:

"My experiences outside the College have demonstrated the critical need for ethical decision-making in science and technology and the noticeable lack of women in leadership positions. The constant evolution of technology brings fundamental questions to the forefront from topics such as gene splicing to laser guided missiles. All come down to the same questions I recall from my honors program class ‘Philosophy in the Novel’ taught by Philosophy and English professors, in which we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ‘If we can do it, should we?’ and ‘If we do, what is our responsibility afterwards?’ I believe that my liberal arts education prepared me to at least ask the hard questions and try to come up with ethical solutions."

This young woman spoke to me in compelling terms about how deeply her studies in English, history and philosophy had influenced her decision about whether she could or wanted to accept a position as an engineer in a company well known for its aggressive work in the defense industry. That she would raise the questions is remarkable enough for a woman in her mid twenties. That she would do so in such a thoughtful and determined way pays enormous tribute to her and to the professors that helped her develop such finely integrated skills and values. That she entered what might be viewed as hostile territory with the confidence that comes from sheer intelligence and competence, as well as deeply grounded values, is what marks her as a woman who surely will lead and influence.

When I speak to people about the Core, enthusiastic nods of admiration lead me to conclude that we are doing work that is transformational, and far-reaching in its potential impact. At the same time, more than one faculty member and alumna have questioned the strength and centrality of our liberal arts curriculum. We know the challenges implicit and formidable in educating large numbers of transfer students or students in programs where external accrediting bodies strangle an already tight curriculum. We know the market pulls are strong.

What voice will St. Catherine’s claim as the American Association of Colleges and Universities publishes its Great Expectations about the state and future of liberal learning; about what is critical to the future of a diverse, diffuse and distracted society?

Liberal education sets a context within which students can define their moral imagination and moral sophistication in order to bring their moral reasoning capacity into a fractured world, heaving and yielding to complex pressures. Our responsibilities here are not departmental; they cannot be relegated to Whitby Hall. They belong to every single faculty member. We are all responsible to help students push against boundaries; shape questions carefully and declares answers only rarely and after serious thought and multiple lens scrutiny.

Do we help students do that? I suspect, in many cases, yes. Does the skill, determination, and drive to do permeate the college? I worry it does not.

But it must, so for 2003 I will ask our academic leaders to protect space and time to explore these questions seriously. Certainly the liberal arts and sciences faculty play a central and important role. But this is the work of the entire faculty. This is our common and vital work.

The interplay of advancing technology and increased globalization is shrinking the world, rendering us more mindful of diversity, the limitations of our planet and our fundamental interdependence. We must create common spaces to engage in conversation and study, listen hard and long for the deep value conflicts, and celebrate new facets of truth as they emerge. This common space is not devoid of our enduring values, but a place where they are enriched and deepened.

That is what it means hold the liberal arts at the heart of the matter. If you do not understand our deep commitment to the integrating and integrative role of the liberal arts, then we will help you. If you reject or ignore it, let us help you look for alternative employment. You will never be at home here, especially if you are a faculty member. Our Undergraduate curriculum grounds itself, takes its impetus from the liberal arts. They permeate everything. It is an equally strong and enduring commitment we have - a clear and indisputable mark of essence. Not because we bemoan the advent of burgeoning programs in the professions; not because we are stuck in the past; but because the liberal arts rest at the heart of our mission, a primary path to our vision. They illumine the path by which women learn to lead and influence. Their expression may evolve and deepen - but at root, they are irreducible, primary and essential.

For All the Girls
Words & Music: Ann Reed

For all the dreams we hold
And for the stories told;
Joining the dance
Taking a chance
Out in the world

For the respect we earn;
And for the lessons learned.
Show how you feel;
Make it all real
For all the girls!

