Tommie the mascot gives high fives to seniors during the 2018 March Through the Arches ceremony for graduating seniors on May 18, 2018 in St. Paul.

St. Thomas Receives $20 Million Gift for Student Scholarships

St. Thomas announced today the launch of the Kanthak Scholars Program, a landmark $20 million gift that will help St. Thomas students reduce tuition costs and room and board expenses, amid the backdrop of the university’s new on-campus residency requirement.

Speaking at the annual State of the University address, President Julie Sullivan announced the gift from the estate of Irvin Kanthak ’59. The Kanthak Scholars Program will award four-year scholarships to around 30 undergraduate students each year; the program will provide $10,000 per year for the first two years – when the students are required to live on campus – and $5,000 for tuition for the remaining two years.

“The ability to support many more students through the Kanthak Scholars Program is a dream come true,” Sullivan said. “This could not have come at a better time as high schoolers are discerning their campus homes for the next four years. I am so grateful that we can offer additional financial support to offset the cost of a St. Thomas education and to provide equitable access to residence halls. This is a giant leap forward in increasing access for students and families with financial need.”

The endowed fund will award its first scholarships to St. Thomas first-year students in fall of 2020, coinciding with the opening of two new residence halls. Kanthak Scholars will share the benefits of being close to academic and student support services; a strong connection to other students, staff and faculty; and a sense of belonging on campus, all part of the value of St. Thomas’ move to a two-year residency requirement starting fall of 2021.

The gift also represents a significant step forward in St. Thomas’ goal of doubling its scholarship endowment, with a focus on educational excellence, increasing access and reducing student debt.

Along with the Kanthak Scholars Program, the gift will support an emergency scholarship fund for current students experiencing financial hardships, such as unexpected life experiences that often force students to drop out of school. Access to this $50,000 fund will be via application. Kanthak’s gift will also support a first-of-its kind, national alumni referral scholarship program designed to attract students from outside Minnesota.

Kanthak’s generosity

A first-generation college student, Kanthak attended St. Thomas on the GI Bill after serving in the Air Force and became a respected leader on campus. He excelled academically, often amazing his professors by solving problems in his head. A devout Catholic, he also participated in the choir and continued to nurture his faith.

After college, Kanthak moved to Los Angeles where he worked multiple jobs to save enough money to buy his first apartment complex. Over the decades he lived frugally and quietly, making wise investments, especially in real estate. Kanthak felt so strongly about the transformational education he received at St. Thomas that he left nearly his entire estate for the benefit of future Tommies after his death in 2019.

In addition to establishing the Founder’s Level Endowed Scholarship fund that will forever bear his name, the main grand atrium of Anderson Student Center will be named to honor Kanthak’s extraordinary generosity and monumental support of St. Thomas students.