University to honor five at annual St. Thomas Day event

University to honor five at annual St. Thomas Day event

The University of St. Thomas community will gather Saturday, March 3, to celebrate its annual St. Thomas Day and to honor recipients of its Humanitarian, Distinguished Alumnus, Professor of the Year, Tommie and Monsignor James Lavin awards.

St. Thomas Day events begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the university's Board of Trustees. It was 89 years ago – on the March 7 St. Thomas Day of 1918 – that the first Mass was celebrated in that chapel.

A 7 p.m. dinner and awards program will follow in Murray-Herrick Campus Center. More than 500 members of the St. Thomas community are expected to attend.

St. Thomas Day is part of a weeklong series of events for the university’s annual Heritage Week. More information about the week is available on the Web at:

The five St. Thomas Day awards will be presented to:

Distinguished Alumnus – This year's award is being given to Tom Kennelly of Napa, Calif., a retired attorney who once fought racketeering and organized crime under the late Robert Kennedy in Washington, D.C.

Kennelly, 76, is a native of South St. Paul where he graduated from high school in 1947. The groundwork for his legal career was laid at St. Thomas where in 1951 he graduated cum laude with political science degree. He was president of the student government and was on three state-championship debate teams. Dr. Robert Fogerty wrote of him: “As president of the ACC, very tactful and able to handle any situation. Always fair.”

He received a scholarship to Santa Clara University where he received a law degree in 1954. He joined the Marines as a legal officer, later worked as a civilian lawyer for the Air Force in France, and in 1960 became an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco.

Kennelly served in Washington from 1960 to 1971. He was recruited to join a small group in the U.S. Justice Department, working under Kennedy, that investigated and prosecuted labor racketeering by James Hoffa and the Teamsters Union. During those years he led the first Organized Crime Strike Force against the Mafia and served as deputy chief of the Organized Crime Section. The Federal Witness Protection Program grew out of the strike force.

“Working for Bob Kennedy as part of the New Frontier was a heady and exhilarating experience,” he recalled. “It was a time when government service gave one a feeling of great pride. After Hoffa was convicted, our group spent a fascinating summer in Mississippi in 1964, at the time of the civil rights murders and voter registration intimidation.”

From 1971 to 1986 he was in private practice in Washington, D.C., where he focused on criminal defense and civil litigation cases, and from 1986 to 1991 he was vice president and general counsel of Intertel, a Washington-based international investigative agency.

Over the years Kennelly has been active with St. Thomas’ Alumni Association, leading and participating in events in the nation’s capital and California.

Established in 1971, the Distinguished Alumnus award is presented for leadership and service to the university, to the community and in the person’s field of endeavor.

Humanitarian of the Year – Gary Ales of St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood will receive the 2007 Humanitarian of the Year Award for a life of service, especially through an organization he founded called the St. Paul Friendship Club.

A St. Paul native and graduate of the old Marshall Junior High and Central High School, Ales earned two degrees from St. Thomas, a bachelor’s in sociology in 1962 and a master’s in secondary education in 1964. He later earned a second master’s, in counseling, from the University of River Falls in 1985.

Gary Ales

Ales worked for the St. Paul public schools for 37 years, from 1964 to 2001. He coached eight sports at Johnson and Humboldt schools, was a counselor for 15 years at Humboldt Junior and Senior High Schools, and taught psychology for 22 years at Johnson High School.

Ales founded and for four decades advised a St. Paul organization called the Friendship Club. It is a community service club that is open boys and girls, and men and women, of all ages, races and faiths. It has no dues, officers or meetings, but does have a motto, “We Share – We Care.” Its members serve senior citizens, the environment, those who are mentally and physically challenged, and in general, those who could use a hand.

More than 15,000 students, parents, grandparents and educators have participated in Friendship Club activities and more than 30,000 individuals have been served. While participants earn no grades or pay for their service, they do earn recognition and learn about the rewards of volunteering. They have picked up litter from parks, planted trees, shoveled snow for senior citizens, tutored youngsters, visited the elderly, painted homes, collected food and clothing, and raised funds for crime victims.

When Ales retired in 2001, the St. Paul Pioneer Press carried a story that included a short, congratulatory letter written by Fong Moua, a Humboldt student and six-year veteran of the Friendship Club.

“Thank you for showing me a new way to think and see, for opening new doors and paths for me to explore,” Moua wrote. “What you have done for me I will never forget. What you have taught me, I will carry it on and teach it to others.”

Established 34 years ago, the Humanitarian of the Year Award is presented by the university’s Alumni Association.

Professor of the Year – Dr. David Landry, of Roseville, is this year's Professor of the Year. The 46-year-old award recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and inspiration to students.

An associate professor of theology, Landry has been teaching at St. Thomas for 16 years. He earned an undergraduate degree in religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross and did his graduate work in religion at Vanderbilt University where he received a master’s in 1989 and a Ph.D. in 1992. Prior to coming to St. Thomas in 1991, he was a teaching fellow at Vanderbilt and an adjunct professor of theology at Boston College.

Dr. David Landry

He has taught 19 courses at St. Thomas, including many outside his specialization in biblical studies. Among those are Theologies of Justice and Peace, World Religions, Fundam
entalism and Religion and the Mass Media.

His interests are wide-ranging. Landry’s Web site, for example, features links to “The Simpsons” television programs and a band called the Jayhawks. In fact, Landry is quoted a number of times in Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to the Simpsons.

Last summer Landry stepped down after nine seasons as the St. Thomas varsity men’s golf coach. You also can find him helping to run the scoreboard at home football games, and he is a big fan of St. Thomas women’s basketball. Before he and his wife, Shannon, had their daughters Katie, 11, and Meghan, 8, there was more time for attending games.

