Longtime benefactors of St. Thomas, Gene and Faye Sitzmann began their support of the Center for Catholic Studies in 1998 when they provided the gift that purchased the Christopher Dawson Collection for the Center and for the university. Several years later, they contributed the funding to renovate the building at the corner of Cleveland and Summit Avenues that became the Center’s new home, Sitzmann Hall. The Sitzmanns have six children. Son Eugene Sitzmann Jr. holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Chicago and did postdoctoral research at Columbia University. He now works as a research and development scientist at Ciba Specialty Chemicals in Newark, Delaware.
You have been very generous donors to the Center for Catholic Studies. How did you get involved with supporting the Center?
Gene: I’m a graduate of St. Thomas, and our roots are deep here in the community. I was born and raised in St. Paul, and Faye and I settled back here after we met and married in her home state of California. We’re strong in and sincere about our Christian beliefs and very happy to be involved in Catholic causes. We’ve always been committed to the University of St. Thomas, even if it was, in the beginning, in a small way. I remember that then-president Father James Shannon would always send a nice letter acknowledging the token amount I would contribute. We were happy to make contributions, and as time went on and the fruits were more plentiful, we’d give more.
Eugene Jr.: Our support of the Center is a family effort. Through my parents, this tradition of giving really goes back generations. We’ve always been attracted to St. Thomas’ Catholic initiatives. They are a source of light, and you get a lot of warmth and strength from a good source of light. So it has been a real honor for us to participate as best we can.
Faye: We often hear from students about how much they appreciate the opportunity to study in the Catholic Studies department. It’s very gratifying for us to hear these testimonies. I think, too, that now is the time to look back and be grateful; this is the Center’s ten-year anniversary and it’s clearly flourishing. We are so grateful to be part of this project.
What do you see as the greatest strength of the Center for Catholic Studies?
Faye: I think it’s the students’ program: a combination of strong academic preparation and an emphasis on the spiritual life. When students get out into the world they will bring their firm faith to their engagement with the professions and the people they encounter.
Gene: I am impressed with how well all the different departments in the Center come together. It is very well organized. I think, too, that the Catholic Studies faculty is a strong asset to the department. As young adults, students are still learning the difference between right and wrong and how to live their faith in everyday life, and the faculty give powerful witness.
Faye: Yes – the faculty is a real strength. Students are so enthusiastic about Catholic Studies not only because of the subject matter but also because of the way it is presented, by faculty members with good skills and high ideals. That is very contagious.
Eugene Jr.: The Center’s leadership role in the university is very positive. It is truly an integrator – the Catholic center of the university. Another strength is the Center’s authenticity. I’ve been impressed so far with how its goals are resonant with the elements of good work and of the real world. Many of the advisory board members, for example, are business professionals very much involved with state-of-the-art management practices, but they’ve not lost their souls in the process. That’s so important. I think there is also a great emphasis on students here. At every board meeting we talk about real students and real situations. Clearly there is a lot of metanoia going on here, something very good happening.
In many ways, Catholic Studies is forming the next generation of Catholic scholars and leaders in the Church. If you could address these young people what would you say to them?
Gene: College is just a brief interlude in life, but it is a formative one. I would say to students that they should form friendships with some care. It’s not that a diversity of friends isn’t good – it is – but fellowship with like-minded Catholics is also important at this age. I think it is true, as I’ve heard said, that college students actually learn more out of class than in class because of their associations with others. The Center plays an important part in building a community of believers. In fact, I’d like to see Catholic Studies act as a kind of magnet for students after they graduate. Alumni are thankful for the education they’ve received and the atmosphere of faith they’ve been part of – not quite heaven on earth but close to it!
Faye: I’d tell students that a foundation of faith becomes an integral part of their personality and their character. It is the source of hope and courage, and if they possess it, they can not only respond to any adversaries but also support others who are more wobbly in faith or who know little but are curious about it. We all need to pray that students will continue to hunger for inspiration, for the truths of the faith, despite what conditions are occurring in society and culture. It’s sometimes overwhelming to think of the future, but “I think it is true, as I’ve heard said, that college students actually learn more out of class than in class because of their associations with others. The Center plays an important part in building a community of believers.” — Gene Sitzmann students in all generations have youth, determination and enthusiasm, and that’s what the Center can build on.
“I think it is true, as I’ve heard said, that college students actually learn more out of class than in class because of their associations with others. The Center plays an important part in building a community of believers.”— Gene Sitzmann
Eugene Jr.: I’d tell them this: You know, no matter where life calls you, you will at some point be faced with a crisis, a moment of truth. It might be the discovery of a pregnancy, for example, or a terminal illness. It is going to require everything in you to pass the test. And if you are formed well in your faith, you will be strong enough to engage the crisis and to do something that you’d be proud of. I think that it is in this matter of formation that Catholic Studies really matters.