North Dakota Natives Receive Alumni Achievement Award and Degree from SJU

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April 13, 2003

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. -- Saint John's University President Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, presented an alumni achievement award to Richard Bresnahan, SJU class of 1976, during a dinner celebration on Friday, April 11, at Avalon Event Center in Fargo, N.D.

Growing up in Casselton, N.D., Bresnahan began his study of ceramics at Saint John's. He went to Japan his senior year as an apprentice under Nakazato Takahsi, a 13th-generation potter and the son of a "Living National Treasure." Over the next three-and-a-half-years, Bresnahan acquired a vast knowledge of potting techniques, kiln construction and firing methods, earning the title, "Master Potter."

Upon returning to the U.S. in December 1978, former SJU President Rev. Michael Blecker promised to make Bresnahan an artist-in-residence at Saint John's, where he set up his first studio in the summer of 1979. Since then, he has worked with and trained more than 70 emerging artists and student apprentices receiving fellowship opportunities from the Jerome and Grotto Foundations.

In 1993, Bresnahan began building a massive wood-burning kiln in Minnesota, which he named after his mentor, S. Johanna Becker. With the help of 30 volunteers, he completed the project two years later, in October 1994. The wood-burning kiln is 87 feet long with a 37-foot long backpressure tunnel, making it widely acknowledged as the first of its design and the largest kiln in America.

Bresnahan's rich and rewarding career at SJU and the Pottery Studio was chronicled in a 1997 film Clay, Wood, Fire, Spirit: The Pottery of Richard Bresnahan directed and produced by John Whitehead, which won two Emmy awards. Body of Clay, Soul of Fire: Richard Bresnahan and the Saint John's Pottery is a book by Matthew Welch (Afton Historical Society Press, 2001), that tells the fascinating story of Bresnahan's professional and personal life and describes the community of artists that have gathered around him and Saint John's Pottery. It also offers insight into Japan's handmade ceramics and apprenticeships, as well as a lively history about the Benedictine monks who founded Saint John's Abbey in the 1860s. Since 2001, some 68 works from 13 Grotto Foundation Apprentices, 19 Jerome Foundation Emerging Artists and Bresnahan have been touring the Midwest.

Also at the event, Richard Bresnahan, Sr. received a bachelor of arts degree from Saint John's. Bresnahan, Sr., attended the University of North Dakota for several years before serving in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

After the war, Bresnahan, Sr., enrolled at SJU as a junior and would have graduated in the class of 1948. Unfortunately, Bresnahan Sr's father passed away quite suddenly at the age of 43, and he had to return home to Casselton, a semester shy of graduating, to care for his mother and four siblings.

The SJU Alumni Association Board of Directors selects up to four alumni each year for recognition of their professional careers and community service. Past recipients include former Sen. Eugene McCarthy; Johnny "Blood" McNally, a charter member of the NFL Hall of Fame; Roger Birk, former chairman of Wall Street's Merrill Lynch; Jim Scheibel, vice president of the Corporation for National Service; and Steve Seidel, executive director of the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

Saint John's University for men and the College of Saint Benedict for women are partners in liberal arts education, providing students the opportunity to benefit from the distinctions of not one, but two nationally recognized Catholic, undergraduate colleges. Together, the colleges challenge students to live balanced lives of learning, work, leadership and service in a changing world.