On Thursday evenings, faculty, staff and students at the St. Paul Seminary used to come together for a community meal. Each week, toward the end of an accompanying prayer service, they'd bow their heads and say a prayer for the Rev. Charles Froehle, calling him their pastor, leader and friend.

"I've always thought that those three words were very salutary," said Sister Mary Christine Athans, professor emerita at St. Thomas. "They were really right on target."

A parish priest and longtime professor, dean and rector at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas, Froehle died Jan. 6. He was 77.

Froehle grew up Catholic in St. Paul and graduated from the St. Paul Seminary in 1963. After serving at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, studying in Rome and joining the St. Thomas faculty, he was appointed rector at the seminary in 1980.

"He was, in my estimation, a very holy man, a very prayerful man, and he loved being a priest," said John Kinney, bishop emeritus of St. Cloud, who met Froehle when the two were seminarians.

Froehle is considered a pivotal figure in the 1987 affiliation of St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary, remembered as a challenging union between a growing college in need of more space and a seminary facing financial trouble and flagging enrollment post-Vatican II.

"I'll tell you, there were a lot of people who were really against the affiliation of the seminary with St. Thomas," Athans said. "It took a huge amount of energy and dialoguing with every possible group."

Froehle was a "stabilizing force," connecting both sides throughout the transition, said Victor Klimoski, the seminary's academic dean at the time.

"He was probably one of the most calm people I've ever seen, especially in a crisis," Klimoski said.

Still, it was a stressful time. When he could get away, Froehle would go to a cabin in Wisconsin with Kinney and other friends and family. Froehle cherished the outdoors, and loved spending time bird-watching or out on the lake. He also was a talented woodworker, and spent a lot of time remodeling the cabin.

"I always said that I was deeply fortunate that I went into buying a cabin with him," Kinney said, "because he did all the work and I just kind of enjoyed it. Filled the bird feeders."

When the affiliation was complete, Froehle became vice president for the newly formed School of Divinity, in addition to continuing his work as rector, mentoring young men as they worked toward the priesthood.

Even when students weren't able to move forward with their studies, Athans said, Froehle continued to support them.

"He had to deal with our most difficult students — students who were in academic trouble, who were not responding to the program, all of that," Klimoski said. "And he had a depth of compassion that would keep him working with a student as long as he could to help the student find his way."

Froehle returned to parish work after retiring from the rector position, serving at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo and later at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis.

His absence was felt on campus, Klimoski said, though he had set up as smooth a transition as possible.

"Life could go on," Klimoski said, "and the things that he really believed in … would continue."

Froehle is preceded in death by his parents, Leo and Catherine, and survived by his brother John and sisters Margaret and Jean.

Services have been held.