The University of St. Thomas will celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day on Wednesday, April 27. The event honors recipients of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, Professor of the Year Award, Humanitarian Award, Tommie Award and Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award.
St. Thomas Day recognizes the extraordinary contributions that members of the St. Thomas community have made to the university and the wider community. The awards presented on St. Thomas Day were instituted over a period of 60 years.
St. Thomas Day events will begin with a 6 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas led by Father Dennis Dease, president emeritus of St. Thomas. A dinner and awards program will follow in the James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall, Anderson Student Center. Dr. Julie Sullivan, president of St. Thomas, will present at the award ceremony, where more than 500 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.
Nominations for the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna, Humanitarian and Lavin awards are welcome throughout the year but are required by July 1 for consideration for the following year’s St. Thomas Day. Contact the Alumni Relations office for more information.
Distinguished Alumnus Award
The Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award honors an individual for leadership and service to St. Thomas, the community and in his or her field of endeavor. This year’s recipient is St. Thomas trustee and board chair of the St. Thomas School of Law Board of Governors Patrick G. Ryan '75.
Ryan is the third-generation president and CEO of Ryan Companies US Inc., a billion-dollar real estate company with 12 offices around the United States.
His community and professional work is substantial. He is a member of the Urban Land Institute and the World Presidents' Organization, and past director of NAIOP, the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks.
Ryan’s community work includes serving as a board member of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and as trustee and past president of Children’s Cancer Research Fund. In the past he was president of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School and a board member of Catholic Charities. Ryan is a founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, an inner-city college preparatory school for underresourced children. Ryan employs students from the school who earn their tuition through work at his company. He also is co-chair of the Spring Point Project, an initiative focused on finding a cure for diabetes. Ryan and his wife created SPP after their youngest daughter, now in her 20s, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 9. The initiative has a research facility in New Richmond, Wisconsin.
While a student at St. Thomas, Ryan met his wife, Ann, a Katie. They have five grown children.
Monsignor James Lavin Award
Longtime Mendota Heights resident Evans "Chip" Connelly '84, senior vice president of wealth management and wealth adviser at UBS Financial Services, is the recipient of this year’s Monsignor James Lavin Award. This award honors an alumnus/alumna of St. Thomas for outstanding contributions and service to the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association, its programs and services.
A former advisee of Father James Lavin, Connelly said he is honored to receive this award. "I lived in Ireland Hall my freshman and sophomore years, so in addition to the 10 p.m. nightly prayers on top of the stairs, I had my fair share of Lavin Burgers," he said.
A longtime member of the President's Council and the Finn Heritage Society, Connelly has made an indelible mark on St. Thomas through his 20-plus years of volunteerism at the university. He served two terms on the Alumni Board of Directors and has – and continues to – mentor undergraduate students through the Take-a-Tommie-to-Lunch and Student-Alumni Mentoring programs. Connelly also works with fellow St. Thomas parents on the Parent Network Committee.
While he has given his time and energy freely to improve the St. Thomas community through his volunteerism, Connelly also maintains ties with his alma mater through participation in alumni golf tournaments and First Friday luncheons.
An avid Tommie football supporter, Connelly donates $70 in honor of his jersey number to the Student-Alumni Mentoring program for every Tommie touchdown. A former offensive tackle for the Tommies, he also was the place kicker for kickoffs, extra points and field goals. His career field goal record of 17 field goals (1980-83) was broken only this year by Paul Graupner.
Connelly, and his wife, Ann, who died last year, have three children, Mick '11, Patrick '14 and Catherine, a sophomore at St. Thomas.
Mark Crea '78, executive director and CEO of Minnesota-based nonprofit Feed My Starving Children, is the recipient of the 2016 Humanitarian Award.
Crea told St. Thomas magazine in fall 2013 that he had the greatest job in the world, and his passion shows. In the 12 years he has led FMSC, the Christian organization has seen a 48-percent average year-over-year growth. In 2014-15, FMSC volunteers packed 229,236,216 MannaPacks, vitamin- and mineral-rich rice- or potato-based food packs that are shipped to starving children and families in nearly 70 countries.
His career path began at the Hazelden Foundation, where he rose from intern – his senior year as a business and economics major at St. Thomas – to national sales and marketing director. After 17 years there, he served as director of development for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life for eight years before taking the helm at FMSC.
Crea lives in Dresser, Wisconsin, with his wife, Roseanne. The couple, who will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary in June, have four adult daughters and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.
Professor of the Year
John Abraham, Ph.D., a professor of thermal sciences in the School of Engineering at St. Thomas, is this year's Professor of the Year.
Abraham has special expertise in burn and scald injuries, biological heat transfer, design of medical devices, climate change, energy production and distribution, and basic fluid and heat transfer research.
In May 2010, after months of research, Abraham garnered worldwide recognition after he released a video rebuttal against climate-change claims made by global-warming skeptic Christopher Monckton. Since then he has become a sought-after expert on climate change. He has been a climate blogger for the Guardian Newspaper since 2013 and is a co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a service that connects climate scientists with lawmakers and the media, with a commitment to providing rapid, high-quality information to media and government officials. His publications list as editor and author exceeds 200, and includes three books, seven book chapters and countless journal articles. He also has produced 91 refereed journal articles that focus especially on climate change.
In 2011, he was part of an engineering team that electrified a remote Ugandan village. That year he also testified at the Minnesota Legislature in favor of continuing coal plant restrictions in the state.
Abraham advises all 67 of the current mechanical engineering master’s students at St. Thomas, as well as 30 undergraduate engineering students. In his nomination letter, Dr. John Wentz, the department chair, called him “an exemplary teacher, scholar and community leader whose energy and passion for his work embody the true spirit of this prestigious award.”
Abraham, who has taught at St. Thomas since 2002, received the John Ireland Award in 2009 and the Distinguished Educator Award in 2008. He earned all of his degrees – Ph.D., M.S. and B.S. – in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
Abraham resides in Minneapolis with his wife, Molly, and their three young daughters.
Anna Fry of Bettendorf, Iowa, was voted by students, staff and faculty as the winner of the 2016 Tommie Award. She is a senior majoring in Catholic studies and psychology.
Josh Hengemuhle, Ed.D., Dean of Students Office, and Fry’s former supervisor, wrote in a testimonial, “Anna clearly lives her life striving to advance the common good. You can witness this in every interaction she has with another person; she demonstrates that she authentically cares about that person and strives to help them attain good.”
Fry is a highly active member of the St. Thomas community and within her Catholic studies major, serving as president and co-creator of the Catholic Women's Leadership program and a member of the Catholic Leadership Interns. She also volunteers her time as a freshman orientation leader and on Volunteers in Action and the Global Tommies intercultural program.
With the exception of 1945 and 1946, the Tommie Award has been presented annually since 1931 to a St. Thomas senior. The award recognizes achievements in scholarship, leadership and campus involvement, and represents the highest ideals of the university.
The Tommie Award is sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs.