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Cokie Roberts inspires action at 2019 Hendrickson Forum

Cokie Roberts inspires action at 2019 Hendrickson Forum

At this year’s Saint Mary’s University Hendrickson Forum, held April 16 during Holy Week, keynote speaker Cokie Roberts appropriately recognized the Blessed Mother for her strength.

A sold out crowd of nearly 300 attended Roberts’ presentation at the annual forum on Saint Mary’s Twin Cities Campus, during which Brad Hewitt, retired CEO of Thrivent Financial, also received the 2019 Hendrickson Medal for Ethical Leadership.

In her keynote, “Weaving the Social Safety Net at Home and Around the World,” Roberts, a New York Times best-selling author and renowned journalist and political commentator, explained that “There has been a strong social responsibility fabric running throughout history, primarily exercised by women.”

“That’s what the women in the foundation of our country did,” she added. “They looked around them. They saw what was happening. They saw the needs and strove to fill them.”

As Roberts has written six New York Times best-sellers, most dealing with the roles of women in U.S. history, she ought to know. “I came to write these books because histories that leave out half of the human race aren’t accurate,” she said.

One lifelong inspiration for Roberts was her mother who served 18 years in Congress before retiring and serving as ambassador to the Vatican. “She was an enormous influence in my life and remarkable human being in so many ways,” Roberts said, listing another major influence, the nuns from the Society of the Sacred Heart. “They took girls seriously in the 1950s. That was radical,” Roberts said. “They raised us to be anything we wanted to be.”

In the continuum of religious women doing what needed to be done, Roberts mentioned the Ursulines who came to her home town of New Orleans in 1727 to open hospitals for the colonists but looked around at other needs and soon established schools for Native Americans and African Americans.

In 1810, Elizabeth Ann Seton, started what became the highly successful parochial school system in this country — a feat that often gets her one short sentence in history books.

She detailed Sister Francis Xavier Cabrini, Sister Katharine Drexel and others, women canonized for being ahead of their time “to bring those on margins into the mainstream and not take no for an answer.”

And, in examining Minnesota history, she credited the woman who founded Mayo Clinic.

The celebrated hospital, she argued, would not exist were it not for Sister Mary Alfred Moes. “I know of course all about the Mayo Brothers and their remarkable father, but had it not been for a pushy nun, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, Saint Mary’s hospital wouldn’t have been built and Mayo Clinic wouldn’t exist,” Roberts said. Sister Mary Alfred Moes refused to accept that Rochester was too small a town to support a hospital and she raised the money herself.

Cokie Roberts delivers keynote address.

But, Roberts said, strong women aren’t just Catholic religious women. She detailed the stories of Isabella Graham, Elizabeth Hamilton, and Martha Ripley, to name a few.

Amidst all of these notable women who worked, despite tremendous hardship, adversity, and often ridicule, for the betterment of society, Roberts singled out a male: Saint John Baptist de La Salle, the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools — of which Saint Mary’s is affiliated.

“He was a man definitely before either his time, or perhaps more accurately, a man who recognized the sign of the time,” Roberts said. “His remarkable vision about education for the poor, for delinquents, is still so incredibly relevant today … everything I’ve learned about Saint Mary’s underlines that.

“It’s clear that the Lasallian principles are still the guiding force behind this very important institution,” she furthered. “Faith and the presence of God, quality education, and respect for all persons, inclusive community, and concern for the poor and social justice. Those principles need influence in our country today.”

Roberts shared insights into other innovative humanitarian efforts and programs in both the private sector and U.S. government.

An active volunteer and advocate for Save the Children, she detailed her work with this organization, which provides relief to children in times of distress. “War is still stunting the lives of children,” she said, providing the estimation that in 2018, 60.5 million people displaced from their homes by war, half of them under age of 18. She said that one person in this world is displaced every 2 seconds.

She said there are many programs which are making great strides to help global issues. She detailed the PEPFAR program, started by George W. Bush that is the biggest program for global health, providing anti-viral medications to 14.6 million people.

Circling back to education, Roberts said it is the best way to break the cycle of poverty. “It changes not only their lives but it changes the life of a country and we have lot of data to support that,” she said. “That remarkably is what Saint John Baptist de La Salle recognized 300 years ago and is still true today. I am constantly blown away by kids’ ability and desire to learn, even in extremely difficult conditions. We must try as hard as possible to provide education.”

Roberts encouraged attendees to do what they can do, just like the women throughout history. “To say that it’s too big a problem is just a copout,” she said. “I hope the young people coming out of this great institution, no matter what their expertise, emerge awakened, nurtured, and empowered to lead ethical lives of service and leadership.”

Following Cokie’s remarks, Mary Lahammar, anchor, reporter and producer of Almanac, joined her on stage to moderate the question-and-answer portion of the program before Roberts met with 20 students for a private and inspiring Q&A.

Hendrickson Medal recipient Brad Hewitt

Brad Hewitt (center) receives the 2019 Hendrickson Medal for Ethical Leadership.

