Saint John's @ 150 - Hong Kong May 25, 2007

Thank you, Dan, for your kind introduction.  And I would like to add my thanks to Canning Fok as well, for his remarkable hospitality this evening and on numerous previous occasions.  No where have I received a warmer welcome or more gracious hospitality over my 16 years as president of Saint John's University than in Hong Kong.  So it is not only an honor to be with all of you this evening, it is a sincere joy.

In this, Saint John's sesquicentennial year, it is fitting to tell the story of our founding. In 1856, five Benedictine monks arrived in St. Cloud, Minnesota to establish a monastery and serve the growing population of German Catholic immigrants. Our founders understood that it would be through education that they could make the greatest contribution to these recent immigrants. Their goal was to produce leaders of vision, compassion, skill and faith for both the Church and society.

By November of 1857, five young men-Henry Emmel, Anthony Edelbrock, Joseph Duerr, Henry Klostermann and Andrew Stahlberger-had enrolled at the newly chartered Saint John's Seminary.  They lived, worshipped and studied religion, history, English, Latin, Greek, astronomy, rhetoric and math under the guidance of one of the founders, Fr. Cornelius Wittman, OSB, in just one lonely building on the windswept prairie.

Fast forward 150 years to 2007.  We are still committed to preparing such leaders, although times have changed in countless ways. There are now 1,885 undergraduate students at Saint John's.  With 2,042 students at the College of Saint Benedict, we have become the largest undergraduate liberal arts college in the United States.  Along with names like Henry and Andrew, you will now hear Bun Yin, Cho Kwan Law and Yik Pang Ngan],  all of whom are with us this evening. Would you please join me in welcoming these extraordinary men and women.

Our students now hail from 41 states and 46 countries.  In addition to students from China, we have students from 10 other Asian countries, Mongolia, Russia, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and Nepal.  They live and study in 41 buildings located on 2,600 acres of forest and prairie, wetlands and lakes. And Fr. Cornelius would be astounded to learn that our faculty now numbers 294 full-time and 65 part-time professors offering courses in 60 areas of study with 40 majors.

One of those areas of study, and a major that is vibrant and growing today, is Asian studies.

Saint John's involvement in East Asia dates back to the first half of the 20th century, when Benedictines began establishing schools, monasteries and clinics in China, Japan and Okinawa.  Toward the middle of the century, we began to focus more on the need to educate our students at Saint John's and Saint Ben's on Asian topics.

As far as we can tell, our connection with Hong Kong began in the 1956 when a young man named Tse Yiu Kai came to Saint John's from Hong Kong by way of Iowa.  This pioneering alumnus from Hong Kong would later send his twin sons, Thomas and Steven, to Saint John's Prep School and  Saint John's University.  I was privileged to teach each of  them.  Thomas and Steven, would you please stand.

But as most of you here tonight know, the recruitment of students from Hong Kong can be traced back to the vision and leadership of a man you hold near and dear, Fr. Tom Thole, OSB.  In the late 1960s, Fr. Tom, began making regular trips to Asia, and he had a special place in his heart and a deep admiration for students from Hong Kong.  He became Saint John's first international student advisor and was a beloved Faculty Resident on Ground Benet.

Fr. Tom is not only to be credited for recruiting students to Saint John's, he is also responsible for creating a Hong Kong alumni network.  After all, without his efforts, we would not have a network of more than 100 Hong Kong alumni.

Over the course of the past year, Saint John's has been running a series of stories in the Alumni Magazine about our Sesquicentennial, and for the upcoming issue, which will be mailed in August, we decided to do a feature story about the alumni association.  Instead of showcasing our oldest alumni chapter, or our closest alumni chapter or our largest alumni chapter, we have decided to focus the story on the global dimension and international character of our alumni association.  And what better way to do this than by highlighting the extraordinary accomplishments of our Hong Kong alumni.  As you will soon read, the Hong Kong alumni embody the four cornerstones of the Saint John's alumni Association: student recruitment, student preparation, resource development and social networking.  Allow me to say a few words about each area to illustrate my point and to provide you with a sneak preview into the forthcoming article.

Student Recruitment:  Not surprisingly, after Fr. Tom retired in the early 1990s, there was a precipitous drop off in the number of students from Hong Kong at Saint John's.  For all intents and purposes, the pipeline dried up.  But thanks to renewed alumni ties over the past five years, and due to yeoman's effort by so many of you here tonight, the pipeline of students is now alive and well.  You have rallied to provide leads to prospective students from this area and to counsel and inform them about our schools.  As a result of your efforts, I am delighted to report that there are now 24 current students from Hong Kong and China at CSB/SJU.  This is an extraordinary accomplishment and a testament to your fine work and dedication.  When we look at the steadily increasing numbers of entering students from this region each year, it is clear that your involvement has been crucial to the success of this initiative, and we are deeply, deeply grateful.

