CSB President Emerita S. Emmanuel Renner dies

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January 24, 2020

S. Emmanuel Renner

S. Emmanuel (Audrey) Renner ’49

S. Emmanuel (Audrey) Renner ’49, professor emerita of history and president emerita of the College of Saint Benedict, died on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the age of 93.

The Eucharist of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the Sacred Heart Chapel at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Burial of the cremated remains will be in the monastery cemetery. Visitation will be held at the Sacred Heart Chapel Gathering Place beginning at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. A prayer service will also be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 27 in Sacred Heart Chapel.

S. Emmanuel was the 10th president of the college, serving from 1979 through 1986. She was a renowned scholar, educator, historian and a skilled administrator.

After graduating from CSB in 1949 with a history major, S. Emmanuel went on to receive a master’s degree in medieval history from the University of Minnesota and her Ph.D. in modern European history and political science from Catholic University of America. She also studied at several other schools, including: Fordham University, Tunghai University in Taiwan, Hamline, Pomona College, and Sophia University in Tokyo.

S. Emmanuel first taught at Saint Ben’s in 1955, eventually becoming the chair of the History department. “She was a demanding teacher who took a sincere interest in her students,” remembers Joan Riebel ’64, a former student. “We called her our ‘prim and proper prof,’ and I can still hear her laugh when we did. She’d throw her head back and laugh out loud. All of us with a history emphasis had a special connection to her. And all of us respected her deep regard for teaching.” Additionally, S. Emmanuel was the chair of the Integrated Studies department and the Dean of the Continuing Education division of the college. 

As president, S. Emmanuel is most noted for her critical role in the development of the CSB/SJU joint core curriculum. She presided over the college’s first capital fund drive, raising $5.2 million for the construction of the Clemens Library. The construction and opening of Claire Lynch Hall also came about during her tenure.

After an impressive seven-year term, S. Emmanuel resigned her position on June 30, 1986. Then, after a one-year sabbatical, she returned to the History department to continue teaching. Micah Kiel (SJU ’98), professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, was a student on a Greco-Roman study abroad trip with S. Emmanuel and vividly recalls their conversations. “What I remember are not the statements Emmanuel made, but the questions she asked: probing questions that I had never considered before; questions that today, after a Ph.D. and years of teaching, I still cannot fully answer. These questions were never accusatory, but they were not always gentle. She had a way of posing the toughest questions, but always with a hint of a smile, so that you knew that the question was more the point than the answer.”

S. Emmanuel retired in 1998 as professor emerita in the History department, and later volunteered her services for 10 years in the CSB Archives. 

In June 2005, the College of Saint Benedict completed and blessed the Renner House, named in her honor. Renner House is the residence for President Hinton and her family.

“S. Emmanuel Renner was a strong leader and an active and engaged scholar,” says CSB President Mary Dana Hinton. “She embodied the spirit of our founding order and modeled the very best ways that Catholic and Benedictine values enhance an educational environment. I am fortunate to have shared a few precious moments with S. Emmanuel over the past six years. Her grace, thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit will be missed by all who knew her, worked with her and learned from her.”

S. Emmanuel shared a long-time friendship with fellow CSB president emerita, S. Colman O’Connell ’49, who died in 2017. When asked to reflect on that friendship several years ago, S. Colman said, “I still remember the day in 1945 when I met Audrey Renner. It was the very first day she arrived at the College of Saint Benedict. I immediately introduced myself and asked for her vote as I was running for class president. Little did I know, at that moment, I was meeting my life-long best friend.”

The entire College of Saint Benedict community mourns this significant loss and will keep S. Emmanuel and all of the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict in our thoughts and prayers.

Memorial gifts can be made to the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict Outreach Ministries Fund. Donations in her memory can also be made to the College of Saint Benedict — either the S. Emmanuel Renner Endowed Scholarship or the Henry & Beatrice Renner Endowed Scholarship. Visit www.givecsb.com to learn more.

To share your memories of S. Emmanuel and leave words of sympathy for her family and community, feel free to visit our online remembrance book.