Sister Colman O’Connell

Sister Colman O'Connell Sister Colman O'Connell photo 2 Sister Colman O'Connell photo 3

S. Colman O’Connell; left: undated, center: undated, right: undated (click thumbnails for larger images)

S. Colman O’Connell, OSB was the 11th president of the College of Saint Benedict from 1986-1996, serving two five-year terms. As president, S. Colman led CSB through many academic changes and organizational modifications, as well as the construction of several new buildings on campus.

Originally from Roberts, Wisconsin, a small town located across the river from St. Paul, Minnesota, S. Colman soon came to call CSB home. She was elected class president in her first year as a Bennie. She graduated from CSB in 1950, majoring in English and Speech. Her career began with various teaching positions at Pierz Memorial High School and St. Cloud Cathedral High School. In 1954, S. Colman received her master’s degree in English and theater from the Catholic University of America. She came back to CSB to teach in the Speech and Drama department, later renamed the Theater department, serving as its chair from 1954-1974, a term which included increased cooperation with St. John’s University and the establishment of a joint CSB/SJU Theater Department in the 1960’s. During that time, she was on the building committee for the Benedicta Arts Center, which lasted from November 1959 to spring 1962, when ground was broken on the new fine arts center. From 1977-1979, S. Colman took a break from her various positions at CSB in order to pursue her doctorate in higher education at the University of Michigan. Her dissertation was titled The Influence of Organizational Policies and Arrangements of Faculty Development Programs Upon Faculty Participation and Changed Teaching Behaviors. Upon returning to CSB, she served as Director of Planning from 1979-1984 and CSB Executive Vice President and a member of the President’s Staff from 1984-1986.

In 1986, S. Colman was selected to be the next president of CSB following the seven-year term of her dear friend, S. Emmanuel Renner. Sister Colman’s presidency was full of exciting changes for CSB. She and Br. Dietrich Reinhart, president of Saint John’s University, continued to grow and expand the coordinate relationship between CSB and SJU through the implementation of a joint core curriculum and joint academic departments. New majors of Peace Studies, Communication, and Computer Science and new minors of Asian Studies, Athletic Training, and Gender Studies were added to both schools’ offerings. An important administrative development was the creation of the Coordinate Cabinet, which is composed of CSB and SJU presidents and vice presidents. Also, regular joint meetings were added to the schedules of CSB trustees and SJU regents.

In addition, the CSB campus began to grow and expand with the construction of several buildings. In 1988 Margretta Hall, designated as a sophomore dorm, was completed. In 1989, the Main Building, vacated by the library in 1986, was renovated; one result was the highly acclaimed Teresa Reception Center. The Ardolf Science Center was completed in 1992. Lottie Hall was completed in 1994. 1996 saw the construction of another dorm, Brian Hall, and the Haehn Campus Center.  

When she retired in 1996, S. Colman was asked what she would want people 20 years later to consider her most important accomplishment as president. Her response: “I hope that 20 years from now people will say: ‘The colleges made a bold step 20 years ago in creating the coordinate relationship to promote the education of men and women.’ Education for men and for women in this coordinate, gender-conscious environment is the best way to educate students. It is not only superior to coeducation, but also to single sex education. Some have mistakenly assumed we’ve created the coordinate relationship because it is so difficult to attract students to traditional women’s colleges or men’s colleges. However, in addition to not being salable, I don’t believe that single sex education for either men or women is as effective as that of the model created at CSB and SJU. I’m persuaded that we have the potential to serve women better and men better that that provided at either single-sex or at coed schools.” [“Retiring…But Not From Life,” Saint Benedict’s Today, Summer 1996]

After her presidency, S. Colman continued her service to CSB, first as Vice President for College Advancement and then as Senior Development Officer, as well as serving in innumerable ways as a tireless ambassador for the College until her sudden death on September 30, 2017.

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Special thanks to Meghan Flannery ’15 for drafting this text.