Please Remember in Your Prayers Monsignor Robert Probst

Please remember in your prayers Monsignor Robert Probst

Please remember in your prayers Monsignor Robert Probst, a longtime member of the University of St. Thomas community who died in his sleep of natural causes Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Cerenity Care Center – Marian of St. Paul.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on the university's St. Paul campus. Visitation will be held in the chapel from 9 to 10 a.m. for family members, and from 10 to 11 a.m. for friends and colleagues.

Archbishop Harry Flynn will preside at the Mass, and Father James Stromberg will give the homily. A reception will follow on campus; the location of the reception will be announced at the funeral.

Monsignor Robert Probst in a familiar setting: the university's Computing Center in 1975.

Probst, 89, was a St. Paul native who attended St. Mark's Grade School, Cretin High School and the then College of St. Thomas. He graduated from here in 1939 with a major in chemistry and minors in mathematics and education. He went on to study at the St. Paul Seminary and was ordained in August 1945.

He later earned a master's in analytical chemistry at the University of Minnesota and did graduate studies in philosophy at Laval University in Quebec.

Probst taught for a year at the St. Thomas Military Academy before joining the college faculty in 1946. He taught philosophy, religion, chemistry and even a course on the history of films.

When appointed St. Thomas' assistant dean of studies in 1958, Probst told The Aquin student newspaper that "I enjoy teaching so much I hope I do not have to abandon the classroom entirely."

Probst wound up being one of the key developers of the university's administrative computing system. "He was in on the ground floor of the computing revolution," said Dr. Thomas Sturm, who as a student here in the 1960s assisted Probst with programming projects down in the basement of Aquinas Hall, where St. Thomas' administrative computer center is still located.

"He was in on the ground floor of computing, and we were down in the ground floor, too," Sturm said.  Among the St. Thomas students who learned computing skills from Probst were Sturm and Joe Komar, longtime members of the St. Thomas Quantitative Methods and Computer Science faculty, and Steve Nachtsheim,  a former chair of the QM-CS department who went on to become an Intel Corp. executive and a member of the university's Board of Trustees.

St. Thomas received its first computer, a Control Data 160, in 1964, and Probst rigged up a punch-card input system for it that handled all student records, including grades, transcripts and billing information. Probst taught the computer to handle an array of administrative duties, too, including financial reports, payroll and alumni giving.

As described in a 1964 Aquin story: "Riding herd over the maze of new electronic equipment is Father Robert Probst … who developed a system of 'set up' switches to reduce the number of operations in programming the machines."

The university used the computer to help other organizations as well, including Catholic schools and even local small businesses. "We ran that computer 24 hours a day and seven days a week," Sturm recalled. "It's amazing to think that the desktop computers we now have in our offices around campus have 200,000 times more memory, and are 6,000 times faster than that first Control Data 160."

Over the years Probst spent less time teaching and more time overseeing the administrative computing needs of the university. He never really quit working; throughout his retirement he continued to stay involved with computer-related administrative projects.

"He was a real mentor for me and for many of our students," Komar said. "He taught me a lot, especially about programming, and he was one of the reasons I got in involved in this field. He will be missed by many."