‘A Beacon of Hope to the World’: President Minnis at the Scholarship Ball

On Feb. 26, a record turnout of over 1,000 attended the 50th Annual Scholarship Ball, the annual fundraiser for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. The night honored Lené Westerman, class of 1985, Larry Wilcox, class of 1972 and Janet Munro Wilcox, class of 1981.

President Minnis gave his annual address at the college, and shared his personal connection with each honoree. “Lene and I were at Benedictine together and I have had a deep respect for her and her love of the college since we first met,” he said. “Janet will be forever known as one of the top educators in the region,” including his high school, Bishop LeBlond in St. Joseph, Mo. As for head football coach Larry Wilcox, “Larry was my residence hall director my freshmen year as well as my baseball coach. When I first became president, I told Coach: You know, if you would have known I was going to be your boss one day, maybe you would have played me more.” Minnis also shared that the last three Raven Quarterbacks in Wilcox’s teams have joined the Church.

See the video here or below. Excerpts of Minnis’s remarks follow.

Our Motto is “Forward, Always Forward,” the words of the Archabbot who built so many Benedictine institutions, and it really sums up who we are.

Remember this college was founded in 1858 … three years before the Civil War on the Kansas and Missouri border — can you imagine the toughness it took for those monks to come to Kansas and start a college. And how about the seven Benedictine sisters, three of whom didn’t speak English, who in 1863 floated across the Missouri river, walked up Second street and started a school for girls. The Prioress was Mother Evangelista Kremmeter — and she was just 30 years old.

The Benedictines are a tough bunch whose Forward, Always Forward attitude met every obstacle.

The college survived the Civil War; the Spanish Flu; Two World Wars; the Great Depression; the civil unrest of the 1960’s; the financial burdens of the 1970’s and 1980’s — fascinatingly 80% of the colleges and universities in America founded before the Civil War are no longer around. But we are.

Although we have been around since 1858, there is no question that in the last 15 years a re-birth of sorts has occurred at Benedictine College.

In the last 15 years, our enrollment has doubled. … We have built 10 new dorm buildings. … We have built six new academic buildings including the Ferrell Academic Center and the expanded and updated, 100,000 square foot Westerman Hall — the finest small college STEM building in the country. …

The college has built three new chapels, led the March for Life, and every year have 10 or more students join the Catholic Church … and nearly 100 in the last 15 years chose religious life.

One of our largest majors now is engineering. … Benedictine College also has one of the few classical Architecture programs in the country. …

Great things are happening at Benedictine College and we are experiencing unprecedented success. This often leads people to ask me: What is the secret — why all this success and why now? I tell them that the answer is simple: We point to two things:

  1. We embraced Our Lady
  2. We embraced our mission

We embraced Our Lady by consecrating the college to the Blessed Virgin Mary — and on the 5th anniversary we re-consecrated the college with over 1,000 of our students encircling the campus and praying a simultaneous Rosary and then burying Pope-blessed Miraculous Medals in the ground so her graces would surround the college.

We also embraced our mission as a Catholic, Benedictine, Liberal Arts and Residential College to educate our students within a Community of Faith and Scholarship. This mission informs everything we do.

Remember the words of Archabbot Boniface Wimmer: ’Forward, Always Forward, Everywhere Forward. We must not be held back by debts, bad years or difficulties of the times, because Man’s adversity is God’s opportunity.’

We have never been held back by bad years or difficulties of the times — and we’re not going to start now. It is this Forward, Always Forward attitude that brought Board members, faculty, staff, alums and community leaders together for over two years to develop a plan that is bold and innovative and is greatly needed today.

The new vision for Benedictine College to Transform Culture in America. How is Benedictine College going to do this? How are we going to Transform Culture in America? The answer has always been before us: Our Mission of community, faith and scholarship. In a world of loneliness and polarization, Community is the answer; in an age of hopelessness and incivility, Faith is the key and in a ‘post-truth’ era that is information rich but analysis poor, Scholarship is the foundation.

We are committed to bringing community, faith and scholarship to the country to transform the culture. Our plan to Transform Culture in America is bold and courageous. Everyone says that the culture needs to be transformed, but no one is doing it. So, we will do it. You will do it.

Because right now, Benedictine College has never been stronger, and the future has never looked brighter. We are at the dawn of a new age — a new Benedictine College that embraces the things of the past with a new vision for the future. …

But that doesn’t stop me from worrying … about everything. … One time somebody came up to me and said: “You know, if you worry, you lack faith.” And so I said: “Well, thanks a lot. Now I have something else to worry about!”

About a month ago, I told that lack of faith story to someone in Denver, who has been observing us for years and kind of knows about Benedictine from the outside looking in.

When I said this, he stopped me, got serious, and looked me in the eye and said “Don’t worry so much”

In fact, he said, you should be the last person who should worry. Benedictine College is not a place to worry about. Rather to us, Benedictine College is an oasis of optimism. It is the place that gives us hope.

This hope comes from your commitment to those incredible students and the formation they receive. This hope comes from your commitment to the values you instill in those students. This hope comes from your commitment to build new communities and rebuild the art of friendship. This hope comes from your commitment to build up the Church and strengthen the faith of young people.

No, he said, you should not worry — rather keep doing what you are doing so we can have hope for the future.

In the end, our friend in Denver is right. There is no need to worry, rather, there is an opportunity for hope because of Benedictine College and our students and alums. This hope is that through our mission of community, faith and scholarship, culture will be transformed in America.

We are a beacon of hope in today’s world. And that hope happens because of our students. And our students happen because of you. So, let’s together move this college Forward, Always Forward, Everywhere Forward — to provide hope for the future! God bless you all and God bless Benedictine College. Thank you.

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Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.