Student Preparation:  Four years ago, the Director of our Asian Studies, Dr. Richard Bohr, who is here with us tonight, and I met with a handful of Hong Kong alumni and talked about our desire to create an opportunity for our students and faculty to come to Hong Kong each year to learn about the people, the culture and the economy.  After all, as Dr. Bohr pointed out, this is the Pacific Century.  This single conversation gave birth to the May-Term Study tour to Hong Kong.  But that's not all.  In addition to the three May-Term Study tours that have come to Hong Kong, there have also been three Entrepreneurial Scholars trips to Hong Kong as well as a Saint John's Choir trip led by Dr. Axel Theimer.  In each case, you have greeted our students and faculty with open arms and you have worked diligently to ensure that these programs would be a resounding success. We would not be able to give our students the experiential education they get from touring businesses and factories here without your generous sharing of connections and daily hosting during the trip.  And your warm hospitality to these students over meals in the evenings makes them realize that they are indeed part of a global family.

Social Networking: There is a marvelous web of connection among our Hong Kong alumni.  Over the years, you have gathered together informally and formally, at functions such as these, to renew friendships, to relive memories and to support one another in all your endeavors.  Networking has been at the heart of it all.  By keeping in touch with each other, you have not only kept alive the bond you share through your connection to Saint John's and Saint Ben's, but you have also accomplished extraordinary things in support of both schools.

Development:  Speaking of support, the steady stream of students coming from Hong Kong and China to Saint John's and Saint Ben's would not be possible without your generous financial support.  In the late 1989, a handful of Hong Kong alumni stepped forward to establish the Hong Kong Scholarship Fund.  I am pleased to say that this endowment has grown to nearly $200,000, and each year it enables us to support several students from this area.  As it grows, so too does our ability to attract and retain additional students.

Our Hong Kong alumni have also stepped forward to support the Saint John's Annual Fund.  Last year Hong Kong alumni contributed more than $75,000 to the Annual Fund, which provides financial assistance to 90% of our student body.  We can't thank you enough for your generous support.

Our connection to Hong Kong and China is a distinct thread in the story of Saint John's first 150 years.  And I believe it will become an even larger part of the story of our next 150 years.

And now, as a way of recognizing the leadership role our alumni in Hong Kong have taken - setting the standard for our alumni everywhere - I am pleased to announce that we would like to formally welcome you as an official chapter of the Saint John's Alumni Association, to be referred to from here forward as the Hong Kong Chapter of the Saint John's University Alumni Association.

For those who are looking worried about this, thinking it means additional work, let me reassure you.  It is simply a way to recognize the outstanding work you are already doing as an informal network. 

I would now like to present the official charter document by calling forth a group of alumni who have been most active and who have agreed to help carry the torch for this new chapter.  As I call your name, would you please come forward to receive this proclamation on behalf of the Hong Kong alumni. Patrick Leung; Adrian Fung; Allan Lai; Frank Miu; Ken Sun; Kevin Clancy; and David Harrison.

In recognition of the exemplary work the alumni of Hong Kong have done in support of the four pillars of the Saint John's Alumni Association - student recruitment, student preparation, resource development and social networking - I am honored to receive you into the Saint John's Alumni Association. The charter reads as follows:

On the occasion of the Hong Kong celebration of the Saint John's University Sesquicentennial

And in recognition of the extensive accomplishments and activities of our Hong Kong alumni in support of Saint John's University

We do hereby recognize the Hong Kong Chapter of the Saint John's University Alumni Association

On this twenty-fifth day of May, Two thousand and seven.

A sesquicentennial is a good time to look back and take stock...but it is also a time to look forward and to plan, creatively and ambitiously, for a bright future. In 2007, it is our job to prepare students for life on the frontier of a new century - a technology-driven, hyper-connected, globally-intertwined century in which changes are bewildering and occur at lightning speed.

Thanks to your efforts, our students can look forward to a bright and prosperous future in this Asian Century.

As a token of our appreciation, and as a way to commemorate our Sesquicentennial celebration, we are pleased to present you with a special gift.  As you leave this evening, we will present you with the wonderful book, Saint John's in Pictures.