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Community and togetherness highlight inauguration week festivities

Brian Bruess looked into the future with optimism during his inaugural address Friday afternoon.

And the first joint president of both the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University could not have been more optimistic about what he believes lies ahead for both institutions.

“Together we are establishing what no two institutions in higher education have yet to accomplish,” Bruess said during his inaugural ceremony in the Saint John’s Abbey and University Church. “The Strong Integration of two independent corporate entities – the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University – celebrating our uniquenesses. Each a nationally recognized Benedictine, Catholic, liberal arts institution, now embracing an innovative model of integration.

“And here we are, bathed in the prayers of these mighty communities, building on the legacy of 276 collective years of alumnae, alumni, students, faculty, staff, family, leaders, past presidents and our monastic sisters and monks. All of whom, together, believe in what we are creating here. Believing that, together, we will flourish.

“Together, our future as St. Ben’s and St. John’s has never been brighter.”

Bruess was named to the position in March 2022 and took over the job on July 1st of that year.

Prior to that, he had served since 2017 as president of St. Norbert College, a nationally renowned Catholic liberal arts school with more than 2,000 students in De Pere, Wisconsin. He previously spent 21 years in a variety of roles at St. Catherine University, a Catholic liberal arts women’s institution in St. Paul, Minnesota. That included more than three years as the school’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

His appointment marked an important step in the implementation of Strong Integration – a new governance and leadership structure for the two schools. It’s a process that began with discussions initiated by the CSB and SJU Boards of Trustees in the fall of 2018. The idea was to put in place a governance structure designed to produce bolder strategies, greater innovation and nimbler decision-making.

CSB and SJU have operated under two governance boards made up of one set of common members since mid-January of 2022, when the Strong Integration resolutions took effect. A proclamation ceremony was held the following May.

Since his arrival, Bruess has effectively led implementation of an innovative ecosystem-wide change process. During his first year, he helped implement a new governance model for the CSB and SJU Boards of Trustees; built the inaugural joint leadership team; redesigned the organizational structure around student learning; implemented academic program prioritization recommendations; launched a fast-paced strategic planning process; rebuilt the admission and enrollment processes; and completed an ambitious alumnae/i tour across the U.S. and The Bahamas to hear and learn from graduates and friends of both schools.

But his official inauguration marked another key milestone in bonding the two already-connected schools even more closely together.

“This is a big deal for our two institutions,” said Mary Geller, the associate provost for student success at the two schools. “This is the first-ever president of both Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s. It’s a historic moment in our history and it deserved to be celebrated and recognized.”

Indeed, Friday morning’s Inaugural Mass at Saint Benedict’s Monastery’s Sacred Heart Chapel and Friday afternoon’s Inaugural Ceremony were the centerpiece of a week-long celebration on both campuses that began on Monday, Sept. 18 with campus clean-up events and concluded on Sunday (Sept. 24) with an afternoon fishing tournament and fish fry on the shore of Lake Sagatagan on the SJU campus, followed by Mass on the Grass at the Abbey and University Church Plaza at SJU.

In between, there were numerous tours showing off the best of both CSB and SJU, events celebrating scholarship and creativity and the arts, a bean bag tournament, a family carnival and much, much more.

“Every event exceeded our expectations in terms of participation,” Geller said. “It was so nice to have the chance to come together in community with one another and just have fun.”

Other highlights of the week included:

  • A week-long medallion hunt that ended when Saint John’s University students Parker Scanlon, Kyle Thelemann, Max Doom, Dan Eickhoff and Nate Loretz correctly followed the clues given out to locate the prize in the courtyard inside the Benedicta Arts Center at Saint Ben’s. That earned them a $500 gift card to the CSB+SJU Bookstore.
  • The College of Saint Benedict volleyball team – featuring Bruess as an honorary coach – defeating Augsburg 3-1 (25-20, 25-14, 19-25, 25-16) in MIAC action before a huge crowd at Claire Lynch Hall.
  • A Saturday morning yoga session in the front yard of Renner House on the CSB campus featuring Bruess’s wife Carol and the family’s therapy dog George.
  • The Johnnie Tailgate leading into the SJU football team’s big 27-7 victory over Bethel in its MIAC opener before a Family Weekend crowd of 11,321 at Clemens Stadium. (See video of all of Saturday’s events here).

But, of course, the focal point of it all was the official inauguration of Bruess, now the 17th person to lead Saint Ben’s and the 19th to guide Saint John’s.

“It truly is the beginning of a new era at Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s,” Geller said. And Brian is the right person at the right time to lead us. Moreover, it’s not just about Brian, but about us all as a community as well. That’s really what we are celebrating. 

“Because Brian is right, together we flourish.”

Brian Bruess fishing

Brian Bruess (left) and his wife, Carol, (second from right) chat with attendees to a fishing contest on Sunday (Sept. 24) at Lake Sagatagan.

Brian Bruess at football game

Brian Bruess (center), with his wife, Carol, raise their hands in acknowledgement to the crowd at the Saint John’s University football game against Bethel on Saturday (Sept. 23) at Clemens Stadium.