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

At the heart of matter - Catholic: controversial, central, complex. Often, conversations about what it means to be a Catholic College for women are anecdotal and dismissive rather than thoughtfully posed; emotional rather than reasoned; reactive to the strident voices clustered at either end of a difficult spectrum - those for whom we will never be Catholic enough; and those whose devotion to religious neutrality is a religion itself and often not a very tolerant one. Sprinkled along the length between them, the nearly silent majority.

Conversations at the polar ends take up too much time and energy and frequently there’s no productive outcome. In contrast, after our opening mass of the Holy Spirit last year, a faculty member raised thoughtful concerns suggesting that religious pluralism at St. Catherine’s renders it inappropriate to ritually express our Catholic identity at major, all-college events. The respect with which his convictions were shared did not change the fact that I could not accept them. Nonetheless, our conversations were instructive – at least they were for me - and productive, i.e., they led to change in how we plan chapel liturgies. Catholic sacramental life does not embrace the entirety of what it means to be a Catholic College – but it is essential. Each year, this dilemma is most evident at the opening of the academic year and at Baccalaureate. I want to state in the clearest terms possible that both the Opening Mass and Baccalaureate are major ways that this College expresses its Catholic identity. We should not somehow conclude that Opening Mass or Baccalaureate are for Catholics who want to attend, and Convocation and Commencement are for everyone. Indeed, all are for all. Our intent is always to welcome, reflect our Catholic heritage and help people experience the College community as vibrant and positive. That these major events will include Catholic liturgy is not negotiable. It is part of our core identity.

Our goal is that people of all faiths experience these celebrations as meaningful, albeit in different ways. For some who are not Catholic that might mean actively participating; for others respectful attendance. I hope it does not mean absenting yourself because your tradition is different. Were I a faculty member at St. Olaf or any other College with a declared religious affiliation, I would deprive myself, as well as the community, were I to excuse myself from major chapel services. Required attendance - as is the case at many Church-based colleges - is neither, I believe, appropriate or productive, but I do encourage you to attend; if not as participants, then as community members who count such experiences as part of cultural learning and part of belonging to this community.
As long as I am President, major College events that call for religious ritual will be Catholic. By that I mean the Opening Mass of the Holy Spirit (a tradition at every Catholic college for more than 500 years and Baccalaureate. During the year there are and will be many, many opportunities when interfaith services are not only acceptable but most appropriate.

Aside from worship, some in almost every Catholic college claim that we should bifurcate the College’s life of faith from its academic life. It is, however, never possible in a Catholic college to assume that our religious identity is somehow distinct from the academic life. That premise contradicts the bedrock foundation of any Catholic college. God knows, we should be trying mightily to transcend barriers between faith and reason, not fortify them. We are - emphatically - not in the business of converting anyone to Catholicism, but rather want to integrate the best of Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Catholic Social Teaching into our College life and curriculum. All of us have a lot to learn about what that means and does not mean, especially as it relates to academic freedom.

Strengthening Catholic identity is not my personal goal - it is the goal of every single Catholic college in the nation. It is not optional. It is a responsibility I bear on behalf of the Sisters, the Board of Trustees, the Church itself. Most importantly, our Catholic identity can never be tangential to the academic enterprise. An identifying characteristic of every Catholic college is precisely the deliberate integration of faith and reason; this is the core of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. At St. Kate’s, we have embraced Catholic Social Teaching and its implications for women as a special area of focus.
Nor is "strengthening our Catholic identity" somehow in conflict with the College’s goals around diversity. We embrace both. As we learn more about cultures and traditions different from our own we cannot forsake our own tradition.

Every student, faculty or staff member who comes here knows that this is not a religiously neutral or secular college. "Buy-in" to mission is required of every single person who works here - it is simply not an extra-curricular activity for Catholics.

This is about mission, so there will be no attempt that I will sanction, to blur the Catholic identity of the College or marginalize it. I encourage you to be an active participant in all major college events, academic, religious, social, athletic, cultural. Our Catholic tradition is a rich intellectual, social and sacramental one. Forgetting that; weakening it; allowing it to separate from the academic enterprise is a serious mistake. Among the many blunders I will surely make during my presidency, that will not be among them. At the same time, I assure you that acceptance, understanding, appreciation, respect, and participation do not mean doctrinal acquiescence.

