Dear members of the Benedictine University community,
As chair of the Benedictine University Board of Trustees I, like all of our board members, take great pride in continuing the growth the University has made since our founding by the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, especially in the last decade.
Our focus on student learning and success, values-based liberal arts curriculum, campuses in Lisle and Springfield Ill., and Mesa, Ariz., as well as class sites around the world have positioned us not only as leaders in higher education, but also innovators in values-based education, giving us a unique share of the ever-tightening higher education marketplace.
We are different because of our Catholic and Benedictine values, which we couple with our unquenchable search for knowledge and pursuit of excellence in all we do. Because of who we are as Benedictines, recent events have been very disconcerting and affect our family-oriented community.
As some of you may be aware, Benedictine University was notified on Monday, June 22 that the monks of St. Procopius Abbey filed a lawsuit against the Benedictine University Board of Trustees regarding the monks' dissatisfaction with the University’s by-laws. The current by-laws, which were adopted by the trustees in 2002, were in fact approved by the then-acting Abbot and the Abbey monks. Since that time, the Abbot, and his vote, represents the Abbey and its members on all matters put before the University's board.
Benedictine is a family and as such is not immune to disagreements. The University leadership respects the monks and their ecclesiastical position and has a mutual desire to resolve any disagreements internally. As a result, we are disappointed that the Abbey monks have chosen to find resolution of ecclesiastical disputes through the press and to file a civil lawsuit against the individual Trustees instead of continuing internal dialogue with University leadership. In fact, despite months of productive discussions, the monks terminated all meetings in May of this year and refused the Trustees' further attempts to mediate these disputes privately.
Benedictine University greatly respects and values the partnership we have had and continue to have with the Abbey monks. In the nearly 40 years since the first lay president took office, the by-laws have been amended as needed over the years with involvement and approval of the Abbey monks. The University and it trustees have been operating in good faith for many years under the current by-laws. The only change in recent years has been that of leadership within the Abbey and a different interpretation of the by-laws by that leadership.
The University leadership is surprised to hear comments from the Abbot through various news outlets that he and the Abbey had no voice in the election of a new president and are “out of the picture.” This is simply untrue. In fact, he and three additional monks, who were appointed by the Abbot, held seats on Benedictine’s Board of Trustees with full voting rights on all matters brought before the Board. In addition, the Abbot and one additional monk, per the Abbot’s appointment, were a part of the presidential search process from day one including at the highest levels of the search committee, and culminating with the final decision voted on by the Board on May 28, 2015. The Abbot himself voted in favor of appointing Michael Brophy, Ph.D., as the next president of Benedictine University. At no time during the meeting to select Dr. Brophy did the Abbot indicate any objection to the process or that he had any concerns about the direction the University was taking.
We are further disheartened to hear comments that somehow this dispute, though not indicated in the court filing, involves the University’s Catholic and Benedictine heritage. The Abbot has, on numerous previous and recent occasions, stated that the Catholic and Benedictine heritage and tradition at the University remain strong. Why the Abbot has chosen to make this a public matter involving statements that are both misleading and not included in the court filing is not clear to the University at this time. Nor does the University understand why the Abbey has decided to open a private, ecclesiastical debate to the civil courts.
It is with a heavy heart that the University must clarify these facts. The University has had a positive, respectful and unified partnership with the Abbey for decades and through its commitment to the mission, vision and values of its founders, has brought a high-quality Catholic and Benedictine education to a growing number of students around the world.
Benedictine University proudly and consistently represents a Catholic university in the Benedictine traditions. This has not and will not change. The issue of how to maintain the Catholic identity of an institution with the declining number of clergy is an issue for every Catholic institution in the country. Through our membership and connection with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities; our Center for Mission and Identity, which reinforces the Catholic and Benedictine mission, vision and values through collaboration with Abbey trustees and members; programs and teachings of our Theology Department; and innovative partnerships such as the Inter-Faith Youth Core, which has helped the University affirm and strengthen its Catholic identity while welcoming and giving voice to other religions and beliefs within our community, the Catholic identity at Benedictine University has never been stronger.
Because of a decline in clergy and a greater dependence on lay involvement in running the day-to-day operations of the University, decades ago the Abbey monks, through the Abbot, stated that “Catholic and Benedictine” was to be overseen by the Office of the President. Prior to the election of Dr. Brophy as the 11th president, Benedictine University in its more than 128 year history has only had two previous lay presidents: Richard C. Becker, Ph.D., and William J. Carroll, Ph.D. Both took this oversight charge very seriously and had strong partnerships with prior Abbots.
Our founding monks and their successors knew this day would come when there would be few religious and many lay people. To prepare for that day, they trained and taught the lay people well. Many Catholic institutions are facing this dilemma of how to maintain their Catholic identity within the changing frontier of higher education. Benedictine is prepared to do both: face new challenges while maintaining the heritage given to us by the monks. Catholic and Benedictine are alive and well at Benedictine University.
The University’s ultimate goal is to quickly resolve this dispute and move forward with all its strength as a Catholic and Benedictine institution in order to continue to fulfill its mission of providing a values-based liberal arts education that prepares students for a lifetime as active, informed and responsible citizens and leaders in the world community.
We thank you for your continued support and look forward to welcoming Dr. Brophy to the Benedictine University community.
James L. Melsa, Ph.D.
Chair, Benedictine University Board of Trustees
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.