St. Thomas responds to Gulf Coast disaster with prayers, donations and classroom seats

St. Thomas responds to Gulf Coast disaster with prayers, donations and classroom seats

The University of St. Thomas this week is responding to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina with prayers, contributions and offers to assist students who had been enrolled in colleges and universities that have been closed along the Gulf Coast.

“Our celebration of a new school year is tempered by news of the suffering caused by this disaster,” said Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. “Please remember in your thoughts and prayers those who have died, those who are now suffering, and those who face months and years of rebuilding their lives and their communities.”

Sister Sharon Howell, assistant dean of students, said that the university contacted families of students from hurricane-affected areas, including two first-year students from New Orleans, last week. All were OK.

The university is responding to the devastation on several fronts, including a Hurricane Katrina Relief Challenge that has been organized by Enrollment Services. In addition, several collections have been made, or will be made, at Masses here at St. Thomas. For more details about how to make donations, see the related story.

Dr. Thomas Rochon, executive vice president and chief academic officer, said St. Thomas is offering classroom seats to Twin Cities students who originally had enrolled to study at Gulf Coast colleges and universities that have been forced to close.

“The idea is not to have them transfer and complete their degrees at St. Thomas, but rather to allow them to attend classes here for one or two semesters, until their Gulf Coast colleges and universities can reopen,” Rochon said.

As of Tuesday morning, St. Thomas already had accepted one student who had been enrolled at Xavier University of Louisiana, and another from Tulane University. Both universities are located in the evacuated city of New Orleans.

Additional students who had been enrolled in Gulf Coast colleges have contacted St. Thomas this week, but have not yet enrolled here.

Rochon said that St. Thomas would match the institutional financial aid offers made by the closed universities. “We will hope to make this as cost-neutral as possible,” he said.

St. Thomas has a longstanding relationship with St. Augustine High School, a mostly African-American high school in New Orleans. “We contacted the St. Augustine principal and let him know that we would work to find a spot in our freshman class for St. Augustine students who graduated this past spring,” Rochon said.

The St. Thomas School of Law, meanwhile, offered to provide space and facilities at its Minneapolis campus for a section of about 75 first-year law students from either Tulane or Loyola University of New Orleans. Those students would not be St. Thomas students, but would simply be using St. Thomas facilities. As of Tuesday, however, it appeared that the Tulane and Loyola law schools were looking at other options for classroom facilities.