Univ. of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN … Catholic school? You decide.

I was alerted by RM to whom I tip my biretta  o{]:¬)  for the following tid bit buried in a Bulletin issued by the University of St. Thomas.  I don’t have a degree from UST, but I did take many philosophy courses there while I was a grad student at the Univ. of Minnesota.  The recent hijinx at UST caught our attention a couple weeks back.  Remember this story?

For a long time there has been some debate about whether UST is really a "Catholic school" any longer.  That could be said for any number of colleges and universities in the USA, of course.

So, please read this and think about it.

In the 8 November UST Bulletin we read about the doings at the fall Board of Trustees meeting.  My emphases:

One very upbeat moment during the plenary session came when the board saluted Archbishop Harry Flynn for his leadership as chairman since 1995. The board presented him with a framed certificate of appreciation that said: "Champion of Catholic higher education and model of servant leadership, intellectual and moral courage, you exemplify caritas, the greatest of all Christian virtues. You do us honor, and we thank you."

Implementing a process the Board Affairs Committee began last February, the board also elected Archbishop Flynn to a five-year term as chairman of the board after making appropriate changes to the university’s bylaws which heretofore had stipulated that the ordinary (head) of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serve ex officio as chairman.


These changes as well as others made previously reflect recommendations made to us five years ago by the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities when it reviewed with our board best governance practices. One AGB recommendation was to conform our bylaws to what is now the common practice among Catholic colleges and universities: to elect the board’s chairman and vice chairman.

Hitherto, the Archbishop and Vicar General always served on the Board ex officio.  It was a Catholic school.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Matthew says:

    UST, of which I am currently a student, is not very Catholic. The English
    department is liberal and makes students read vulgar texts including this year\’s
    text, The Handmaid’s Tale”. A website has been set up in protest: ustclassaction.com

    The Theology Department (at least for undergraduates) is also liberal with an atheist,
    Jew, and at least one protestant teaching.

  2. Tim from St. Agnes says:

    More on The Handmaids Tale at UST:

    Katherine Kersten: Shock therapy for freshmen at St. Thomas shockingly trite
    By Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune


  3. eric says:

    That place is a joke.

  4. Gordo the Byzantine says:

    There are some good people there, and from what I understand the Master’s program is fairly solid. So to say it is a “joke” is a bit much. I hear that the Philosophy department is very solid.

    My guess is that the Archdiocese probably welcomed the change in some way. Less financial obligations and exposure.

    When they shook hands with the devil on the new science building, though, you knew things were headed downhill.

    Does anyone know if there might be some financial benefit to the University by no longer affiliating with the Archdiocese? Especially when federal funding is involved?

  5. mike says:

    Perhaps one of those untidy lawsuits/settlements is headed down the pike and UST doesn’t want their “diocesan” assets on the block.


  6. momof7 says:

    Wasnt there a controversy recently about inviting Tutu to speak there?

  7. eric says:

    Ok, I’m sorry. I blogged faster than I could think. The place is not a joke. What I was trying to say is that what I have heard from people there is that the theology is weak and “modern”, and that traditional views are not welcome on the faculty. Admittedly, I have a limited perspective and am open to being told otherwise.

  8. Greg Smisek says:

    Fr. Dease characterizes the change as a way to keep Archbishop Flynn on in his leadership role once he retires as archbishop (which is expected to happen in the coming year). Since no one replaced Msgr. Terrance Murphy (RIP) as Chancellor (a position created when he retired as long-time President of St. Thomas), it seems that might have been another way to make this possible.

    At the same time, the board also removed the ex officio reference from the positions of Vice Chairman of the Board (formerly the Vicar General) and President and Trustee (formerly appointments by the Archbishop, I presume). For a five-year term, the same clerics have been elected to those posts. I wonder what the future will bring?

  9. Allena says:

    Geesh, I can’t believe they would force people to read GARBAGE like this, I kid you not I’m starting to think kids are better off scraping by without a collage education.

    I can’t believe that people aren’t reacting more strongly to this sort of stuff.

    And last night at the mission at our N/O church, a parishioner asked why all the sudden the Pope was bringing the Latin Mass back. Well huh, I wonder.

