Benedictine President Celebrates 10 Years Building ‘One of the Great Catholic Colleges of America’

By Kathryn Zagrobelny, Cardinal Newman Society

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stephen D. Minnis, president of Benedictine College, is celebrating his 10-year anniversary as president of the Atchison, Kan., based Catholic college. Minnis recently gave The Cardinal Newman Society an exclusive interview discussing the College’s future plans, his time as president, and how the College is working to reverse the national trend of students abandoning their Catholic faith.

Benedictine is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity. The Cardinal Newman Society recently released the 2015 edition of the Guide along with an innovative new “Recruit Me” program that lets students sign up so the recommended Catholic colleges can compete for them.

“Our vision is to build one of the great Catholic colleges of America,” Minnis, who is also a Benedictine alumnus, told the Newman Society.

The College’s reenergized embrace of its mission and its consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary are “probably the two greatest things that have happened since I’ve been here,” Minnis said. Also in the last ten years, the College has increased its enrollment by 80 percent—from 1,000 students to more than 1,800—constructed a new academic building and ten new residence halls, and launched nursing and engineering programs.

Looking ahead, Minnis explained, the College aims to“educate America’s future leaders, build for greatness, and develop a world-class faculty.” This will include increasing scholarship opportunities to attract students dedicated to the College mission, expanding programs like mission trips that foster student growth, and strengthening the College’s science program.

Minnis noted that renovating and expanding the science building will be a big project for the College over the next ten years. It is important, he said, “to prove to the world that a great Catholic college does embrace the sciences, and to prove to the world that yes, faith, and morals, and ethics are just as important in the sciences as in every other program that you have on campus.”

Last year, Benedictine College was chosen to be a part of the U.S. bishops’ panel on Catholic identity in higher education and the Vatican’s Church in America conference. By choosing Benedictine to be part of these working groups, said Minnis, the bishops and the Vatican are acknowledging that a Catholic university can be academically excellent and remain faithfully Catholic as well.

Minnis explained that every aspect of Benedictine College leads back to its mission “to educate our students within a community of faith and scholarship.” This mission, supported by the four pillars— Catholic, Benedictine, Liberal Arts, and Residential—originally attracted him to the College as a student, made him want to serve as president, and continues to excite him today.

The College strives to “be an integration of faith and scholarship in everything we do,” so that, no matter the circumstance, the College continuously returns to its foundation of faith and mission. The strength of the mission attracts faculty, staff, and students who are excited about it and leads to a nurturing and strengthening environment, he said.

The college years, Minnis observed, are an “incredible transitional period.” If Catholic colleges don’t “provide a healthy faith-based education,” then many undergraduates will stop practicing their faith. He explained that while about 80 percent of students have an active faith life when entering colleges across the country, only 18 percent retain that faith upon graduation. However, he noted, at Benedictine the majority of that 80 percent report that their faith increased while at college. “We’re kind of flipping it upside down,” he said, “but this should be the norm.”

“We’re a chosen place with a special mission,” Minnis said. “We really believe that we were chosen by Mary, Our Lady, to be here at this time in this place and to be as successful as we are.”

Read more about Benedictine College in its online profile in The Newman Guide. Students can sign up to get recruited by Benedictine and the other Catholic colleges recommended in the Guide by visiting the Recruit Me page.