Stephen D. Minnis was enjoying a successful career in corporate law when he got a call from his alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. It seemed the solidly Catholic school needed a new president. Earlier this year he accepted the position, starting his new job on Sept. 27. Talk about serendipitous timing: This year the school gained international notice after Wangari Matthai, an alumna, received the Nobel Peace Prize.
After majoring in political science at Benedictine, the Kansas City, Kan., native went on to earn a master's in business administration from Baker University and a law degree from Washburn University Law School in Topeka. Husband of Amy, father of three, Minnis spoke with Register correspondent Carlos Briceno.
What are your priorities as you settle in and look ahead?
One of our goals is to be recognized as the best Catholic liberal-arts college in the Midwest. To do that we need to continue to do what we do best, which is educating students in a community of faith and scholarship. Benedictines, by nature, emphasize community. I don't want to sound trite, but we probably do community better than anyone else in the country. So that remains a major strength of ours. We try to educate the total person: mind, body and spirit.
Because of our strength of community, we think being recognized as the best Catholic liberal-arts college in the Midwest is an achievable goal for us. We have a very, very strong student life and a very, very strong faith life here on campus. We will continue to grow that and make that stronger. As an example, seven years ago we had about seven religious studies/theology majors here on campus. Today we have 100. We have grown to be the second largest undergraduate theology program in the country in a matter of seven years.
Do you see room for improving student life on campus?
I feel very fortunate when I came here, as we have a very, very strong student life on campus. I was on the board (of directors) the last 12 years and we have spent a lot of time emphasizing student life and making it a welcoming place for all who come to the college and a place where students can practice their faith freely. We welcome people from all faiths here, but we are never afraid to say that we're a Catholic college and that's what we want to be. Many of our student activities are centered around faith-based activities.
What changes should prospective students look for in coming years?
There will be an emphasis on maintaining our academic excellence. The students will find we will continue to strengthen our student life programs, and we will also spend a lot of energy and time in strengthening our academic programs as well. We have discussed emphasizing what we call our five centers of excellence: the religious studies/theology program, our business program, education program, our sciences and our Discovery College, (which is) a student-centered research program.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between Catholic institutions of higher learning and the universal Church?
One of the goals of the universal Church should be to pass on the faith from one generation to the next, and what better place to do that than at a Catholic college? And what better Catholic college than Benedictine College? Not only to pass on the faith, but train these young people to pass on the faith to the next generation as well. There's no question that Benedictine College educates future CEOs and bank presidents and lawyers and doctors and even Nobel Peace Prize winners.
We also know and understand and take very seriously that we're also educating future youth ministers and parish council members and fathers and mothers. We take that education just as seriously as educating future CEOs and bank presidents and lawyers and doctors. We know that, when we send these young students out, when they leave us, they're going to make their communities and their church stronger and better places.
What do you think of
We are supportive of Ex Corde. We think that this is an opportunity to express our desire to teach theology and commune with the Church. Our theology department went together and knocked on the doors of our archbishop (James Keleher) with the mandatums, saying we embrace the ability to teach in communion with the Church.
This goes with one of our pillars: We're a Catholic college, and we shouldn't be afraid of that. We should be proud of it, and we're not afraid to tell people that we are a Catholic college, and we back it up with our theology department. We believe that, in following Ex Corde, a theologian is free to explore and even help advance the Catholic tradition, because it provides a context in which theology is carried out best in the heart of the Church. So we fully support Ex Corde; we support the mandatum. We will not hire a new theology professor without them signing the mandatum.
What are some of the toughest things your students will face once they graduate?
The college tries to provide them with a foundation so that, when they graduate, our alums will go out into the world and transform their neighborhoods, their parishes and their workplaces into the community we have here at Benedictine. An example of this is VML, an advertising agency in Kansas City whose CEO, Matt Anthony, is an alumnus. They were recently ranked as one of top 25 best places to work in America. Matt has taken the values he learned at Benedictine — hospitality, balance, community — and brought them to the work-place. This has created a fantastic place to work and a successful company.
What is the university's position on inviting speakers to campus who are either pro-abortion or pro-choice?
Benedictine College is committed to clearly and unambiguously supporting the pro-life teachings of the Church. We would not do something that would undermine the college's commitment to our mission as a Catholic college.
Carlos Briceno writes from Seminole, Florida.