COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — More than three years after leaders announced two private colleges in central Minnesota would transition to sharing a single president — and more than one year after Brian Bruess started in that new role — Bruess was officially installed as president Friday during an inauguration ceremony at St. John's Abbey.
The warm September air blew into the expansive abbey as monks chanting "Hallelujah" walked into the church, followed by student athletes, members of campus clubs, faculty and leadership teams.
Even through the clouds, some daylight still illuminated the honeycomb-shaped stained glass windows of the abbey, which Bruess alluded to several times during his speech.
"The interconnectedness of the honeycomb and the unifying architectural detail of the hexagonal pattern ... is a beautiful metaphor for what we, together as two college and monastic communities, are and can be — integrated, enduring communities, flourishing today and far into the future," Bruess said during his inaugural address.
The College of St. Benedict, a 110-year-old women's college in St. Joseph, and St. John's University, a 166-year-old men's college in Collegeville, have been closely connected since being founded by St. Benedict's Monastery and St. John's Abbey.
The two Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts colleges started sharing curriculum and classrooms in the 1950s. In early 2020, leadership announced a plan for a single president, as well as shared trustees and a unified leadership team serving both schools.
Bruess is now the first in Minnesota to serve simultaneously as president of two four-year private colleges, according to a spokesperson for the institutions.
"Our visionaries believe a strong integration will allow St. Ben's and St. John's to be more nimble, adaptive and responsive to the intensifying headwinds facing all of American higher education," Bruess said Friday to the hundreds of students before him. "At every step of this journey, the purpose was clear: To preserve and to protect the profound manifestation of each school's mission, the holistic development of our students — missions that today remain unchanged."
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Bruess came to CSB/SJU from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., where he served as president since 2017. Before that, he worked at St. Catherine University, a Catholic liberal arts women's college in St. Paul, for 21 years. He held a variety of roles there and was the college's executive vice president and chief operating officer for more than three years.
Several current and former CSB/SJU leaders who gave speeches at the ceremony spoke highly of Bruess' dedication and vision during his first year as president.
"We are fortunate that your previous experiences have introduced you to our culture, and you are enthusiastic and intentional about embracing who we are unapologetically," said Rochelle Taus Dumdie, president of College of St. Benedict's Alumnae Board. "Your passion for our future makes you a fitting leader to guide these two amazing institutions through this time of exciting transition."
Also welcoming Bruess were Rev. Patrick Neary, bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese, and eight former presidents or interim presidents, who were adorned in ceremonial academic robes.
Bruess lauded Benedictine values, which he said he thinks can be the antidote to the polarized country we find ourselves in today.
"All of American higher education is navigating unprecedented times," Bruess said. "I ask, can we be the leaders we need our students to become? ... We can, and we must. Our students are depending on us."