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Michael Hemesath has been named the new president of St. John's University, the first full-term lay president of the school.

Provided by St. John's University,

Layperson to take reins at St. John's University

  • Article by: KAITLYN WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • April 10, 2012 - 11:17 PM

A Carleton College economics professor has been named St. John's University's first full-term lay president, the Catholic school announced Tuesday.

Michael Hemesath, a 1981 St. John's graduate, takes over at the 155-year-old school in Collegeville, Minn., on July 1.

Hemesath's selection reflects a structural change at St. John's, which separated the monastery and the university, said Ken Roering, who led the search committee. The university was incorporated last fall and is overseen by an independent board of trustees but still takes into account the Benedictine values that the monastery upholds, he said.

In a national search that took several months, the committee sought a candidate who would be able to bridge the communities.

"We have to have a president that can be an excellent leader for St. John's, work with the monastery and work with the College of St. Benedict," Roering said. "[Hemesath is] a very inspirational speaker and understands the role Benedictine values play in liberal-arts education."

Roering said the final pick has been "overwhelmingly appreciated" by St. John's staff, students and committee members.

"The candidate that we selected is outstanding," he said. "[Hemesath is] a marvelous scholar who is energizing and engaging."

Another lay president, Daniel Whalen, was appointed on an interim basis in 2008-09. Hemesath will succeed the Rev. Robert Koopmann, who has served since 2009 and is returning to the music faculty.

Hemesath said the separation of the school and monastery is a legal change, not a philosophical change. He said he hopes he will be able to bring "continuity" to the way the university is run, even though he is not a monk.

"I'm going to bring a different set of experiences and background to this job," Hemesath said. "The monks had a deep influence on me when I was a student at St. John's, and I will bring that back to Collegeville in July when I return."

Hemesath, 53, graduated summa cum laude from St. John's with a degree in economics and received his master's and doctorate in economics from Harvard University. He has been on the economics faculty at Carleton since 1989 and has served as faculty president since 2009.

"I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to return to my alma mater and advocate for residential liberal arts education," Hemesath said. "It is flattering and humbling that they thought I was the best choice."

Before Carleton, he was on the faculty for two years at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. His wife, Elizabeth, teaches in the Religion Department at St. Olaf College, and they have a son, Cameron.

Kaitlyn Walsh is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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