Nearly a century ago the University of St. Thomas handed out its very first Tommie Award. The awards have evolved since 1931, but the mission behind St. Thomas Day remains the same – to honor the extraordinary contributions of the Tommie community.
This year the university held its annual St. Thomas Day on Wednesday, May 3, honoring six exemplary individuals – students, faculty and alumni – who are inspiring change in the world as they live and extend the St. Thomas mission.
The recipients of the Monsignor James Lavin Award, Professor of the Year Award, Humanitarian Award, Tommie Award, Distinguished Alumnus Award and Spirit of St. Thomas Award were all honored at a special awards dinner.
The 2023 recipients are:
- Monsignor James Lavin Award – Tom Pacholl ’50
- Professor of the Year Award – Dr. Paola Ehrmantraut
- Humanitarian Award – Elizabeth Petheo ’01
- Tommie Award – Katie McGinnis ’23
- Distinguished Alumnus Award – Luigi Bernardi ’85, ’89 MBA
- Spirit of St. Thomas Award – Georgia Fort ’11
Monsignor James Lavin Award – Tom Pacholl ’50
The Monsignor James Lavin Award honors an alumnus or alumna for outstanding volunteer contributions to St. Thomas.
Tom Pacholl graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in biology in 1950, but his time at St. Thomas never really ended. A loyal, engaged Tommie of more than 72 years, he’s become a familiar and beloved face on campus.
The oldest living alumnus of the St. Thomas football team, Pacholl played alongside his teammates in the 1949 Cigar Bowl. Seven decades later, he served as honorary captain at the team’s first Division I home football game in 2021.
“I’ve had so many good memories there, not only athletically, but academically,” Pacholl said. “It’s been a great run. I just enjoy it.”
A retired high school chemistry teacher and World War II veteran, Pacholl now dedicates his time to supporting his alma mater. He continues to hold season tickets for football and men's basketball.
Professor of the Year – Dr. Paola Ehrmantraut
Professor of the Year recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. The recipient is selected by his or her faculty colleagues.
This year’s Professor of the Year is Dr. Paola Ehrmantraut, Endowed Chair in the Humanities. Ehrmantraut is an associate professor of Spanish and teaches courses in modern and classical languages. She also serves as the director of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Ehrmantraut recently was instrumental in the creation of the university’s new master’s degree in diversity leadership, which hopes to address a growing need for leaders who can effectively implement diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.
“Everything she does even in her personal life is feeding into this idea and this objective of creating more inclusion and diversity in our community,” Sonia Rey-Montejo said, an associate professor at St. Thomas.
She also is researching how masculinities are negotiated in Argentine film and literature.
Humanitarian Award – Elizabeth Petheo ’01
The Humanitarian Award recognizes an individual’s contributions to the betterment of the spiritual and material welfare of the less fortunate.
Often at the forefront of the world’s most pressing challenges, Elizabeth Petheo ’01 has made it her life’s mission to leave an impact globally.
Petheo has successfully led response operations in post-earthquake Haiti and a tsunami humanitarian assistance program during active civil war in Sri Lanka. Currently a principal at Miyamoto International, Inc., a disaster risk reduction and structural engineering firm, she was part of the company’s efforts following the 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I would be doing this,” Petheo said. “How ever I can affect change that’s my purpose. It’s how do I deliver impact that impacts humanity globally?”
At Miyamoto International she now focuses on building resilience in the face of disaster, acting as a catalyst for communities to rebuild better than before.
“Elizabeth is one of those leaders who can match her heart with a response,” Kelly Clements said, deputy high commissioner for the U.N. Refugee Agency. “She thinks about that one person and that one family, but she also thinks about the difference she can make at a broader level.”
Tommie Award – Katie McGinnis ’23
The Tommie Award is sponsored annually by the Division of Student Affairs and honors a senior selected by students, faculty and staff as best representing St. Thomas Aquinas’ ideals of scholarship, leadership and campus involvement.
Environmental science major Katie McGinnis ’23 has impressed as a leader across campus. She’s served as a resident advisor for three years, was instrumental in passing a zero-waste resolution with Undergraduate Student Government and received the Jack Brownstein Award for her soil research in the Stewardship Garden.
“I’m a strong believer in a lot of what Pope Francis has to say that we’re stewards of the earth, and we have this moral responsibility to take care of it,” McGinnis said.
After graduation, McGinnis plans to pursue a career in environmental consulting and continue serving others.
“Having that one-on-one interaction and showing other people that I believe in them too, will I hope inspire them to be leaders,” McGinnis said.
Distinguished Alumnus Award – Luigi Bernardi ’85, ’89 MBA
The Distinguished Alumnus Award honors an individual for leadership and service to St. Thomas, the community and in his or her field of endeavor.
A second-generation real estate developer, Luigi Bernardi ’85, ’89 MBA has a rich history and family legacy at St. Thomas. The Bernardi family businesses have made a huge impact on the Twin Cities as owners and developers of raw land, retail, medical facilities, housing and hotels. Luigi has carried on his family's legacy and is creating his own impact on our community in countless ways, one being his most recent project, a Minneapolis luxury condo tower on the Mississippi River called ELEVEN.
Under the leadership of Luigi’s father, the late Tony Bernardi, the family made a 1999 gift to St. Thomas to establish the university’s Bernardi Campus in Rome. More recently, a gift from Luigi Bernardi and his late wife Nicole supported the bride’s and groom’s suites in the Iversen Center for Faith.
“Whatever he’s working on, whatever he’s giving to is always something bigger than himself,” Joe Plante said, associate vice president for principal and leadership gifts.
Bernardi currently serves as the president of Arcadia/Aurora and continues to be an avid supporter of St. Thomas.
Spirit of St. Thomas Award – Georgia Fort ’11
The Spirit of St. Thomas Award honors the professional and personal achievements of Tommies under the age of 40. Introduced in 2022, this is the newest alumni recognition award.
A Class of 2011 St. Thomas alumna, Georgia Fort is a two-time Emmy nominated journalist. Her reporting has been published on CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS affiliates. In 2020, she founded BLCK Press LLC, a company dedicated to advancing equity in media by creating content that moves the culture forward. In March 2023, she launched “Here’s the Truth with Georgia Fort,” a weekly half-hour television show on The CW Twin Cities.
“I have encountered a lot of adversity working in media here in Minnesota and instead of giving up on my dream of telling stories I created a different pathway for myself,” Georgia Fort said.
Fort’s mission as a storyteller is to change the narrative by dedicating her work to media reform and narrative justice.
“Minnesota has decided that there is a need for authentic storytelling from a Black perspective,” Fort said. “I’m serving my community every day, and if I don’t get out of bed and go tell those stories, those stories might not get told.”
Fort has been an associate producer for PBS Frontline’s “American Voices,” and was co-director of “Amazon Prime’s Rondo: Beyond The Pavement".