Please remember in your prayers Dr. Don Briel, founder and longtime director of the Center for Catholic Studies, who died on Thursday, Feb. 15. Briel was diagnosed with untreatable leukemia in January.
Visitation was on Monday, Feb. 19, 4-7 p.m., at O’Halloran & Murphy at 575 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul. The funeral was Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
“Don was a visionary,” said Dr. Michael Naughton, director, Center for Catholic Studies. “He had a deep vision about what education should be about. He also had a powerful intellect; he was a very brilliant man. That element of vision, of power, of intellectual capacity. He also had a deeply converted intellect, that the gospel and faith animated all he did.”
“It was a grace-filled death. This past month has been a beautiful time of witness for many as Don devoted himself to ‘God out of love for eternal life’ (St. Caesarius of Arles). He was profoundly moved by the outpouring of gratitude and love he received through calls, visits, cards and emails during this last month,” Naughton and Dr. John F. Boyle, chair, Department of Catholic Studies, wrote in a note to community members. “Don’s family and the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus beautifully cared for him. Having Mass every day with friends and family provided consolation as he humbly walked toward death and, we pray, into Eternal Life.”
Briel served in teaching, administrative and leadership positions at St. Thomas from 1981-2014, most notably as Catholic Studies’ founding director. Under his leadership the center grew to provide a huge range of activities and programs that enhanced the Catholic mission and identity of the university, and contributed to national and international developments in Catholic higher education.
“Few people in my life have inspired me so much as Don Briel. I revere him not only as the founder of the Catholic Studies program and for the courage and wisdom he has shown to all of us over many years in that particular role. I also revere him as a wonderful friend. Indeed, I would have to say it has been one of the more delightful and unexpected gifts of providence in my life,” said Father Paul Murray, spiritual theology, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Beyond leading the beginnings of the discipline itself in 1993, Briel oversaw such milestones, among others, of: the gift from David and Barbara Koch to create the Koch chair in Catholic Studies and the Koch Scholarship in Catholic Studies in 1995; the dedication of the Bernardi Campus in Rome and the starting of a Master of Arts Program in Catholic Studies in 2000; the approval of departmental status for Catholic Studies in 2001; the creation of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy, a joint venture of the center and the School of Law, in 2003; the creation of the Catholic Women’s Floor in Dowling Hall in 2004 and Catholic Men’s Floor in Ireland Hall in 2005; the creation of the Joseph and Edith Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership in 2006; and the establishment of the Catholic Studies program at the University Institute of the Diocese of Buea, in the Republic of Cameroon, South Africa at the “University of St. Thomas and Catholic University Institute of Buea Leadership Seminar” in 2013.
In a lengthy interview with The Catholic Spirit not long before his passing, Briel discussed a range of topics, including his joy in having the opportunity to do what he did with St. Thomas.
“This is not my work, it’s not our work, it’s God’s work, and to have been given this possibility to assist in realizing this great educational vision has been the great privilege of my life,” Briel said.
“Dr. Don Briel’s contributions and leadership in the advancement of Catholic higher education are really quite remarkable,” said Monsignor James Shea, president, University of Mary. “Many of us have witnessed, over the course of the years, the founding and the flourishing of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, thanks to the industry, labor, perseverance and the heart and the acumen of Briel and the colleagues that he has gathered round for this work. The underlying set of principles that the project of Catholic Studies has been built upon attracts, educates and forms so many impressive young leaders. Briel has made a signal contribution to the evangelization of culture.”
“Dr. Don Briel had the vision to create a program at St. Thomas that included community, faith, the Catholic tradition and higher education,” said Nicole Bernardi of the Catholic Studies Advisory Board. “Not only did he see this vision through to its fruition, he nurtured it constantly, thus bringing this center of excellence to where it is today: a vibrant community. Briel used his time and talents to foster a program of which my parents-in-law, Tony and Cecilia Bernardi, were so pleased to be a part. The Bernardi Campus in Rome is a reflection of Tony and Cecilia’s great admiration for Briel of his intellect, his passion and his commitment to the Catholic faith and higher education. He will be missed.”
To read the Feb. 14 TommieMedia story on Briel, click here.
To read the Feb. 16 National Review story on Briel, click here.