  10. RBrown says:

    I think some are being too hard on Abp Flynn. He was a HUGE improvement on his predecessor, Abp Roach.

    BTW, Abp Roach was the man who rescued the phrase “running into the 7-11” from its common, metaphorical use.

  11. andrewmlang says:

    Speaking on behalf of a number of friends and a brother who are recent grads/students of UST, the Catholic Studies and Phil departments are very good (faithful to the church, Thomistic, rigorous) and totally exceptional to sorry state of the rest of that suffering university. It is sad.

    Apologies that this is a bit off topic, but thought it should be said.

  12. Federico says:

    The statement says nothing about whether the university is Catholic or not.

    Notwithstanding the orthodoxy there present (on which I cannot comment) the real issue is whether it was erected by appropriate ecclesiastical authority, whether required canonical oversight is maintained, and what its statutes say. Canons 807-814 govern Catholic universities. Whilst they place a duty of oversight on the authority erecting any such university, they do not specify how this oversight is to be performed; there is no need for the ordinary of the place to be chairman if the objectives of the law are met.

    It is nice when a Catholic juridic person’s canonical organization mirrors its civil law structure (and governance) but not strictly required and, sadly, most parishes even fail that test (the unnecessary corporation sole structure is ubiquitous in America).

  13. giovanni viani says:

    The Catholic Studies and SJV seminary are the orthodox ghettoes at UST. The faculty is dominated by people who are, to put it mildly, unsympathetic to Catholic church teaching, especially on matters of sexuality. One UST PHILOSOPHY prof I know of is quite representative of the dominant faculty culture: he is openly gay, often talks about his lover in class, and his pet argument is that Catholic church teaching on homosexuality is a major cause of violence against gays.

    Another example illustrating the ‘Catholic’ culture at UST: pro-life rallies are not permitted in the quad, because, it is thought by the relevant UST officials, they might offend some students. On the other hand, they are quite happy to permit nutjobs speak in the quad, as long as they are advancing some kind of radical left-wing agenda. For example, students were subjected to a very amplified UofM-Duluth prof (Fetzer was his name, I believe) presenting his claim that 911 was an inside job.

    I could go on, giving many other such examples, but it just gets me angry.

  14. Mark says:

    Postively it seems we are hearing that the move was made to keep Archbishop Flynn involved…but maybe there is a negative dimension too…perhaps they don’t want his successor involved???

  15. giovanni viani says:


    I think you’re right. I had heard some in the UST’s orthodox ghetto voice the hope that the new Archbishop might make some positive changes at UST. This may very well be a strategy to forestall any such changes.

  16. jim says:

    I am a recent graduate of St. Thomas. I have degrees in Philosophy, Catholic Studies, Latin, and Greek. I was in the college seminary there for a year and a half. Canon Law is definitely the way to discern whether the college or Catholic or not. It was established by the great Churchman John Ireland. Archbishop Flynn is the chair at the University, I know that some professors in the Theology, Catholic Studies and Philosophy department have taken the mandatum. There are some of the best Thomistic professors in the world who teach at UST as well. It Flynn was completely neglecting his duties at the University, the Vatican would definitely step in. What I am trying to say is that it was established a Catholic University, the title has never been revoked by any Catholic authority, thus it stands to reason it is still Catholic. If you would like to know about orthodoxy issues I have seen please blog back!

  17. Jim says:

    I just read the bulletin article. It seems that the college is no longer associated with the diocese…this may have changed my aforesaid stance.

  18. ies0716 says:

    I graduated from St. Thomas in 2005 and can attest that it is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a very strong, orthodox Catholic Studies department along with a very good Campus Ministry program and groups such as SPO very active on campus. On the other hand, many of the Philo and Theo profs are very liberal (although not all of them!). As for the English department… don’t get me started. While not 100% Catholic, UST is a place where a borderline Catholic can encounter the faith and where a strong Catholic can grow in it. You get out of it what you put into it, so to speak. Fr. Dease does hold the line when it really counts (denying funding to homosexual groups, forbidding same-sex partners to share rooms at school events, etc), but he does also tend to waffle a lot on anything he can get away with.

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