I know well that the Church’s position on many issues makes working toward greater inclusivity a challenge. Certainly as a women’s college, this is eminently so. At times, this challenge has sharp edges; takes us down rocky paths that take us to unfriendly places. I have experienced this acutely - many of you have told me that you have as well. This challenge, one we particularly own, does not allow us to put aside our tradition or somehow view it as simply one tradition among many.

If you do not understand our tradition, then we will help you. If you reject or ignore that we hold it close to the heart, then your home may not be here. We need and will have space and time for deep, respectful and productive conversations. This work is not only anecdotal or sharing of personal experience. There is important learning, reading, analysis, and discussion ahead. We must listen and speak with one another. Our Catholic identity is the strongest, most enduring commitment we have - a most clear and indisputable mark of essence. Not because we are intent on proselytizing; not because we are stuck in the past; But because this is our mission, our raison d’etre. It is irreducible, primary, and essential.

For All the Girls
Words & Music: Ann Reed

For all the dreams we hold
And for the stories told;
Joining the dance
Taking a chance
Out in the world

For the respect we earn;
And for the lessons learned.
Show how you feel;
Make it all real
For all the girls!

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

You may have noticed that I have called each of these elements, women, liberal arts and Catholic the strongest, most enduring commitment we have. I am not equivocating here. What I mean is this: the heart of the matter is all of these, woven intentionally, strongly, beautifully into a single seamless whole. That is the heart of the matter. Our work will ever be to shape what this means within our own time and place.

And for whom does this heart beat? Indisputably, happily, wonderfully, magically
For our students. None should dispute that students are at the heart of all we do. Moving to the practical level, a College like ours with such a large and expansive heart, beats feverishly to send life and support to each student we admit. Our intentions are noble; our effort, tireless. When I step back to observe, though, there are troubling signs. A heart racing constantly is not healthy. Limited resources spread too widely eventually sacrifice depth and quality. We cannot let that happen. Our students are too precious - our staff and faculty too competent, too committed. The pulse we feel to assess our health is retention of students. That pulse is sending strong signals we must heed. Our retention rate from the freshman to sophomore year is not where it should be. The Enrollment Management Matrix is wrestling this problem to the ground - collecting and analyzing data; exploring -best practices- including enviable retention and graduation rates of our two-year students; crafting a plan. I am confident we will be successful.

One reason retention is a problem is that we try to do too much with too few resources. The span of services our students need - academic support, financial support, personal and cultural support, - demands more resources than we have. The solution has multiple dimensions. First, we must together determine what students we want to serve and what students we are best capable of serving. The admissions staff must then target recruitment efforts accordingly. As students enroll, services must respond to needs. Improved retention and graduation rates will follow.

Though it sounds simple enough, retention is actually a complex challenge that demands thoughtful balancing and rebalancing of goals and expectations around excellence and opportunity, financial capability, competitive positioning, and student service needs. Fortunately, we have talented and thoughtful people working on this and I know the outcome will be positive. What about the rest of us - who may feel quite disconnected from talk about retention of students? Well, you are not disconnected at all. Whether you cut the grass, serve dinner, collect a tuition bill, issue a transcript, counsel, teach, repair, plant, advise or coach you have a major role to play in retaining students. You have a chance to be excellent, to make a difference. It really is all about students. Their needs are the most important. They are why we are here. You’ve heard me highlight several shining examples of fabulous service to students. Emulate them. To inspire you, I want to share a story - one I call the "Whatever It Takes" Story. Sister Seraphim Gibbons calls it the Saga of the Mobile Homes.