Also during the forum, Saint Mary’s honored Brad Hewitt, retired CEO of Thrivent Financial, with the 2019 Hendrickson Medal for Ethical Leadership.

Hewitt joined Thrivent Financial in 2003, was named COO in 2008 and CEO in 2010 and retired in 2018. In retirement, Hewitt has found numerous ways to give back to his community. He currently serves as vice chair of the board for Habitat for Humanity International and volunteers as chair of the Itasca Project, an employer-led, cross-sector collaborative group that works to improve the quality of life for all in the Twin Cities. Hewitt also gives his time to Christian nonprofit UpWorks, volunteering as a Life Advocate and helping men who are coming out of addiction or prison get back into society using their God-given talents.

“The logic most important in my life and the one that I’ve seen truly inspire and transform is the ethic as modeled by people like Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, the example of love expressed in sacrifice,” he said. “It’s such a clear connection to the greatest example of love expressed in sacrifice in Jesus.

“At Thrivent we help people express their faith through wise stewardship and generosity. This ethic was part of our culture way before I started,” he added. “I only helped spur it on.

“This ethic produces the most important cultural attributes as a leader: generosity, gratitude, growth and above all grace.”

Recipients of the Hendrickson Medal for Ethical Leadership have made significant contributions to the Twin Cities community and exhibit ethical leadership that is globally oriented and innovative or creative; citizenship that significantly improves the lives of others’ appreciation for diverse ideas and perspectives; and a commitment to inspiring emerging leaders. Past medal recipients include Rhoda Olsen of Great Clips, Inge Thulin of 3M, Mary Brainerd of HealthPartners, and more.

“Cokie Roberts and Brad Hewitt inspired all of us to want to do more, to leave this world a better place than we found it,” said Audrey Kintzi, vice president for Advancement and Communication at Saint Mary’s who heads the forum. “I can’t imagine better role models for our students than two individuals who have accomplished so many things in their professional lives, but have also made helping others a priority. With this very successful event now over, we begin to plan next year’s event as we continue to address important issues and topics that focus on ethics.”

See more photos at


Cokie Roberts poses with Saint Mary’s students.

Photos from Celebration of Scholarship

Photos from Celebration of Scholarship

Our annual Celebration of Scholarship was held last Friday. The campuswide celebration highlighted the achievements and accomplishments of about 170 of our talented students. Congratulations to our students on all their hard work. Find more photos at

Photos from Employee Service Awards

Photos from Employee Service Awards

Congrats to all our retirees! Tony Piscitiello (Advancement and Communication), Nancy Wiltgen (Advancement and Communication), Ruth Mathews (Wellness Center), John Schollmeier (Maintenance), Sally Dotterwick (Campus Safety and switchboard), Diane Rinn (Mailroom), Clarence Hemmelman (Maintenance), and Brother Stephen Rusyn (English professor). See photos at

Seniors participate in 6th annual Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

Seniors participate in 6th annual Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

On April 27, five Saint Mary’s seniors participated in the 6th annual Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. Sam Price (History), Robbie Sobczak (Social Studies Education), Bailey Melz (Spanish and History), Sam Hyberger (Social Studies Education), and Brady Weber (Social Studies Education) were among 46 students from 12 regional colleges and universities who presented their research projects on a broad variety of topics and attended a keynote address/live podcast on the future of public history.

PR/B Club hosts Lunch with a Pro event

PR/B Club hosts Lunch with a Pro event

The Saint Mary’s Public Relations/Business Club hosted an event on April 29 that gave students the chance to have lunch with a business or public relations professional who are also Saint Mary’s alumni. The Lunch with a Pro event welcomed seven alums, who discussed the keys to a successful and fulfilling career, including:

  • Tony Gruenke ’04, senior account executive, Metro Sales, Ricoh dealer
  • Tera Bollig ’07, senior brand marketing specialist, Children’s Minnesota
  • Ashley Dingels Gossen ’06, controller and HR director, Americana Community Bank
  • Maggie Sonnek ’07, freelance writer and owner, Mill City Creative
  • Nathan Semsch ’04, construction project manager, Sullivan Day Construction
  • Kathy Munns ’02, finance officer, Catholic Church and school in southeastern Minnesota
  • Toni Nigrelli-LaFleur ’07, director of client service, Quasius Construction
Photos from baseball clubhouse grand opening

Photos from baseball clubhouse grand opening

Thanks to all athletes, alumni athletes, benefactors, and families who joined us for our baseball clubhouse grand opening (including Marilyn Stigler, daughter of the legendary coach Max F. Molock ’35). Max coached baseball for 40 seasons before retiring in 1983, and we’re glad his family could join us. See more photos at

Saint Mary’s students partner with Cotter High School to survey Gilmore Creek

Saint Mary’s students partner with Cotter High School to survey Gilmore Creek

Eleven students from Ms. Katie Halvorson’s Environmental Science class from Cotter High School visited campus on May 2. They teamed up with five Environmental Biology majors (Paige Swanson, Erin Hettinger, Kayla Boetcher, Madalyn Bollig, and Mitch Plonka) to survey fish, invertebrates, and water chemistry in Gilmore Creek. The Saint Mary’s students were able to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental assessment techniques to help reinforce ideas and concepts the Cotter students were studying.

