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Father James Burns inaugurated as Saint Mary’s president

October 6, 2018
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The newly inaugurated Saint Mary's president, Rev. James P. Burns, speaks to faculty, staff and students inside Saint Mary's gym on Friday afternoon.

Just before the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota community was officially introduced to its 14th president Friday, Brother Larry Schatz, a trustee of the university, read off the new leader’s accomplishments.

It was a long list, one which Schatz said made Father James Burns “a persistent and determined leader with a pastoral heart.”

“All that, and he’s a good cook, he rides horses, he’s a hockey fan and a football fan as well,” Schatz told the audience, which included many Saint Mary’s students, alumni, and all of the school’s faculty and staff as well as the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

Burns, a St. Paul native, is returning home to Minnesota after serving as the dean of the Woods College of Advancing Studies and Summer Session at Boston College. The first non-Christian Brother to lead the school in almost a century, he is also a licensed, board certified psychologist in both Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Among the speakers to welcome Burns to the position was Winona mayor Mark Peterson, who told him that he’ll find the city is “more than just great donuts.” The campus and its people are a treasured part of the community, Peterson said, and with Burns’ help to strengthen partnerships, it will stay that way.

Heidi Ledermann, president of Saint Mary’s Student Senate, also welcomed Burns, saying she and her fellow students hope to see him at their athletic events, at concerts and theater productions, and — when time permits — even in the cafeteria to share a meal.

The theme of Burns’s inauguration address was “Saint Mary’s: A sign of faith, hope and knowledge,” in which he discussed the power of the university to shape students’ hearts and souls, not just their intellect.

It’s not enough to simply help those who attend Saint Mary’s, he said, because every other college is helping their students in the same way. Instead, the school should focus on the “distinctive difference” it can provide in the Lasallian tradition, founded by a priest who would later be named the patron saint of teachers.

“In this way, Catholic higher education will help to move education overall to a different realm in which public and private discourse are not fought with incendiary words and uncultured rhetoric,” he said.

Burns’s address was shorter than other inauguration speeches, which he was quick to point out typically last about 25 minutes. But with wisdom from a friend that “no short homily or short talk ever goes unappreciated,” he wrapped up by quoting Pope Francis.

“The university is a singular and privileged place of dialogue and encounter,” Burns said. “Being such a place, it allows us to uniquely address so many of the daily challenges we all face in this world.”

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