He served as director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program for a year and recently stepped down after more than three years as director of the Aquinas Scholars Program. Landry, who also taught honors seminars for the program, was selected by students last May as the Aquinas Scholars Professor of the Year.

Dr. Bernard Brady, chair of the university’s Theology Department and the 2005 Professor of the Year, describes Landry as “a fantastic teacher. His lectures are substantive and his assignments demanding. He spends a huge amount of time working with students outside the classroom. On top of that, he is intense and passionate about everything he does.”

During his St. Thomas years, Landry has visited Cuba twice. He went there with other faculty members when the Tommies played the University of Havana baseball team, and returned to lead a justice and peace studies course that he taught with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. He also has taught Religions of Asia and the Pacific courses in Hawaii during January Term.

His research includes articles published in the top biblical studies journal, 16 conference papers and several popular Web sites, including “The Interactive Bible” and “What’s Wrong With The Da Vinci Code?” He and colleague Dr. Catherine Cory are the editors of The Christian Theological Tradition. This college-level history of Christianity originally was written for St. Thomas students. The textbook now is in use at colleges throughout the United States and its publisher, Prentice-Hall, is planning to issue a third edition.

Landry worked with Dr. Mark Neuzil of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department on a CD-ROM, “The Journalist’s Primer: A Refresher in Grammar, Punctuation and Style,” that is distributed through the Minnesota Newspaper Association. During a planned semester sabbatical in the spring of 2008, Landry hopes to collaborate again with Neuzil on a college text that deals with religion and the mass media.

He has served six years on the university’s Academic Council, a committee he is chairing this year.

Landry brought back a longstanding tradition at St. Thomas when he revived a printed version of “The Raker,” a faculty forum for discussion of important issues. Among those was a controversy last year involving the university’s travel policy covering faculty and staff who lead student trips.

“My wife says I have an overdeveloped sense of justice,” Landry said, looking back at the months of discussion on the topic. “If something doesn’t seem fair, I’m compelled to say something.”

Monsignor James Lavin Award – Donald Peterson, of Mendota Heights, will receive this year's Lavin award. Established in 1994, the award annually honors a volunteer for service to the St. Thomas Alumni Association.

Peterson, who received a master’s degree in public safety administration and education from St. Thomas in 1982, retired after 33 years in law enforcement. He spent 28 years at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension where he was an instructor, director of training, and agent in charge of special operations, including dignitary protection and crime scenes.

Donald Peterson

He now is a criminal-justice consultant and since 1986 has taught criminal justice courses as an adjunct member of the Sociology Department. He also is an active and involved member of the Alumni Association.

Peterson served on the association’s Board of Directors from 1989 to 1995, and also served as the board’s vice president.

In addition, Peterson has been especially involved with homecomings, golf tournaments, St. Thomas Days, the First Friday luncheon series and career-mentoring activities.

“I enjoy being involved with St. Thomas,” he said. “Part of it is giving something back to the university. But I really do enjoy coming to campus; it’s a great atmosphere with great students. A lot of my volunteering is related to helping and mentoring students in my classes. I like to remind them, for example, that you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

Tommie Award – David Wierzbicki was selected the 2007 Tommie Award winner by a vote of students, staff and faculty. The award has been given annually since 1931 to a senior who exemplifies the ideals of the university.

Wierzbicki, of Shawnee, Kansas, holds a 3.56 grade-point average and is majoring in financial management and business economics. He was one of 27 nominees and three finalists for the award.

David Wierzbicki

Wierzbicki came to St. Thomas after graduating from high school at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville. While his parents, Dennis and Marie, are now living in Kansas, the family also has lived in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Colorado and Minnesota. David’s older brother, Joe, is in medical school at Kansas University and his younger brother, Mike, is studying business at Creighton University.

Wierzbicki has been in a host of activities and organizations during his St. Thomas years. He is the university relations chair for the Delta Sigma Pi professional business fraternity, vice president of the Economics Association and a member of the Delta Epsilon Sigma National Scholastic Honor Society.

He has served as a Eucharistic minister for Campus Ministry and has been a tutor at neighborhood schools, through the university’s Tutor-Mentor Program, and has been a finance tutor for the Opus College of Business.

He said he particularly enjoyed his work over the years with Residence Life and served as an operations manager, adviser to the Residence Hall Association, resident adviser in Ireland Hall, and the Residence Hall Association’s vice president for environment and service.

He also found time to serve on the Dean of Students Judicial Board, be a tour guide and Tommie ambassador for the Admissions Office, help lead the freshman retreat, serve on the Senior Class Gift Committee and participate in intramural volleyball, basketball and football.

Wierzbicki also enjoyed a study-abroad trip he took to Rome over January. “The course was called Pilgrimage to Italy and it was a great experience,” he said. “Our classroom was really walking from one holy and historic site to another.”

Wierzbicki has held an internship at the Minneapolis-based financial planning firm, Foster Klima and Co, and has been active with the Financial Management Association. After graduation he plans to work as a financial analyst for Honeywell’s automated systems and controls division. He found that position through the on-campus job interview program at the Career Development Center. “I highly recommend that service to my friends,” he said.

Wierzbicki said he appreciates the opportunities he had to learn and mature during his years as a student. “But understanding the importance of friendships is probably the biggest thing I’ve learned here,” he said. “I didn’t even come here with that kind of expectation. I have really come to appreciate my friends and I’ve grown to love St. Thomas. It will be hard to leave when we graduate this spring.”

The Tommie Award is sponsored by university’s Division of Student Affairs.