Female students attend 2nd annual Women of Color Summit

Female students attend 2nd annual Women of Color Summit

Eleven Saint Mary’s women attended the 2nd annual Women of Color Summit: Empowering Together at Gustavus Adolphus College on April 13. The Women of Color Summit is similar to the annual Kente Summit for Collegiate Black Men — both offer an environment to build community. It is designed to help women of color, trans feminine people of color, and indigenous women find affinity with one another, help them embrace their intersecting identities, and offer an environment for them to discuss current issues of race on their campuses and nationwide. In addition to Saint Mary’s, there were students from Mankato State University, Century College, and more.

DeLaura Jordan, junior biochemistry and Spanish major, attended the event. She said, “My greatest takeaway from the WOC Summit was an improved self-image. I feel at home in a room of strangers knowing that wherever we are from, we share similar experiences: both positive and negative. I learned that I am fully supported and loved by people who have never even met me. I know now that I’m not alone.”

Jordan is vice president of the Black Students and Allies club and encourages others to attend the summit. “You have the power to make your voice heard and empower other people that are struggling just like you are. Don’t miss this blessing.”

Macksey attends ACCU Women Executive Leaders Gathering

Alisa Macksey, executive director of Saint Mary’s First Generation Initiative, was recently invited to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) Women Executive Leaders Gathering in Chicago. This group of leaders within Catholic higher education gathered April 15-17 to begin shaping ACCU’s women’s executive leadership initiative within the Leaders in Catholic Higher Education program.

The goals of the ACCU programming for women executive leaders are:

  • To increase the number of women in executive leadership positions in Catholic Higher Education.
  • To ensure sustained success of women who achieve executive leadership positions.
  • To access the leadership gifts of women in Catholic Higher Education.

Other attendees included women from Lewis University, Fairfield University, DePaul University, and more. Presenters included presidents from Dominican University, Saint Xavier University, and Loyola University Chicago.

Busy field season begins for GSS

Busy field season begins for GSS

In early April, GeoSpatial Services (GSS) staff began what is going to be a busy spring and summer of traveling for fieldwork to support their wetland mapping projects. Dave Rokus, GIS analyst, traveled through Utah and New Mexico as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wetland Status and Trends program. Rokus then met up with Andy Robertson, GSS director, and John Anderson, GIS and Natural Resources analyst, in western New Mexico for fieldwork related to a project with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). That same week, Andy Nadeau, Natural Resource specialist, was at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico, meeting with National Park Service staff about a digital file conversion project. This week, Robertson, Kevin Benck, GIS analyst, and Al Rabine, GIS technician, are at Fort Berthold in North Dakota, working on a wetland project with the area’s tribal government.

During May, the following field trips will take place:

  • Kevin Stark, assistant director of GSS, Nick Lemcke, GIS analyst, and Darren Omoth, GIS technician, will travel to North Dakota for a project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Eric Lindquist, GIS analyst, Peter McColl, GIS analyst, and Stark will travel to Wyoming for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) project.
  • Robertson, Anderson, and student intern Zack Ansell will travel to central New Mexico for another project with the NMED.

Trips occurring later this summer include:

  • Lindquist, Nadeau, and Stark will travel to Idaho in June for the BLM project.
  • Stark and Lindquist will travel to east-central Alaska in July, also for the BLM project.
  • Robertson and Jeff Knopf, GIS analyst, will travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska in July for a project with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation

Celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation

On April 28, a Mass was celebrated on the Winona Campus to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation. Congratulations to Amy Bach who was baptized and received confirmation and first communion and to Erin McElligot who was confirmed. Pictured above are Bach and McElligot with their sponsors, Kaycie Beissel and Gabby Pederson.

Saint Mary’s commencement set for May 11

Saint Mary’s commencement set for May 11

WINONA, Minn. — The Saint Mary’s University Winona Campus will host a joint commencement ceremony for Winona undergraduate and graduate students, beginning at 11 a.m. in the gymnasium on Saturday, May 11.

Undergraduate student reflections will be offered by this year’s Outstanding Male and Female seniors Maxwell Champa, son of Bill and Marykaye Champa of Bloomington, Minn., and Bailey O’Hare, daughter of Tim and Brenda O’Hare of Rushford, Minn. Champa is a double major in business intelligence and analytics and management. O’Hare is a biology major.

Representing Saint Mary’s Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs, Lauren Seashore, a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning student, will also give a reflection. Seashore is from Woodbury, Minn. Sarah Leigh, a Master of Arts in Teaching student, will be presented with the Outstanding Graduate Final Paper Award.

A reception on the plaza will follow the ceremony. In case of inclement weather, the reception will be held in Gostomski Fieldhouse.

Prior to the ceremony, a Baccalaureate Mass will take place in Saint Thomas More Chapel at 8:30 a.m.

Limited parking will be available. More information is posted at

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Campus Notes is published for the Saint Mary’s Winona Campus faculty, staff, and students during the academic year.

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