Meet Brian J. Bruess, Ph.D.
When searching for the right leader to take on the historic role as the first president of both the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, it was important to find an individual who possesses keen awareness of the shared values that form the bedrock of both institutions.
But the right candidate also had to have the background to understand what makes each school distinctive.
Brian J. Bruess, Ph.D. overwhelmingly met both criteria.
Bruess, who was named to the position today, has served as President of St. Norbert College, a nationally renowned Catholic liberal arts school with over 2,000 students in De Pere, Wisconsin, since 2017.
But before that, he 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.
“I am deeply humbled to be entrusted with this momentous and consequential opportunity,” Bruess said. “For nearly 30 years I have studied and admired Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s. Both are nationally recognized for offering a profoundly impactful educational experience, for generating exceptional learning outcomes and for producing principled and action-oriented graduates who contribute to the betterment of society.
“I relish the opportunity to play a role in continuing the traditions of excellence and community found on both campuses, while at the same time harnessing our collective power to move forward in bold new ways I believe can serve as a national model of cooperation, togetherness and superior educational quality.”
Indeed, Bruess assumes the presidency at a time of great excitement and evolution. The two schools – whose campuses sit just miles apart in Central Minnesota – have long been intertwined. The men of Saint John’s and the women of Saint Ben’s began taking classes together in the early 1960s, and academic departments were combined beginning in the late 1970s.
The Strong Integration initiative, which originated in discussions between the boards of trustees at each school in 2018, has now created a new governance and leadership structure designed to produce bolder strategies, greater innovation and a nimbler decision-making process.
Since January 2022, CSB and SJU have operated under two boards made up of one set of common members. As president, Bruess will oversee a streamlined, more integrative administrative structure.
The mission is to channel the best of both schools in new and exciting ways while still maintaining the individual identities of each.
It is a challenge Bruess is uniquely well-suited to take on, said search committee co-chairs Terry Dolan and Bennett Morgan.
“We are excited about the future of our two institutions under the leadership of President Bruess.”
Co-chair, Presidential Search Committee
“We are excited about the future of our two institutions under the leadership of President Bruess,” said Dolan, a former chair of the CSB Board of Trustees. “He is aspirational with a bold vision and has an incredible passion for the liberal arts, students and our Catholic and Benedictine mission.”
“The search committee included a diverse group of representatives from students, faculty, staff, the alumni/alumnae, monastic communities and our boards of trustees. Brian’s passion for our mission, the academic excellence of these two institutions and the students’ experience made him our unanimous choice to be our next president.”
“With his successful experiences in higher education, President Bruess is an outstanding and unique match with Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s and what we do for both women and men,” added Morgan ’85, the vice chair of the CSB and SJU Common Boards. “Our search committee couldn’t be more excited to see how Brian and our team unlock the potential of these two institutions together in new and exciting ways, while advancing our unique and distinct mission in educating and developing both women and men.”
Bruess brings an impressive resume to his new task. Under his leadership, St. Norbert was named one of the “Best in the Nation” in The Princeton Review’s Best 366 Colleges in 2020. And, over the years, he has demonstrated an ability to produce results in areas including fund raising, enrollment management, student affairs, information technology, athletics, finance and administration and governance.
During his time at St. Norbert, he has helped guide the school to record enrollment numbers and the most diverse student body in the school’s history. He planned and presided over the “Support What Matters” fundraising campaign that focused on student learning and doubling the size of the institution’s endowment. In total, the school’s endowment is up 85% since he assumed the presidency in 2017.
During his tenure, St. Norbert has also expanded its academic offerings – including data analytics, integrated studies, actuarial science, new math concentrations and a redesign of the MBA, as well as pathway partnerships for post-baccalaureate programs.
While at St. Catherine, he played an integral role in efforts that helped the school achieve 17-straight years of record enrollment.
“The leadership capabilities and strategic focus that Brian brings will allow us to execute our vision for Strong Integration – a new and innovative model of governance in higher education,” said LeAnne Stewart ’87, the chair of the CSB and SJU Common Boards. “A model that enables the development of a plan for the future that will provide our students the life-changing experience of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s for decades to come.
“Brian already has a deep appreciation of our unique propositions as a college for women and a men’s university. Building on the distinctiveness of each while empowering our partnership – that’s what Strong Integration is all about.”
A native of Monroe, Wisconsin, Bruess graduated with degrees in sociology and psychology from St. Norbert in 1990. He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees at Ohio University, where he served in a variety of leadership roles before he was hired at St. Catherine.
“Brian characterizes the perfect inaugural president.”
LeAnne Matthews Stewart ’87
Chair, CSB+SJU Common Boards
“Brian characterizes the perfect inaugural president,” Stewart said. “He is deeply committed to Catholic higher education and the Benedictine missions of our schools. Brian also sees the incredible opportunity for this new era of leadership at schools he already knows very well. His impact will be profound.”
Bruess and his wife Carol Bruess, Ph.D., have been married for 30 years and have two adult children – Tony, a graduate of Stanford University, and Gracie, a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Carol Bruess is a Professor Emerita of Communication and the former Director of Family Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Most recently she served as the resident scholar at St. Norbert’s Cassandra Voss Center.
Bruess officially begins his new position on July 1.
“Given the mission – Benedictine, Catholic, liberal arts, residential and unapologetic focus on holistic development and flourishing of principled women and men – this is a vocational opportunity I could not resist,” he said. “I cannot wait to get to know and learn from all of the incredible people who make up these two distinguished communities.
“Strong Integration will further solidify already-deep ties while still preserving the essential mission of each school as a college for women and a men’s university. With all of us working together, Bennies and Johnnies will continue writing new and limitless chapters of our shared history in the years to come.”