The weather was blustery on Tuesday but the welcome for Brian and Carol Bruess was warm – and warmly received – at Saint John’s University.
After visiting the College of Saint Benedict on Monday, the first president of both institutions continued his initial tour of the campuses following a morning meeting with Right Reverend John Klassen, OSB, Ph.D., the 10th abbot of Saint John’s Abbey. The Bruesses weren’t fazed by the freezing rain and winds that threatened to turn umbrellas inside out as they began the SJU walking tour at the Great Hall. They toured the Peter Engel Science Center, the Dietrich Reinhart Learning Commons, the Saint John’s Bible Gallery, and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML).
“I’ve been an admirer of the Saint John’s Bible project for a long time,” said Brian, who for five years has been president of St. Norbert College – a Catholic liberal arts school in De Pere, Wisconsin, that has a fine arts Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible displayed in seven locations on campus. “It’s phenomenal to be here and see the Benedictine influences in the architecture and meet the students. It’s such a warm community that displays such genuine Benedictine hospitality.”
Among the greeters was Joe Rogers ‘89, who is director of external relations for the HMML. When the first announcement of Brian’s appointment was made March 15, Rogers called his mother, Lois, a former SJU board member, and got all the endorsement he needed.
“I said, ‘I think this is someone you know,’ and she was on board right away,” Joe Rogers said. “She’s known about Brian and Carol since they were at St. Kate’s (from 1995-2017) and she thinks it’s wonderful. You can tell he’s such a positive person and has bright ideas, and Carol is a perfect fit, too. They really are a team.”
Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, executive director of the HMML, took the Bruesses deep into the archives, showing them some of the treasures curated in temperature-controlled rooms specially designed to maintain microfilm and paper documents and texts.
“I’m sorry, we never promised anything about the weather outside,” Stewart quipped, just before the Bruesses walked down to Clemens Stadium.
There they were greeted by their own image on the video board and, conveniently, the rain stopped. The Bruesses then visited Warner Palaestra, where they had a chance meeting with Pat McKenzie ’04, Johnnies basketball coach. His parents happen to be neighbors of the Bruesses in De Pere. After a walk-through McNeely Spectrum field house and a swing past the athletic offices, it was back to the Saint John’s Abbey Church for noon prayer with the monks and lunch.
“It’s a magical place,” Carol Bruess said as she walked on campus. “And we want everyone to know how grateful we are for the welcome and also that we want to be here so very much.”
Later Tuesday, Bruess held his second meet-and-greet with faculty, staff and members of the monastic community – this one drawing a crowd of around 80 to 90 people in the Great Hall at SJU.
“This is such a grand space, but you’re all so far away,” said Bruess, smiling and motioning the crowd to come closer to the podium. “Now I know I don’t start until July. But please come forward.”
“I want to thank Abbot John, Prioress Susan (Rudolph) and all the monastics in this process. The clarity of their vision and their voice was so compelling. And I want to thank them for that vision and that direction.”
New President visits Saint Ben’s on Monday
Brian and Carol Bruess made an immediate impression on the students they bumped into Monday.
“They seemed very friendly,” said College of Saint Benedict senior Madison Klaphake, who was part of a group of students leaving class in the Main Building on the CSB campus as the incoming president of both CSB and Saint John’s University began a campus tour Monday morning.
“They were very bubbly and easy to talk to. When you meet some people for the first time, they can seem intimidating. But both (Brian and Carol) were very warm.”
Bruess, who was named to his new position last month, is visiting the two campuses this week – meeting with administrative and religious leaders, staff and campus organizations.
“These first few days are really about meeting people – reconnecting with old friends we’ve known while also getting to know all sorts of new faces,” said Bruess, who since 2017 has served as president of St. Norbert College, a co-educational Catholic liberal arts school of more than 2,000 students in De Pere, Wisconsin.
“We’re just beginning the process of listening and understanding what the wills and desires of the community here are,” he continued. “Meet and greet. That’s our main focus on this visit.”
Carol Bruess, a professor emerita of communication and the former director of family studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, found immediate common ground by sharing her passion for sewing and thrifting.
“We’re obsessed with her,” said CSB senior Anna Hughes with a smile.
“She seems like somebody I’d want to go get coffee with and spend the whole day hanging out. It’s really good to have both of them here,” Klaphake added.
The feeling was mutual.
“I get an overwhelming sense of joy being here,” Carol Bruess said. “It’s hard to express because I’ve lost my voice recently. But that’s actually helpful because we’re here to listen and to learn, and being quieter helps me listen even more.”
Later Monday, Brian Bruess held his first meet-and-greet session in CSB’s Gorecki Center – an event attended by about 150 people.
“It is a distinct privilege to be here,” he said. “It’s a very humbling experience to be named to this inaugural position at two institutions Carol and I admire so much.”
Both Brian and Carol are scheduled to tour the SJU campus Tuesday morning, and then continue meeting and getting to know the community.
He officially starts his new position July 1.
“Based on our interactions with them, I think they’re going to bring a lot of energy to these two campuses,” CSB senior Brianna Kreft said. “He seems great, and with her by his side, I think they’ll make a very good team.”