Father Bob Probst was a computer pioneer

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2007 - 3:50 PM

The University of St. Thomas priest also was a teacher of chemistry, philosophy, religion and film history.

The Rev. Robert Probst's interests and duties ranged across the arts and sciences as a teacher and administrator at the University of St. Thomas.

Probst, a pioneering computer administrator and teacher of philosophy, religion, chemistry and film history, died on Oct. 24 in St. Paul.

He was 89.

He earned degrees in chemistry, math and education. After completing his studies at the St. Paul Seminary, he was ordained in 1945.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI promoted him to monsignor.

Probst taught at Mendota's St. Thomas Military Academy for a year, before joining the former College of St. Thomas' faculty.

"He was on the ground floor of the computing revolution," said Thomas Sturm, who as a student assisted Probst and now is a professor of quantitative methods and computer science at the university.

Probst began modernizing St. Thomas' record-keeping with the bulky computers of the early 1960s. He mostly taught himself how to program.

Throughout his career, he kept pace, becoming an expert in modern information technology systems.

Early on, Probst guided his undergraduate workforce to program and operate the computers.

"I taught myself how to program; he taught me the right way to program," Sturm said. "I have never seen anybody more dedicated to what he did."

In 1958, Probst had moved into university administration and feared he wouldn't be able to teach as much as he had. But he managed to handle several classes as well as become the computer chief for internal administration.

Another student programmer was Steve Nachtsheim, former chairman of the Quantitative Methods-Computer Science Department.

"He was not only willing to teach us, but also willing to learn from us," said Nachtsheim, now chairman of the board for Deluxe Corp., and a member of the university's board of trustees.

Probst, a movie buff, once took his niece, Barbara Wollan of St. Paul to a serious film when she was a child.

"Father Bob told me: 'You are going to appreciate this when you are older,'" Wollan said.

Some of Probst's favorite films were "Citizen Kane,"The Third Man" and "Bridge on the River Kwai."

Probst never gave up work entirely, continuing to come to the campus into his 80s.

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