Some 35 years ago at St. Kate’s, through miscommunication between the dean of students and admissions director – we accepted 100 more students than we had room to house. A nice problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The president, Sister Alberta, after quickly exhausting the possibility of housing them on other crowded college campuses, arranged to buy surplus army buildings. The seller skipped town, though, and in fact, there were no such buildings available.

The president asked Sister Seraphim, a math professor, to take charge of the 100 students and the problem. Sister looked into an abandoned monastery - really abandoned. Broken glass, inadequate cooking facilities, no wall outlets. No weekend food. Not an option.

Pullman train cars, she thought. . Great idea, sister - do you have any train tracks on campus? OK, rule that out.

Trailers!...Seraphim took two nuns - the Mary Margaret and Colleen of the day - for a ride. How much would 10 cost? - I couldn’t possibly get 10. Next vendor - they are built in Wisconsin ON ORDER. Sold. It was now well into the summer of 1967. Where will you put them, Sister? On campus? Do you have a permit? Oh, we don’t need one - we’re putting them on our own property. Uh huh. Right. If you have more than two on your property, it’s a trailer park. You need a permit

The trailers arrived the day before the students did - furnished but not set up and with no access stairs. Off to Sears to buy two sets of stairs for each; over came lots more nuns to set up house. In moved the new students. All was fine until the fall rains came. Mud. Mud Mud. Out went, Sisters Seraphim, President Alberta and Sister Mary Thomason to seek a solution. Discarded concrete blocks at a construction site, someone had told them. Found them over at Grand and Lexington. Free. One sat on the pile to insure they did not disappear; the others commenced multiple trips back and forth to load, haul, and install the heavy blocks. Problem solved. Standard set.

The moral of this story: If you really care about students, then whatever it takes is your motto.

These three women set an amazing example of what it means to believe in the mission so much, to be so committed to our students that "by any means possible" means just that. Let’s recognize Sister Seraphim, former president Sister Alberta, Sister Mary.

A happy break before I conclude - to feel good about who we are, what we’ve done, rejoice
in our colleagues and in ourselves. We’ve done great work and God has seen it, blessed it.
Stand up if you like.

Finally, a name for our new complex. We’ve hardly been able to hold onto what we believe is an inspired suggestion, one that embraces all we imagine for our new facility. We have a winner! Thanks to all who submitted over 350 possible names for the new complex. We looked them over; sat with them - one leapt off the page. The Cabinet heard it, looked at it; knew it spoke the right message. We love it.

CSJ leaders and Board Executive Committee heard it. They enthusiastically agree it is right. Now we want to share it with you - and acknowledge the faculty member who suggested it, Assistant Professor of Biology, Marcie Myers.

Marcie, why don’t you come on up?

On top of a wonderful name, we have a wonderful songwriter who has done a stunning job. We told her and she gets it! Colleagues and friends, to honor the French roots of our founding CSJ women, to honor our patron and inspiration Catherine, to embrace all our best hopes for the new complex, we shall call its name, Coeur de Catherine.

Coeur de Catherine
Words & music: Ann Reed

See this place of glass and stone
Made by human hands
Not these great goods alone
Make a building stand
It takes believing
Open the door
This place is breathing
Who is it for?

Here in these walls
The voices of our vision
Gently ask you in
And, in these walls
You’ll hear the voices of the women
Inside the Coeur de Catherine

In the soul of what we’ve dreamed
Oh, we planted and we grew
We celebrate the lives we lead
At the heart of what we do
It takes believing
Open the door
This place is breathing
Who is it for?

At the heart of the matter
What we receive and what we give
At the heart of the matter
Who we are and how we live

In the soul of what we’ve dreamed
Oh, we planted and we grew
We celebrate the lives we lead
At the heart of what we do
It takes believing
Open the door
This place is breathing
Who is it for?

©2002 Turtlecub Publishing

As I complete my 4th year as President, I ask "Are we better off than we were four years ago?" I think so. I know, beyond my wildest expectations that I am. Thank you.