Portrait Unveiled in St. John Paul II Student Center

Remarks Note the Importance of John Paul to Benedictine College

On the vigil of Saint John Paul II’s first feast day as a saint, Benedictine College chaplain Father Brendan Rolling and President Stephen D. Minnis unveiled a portrait that will be displayed in the St. John Paul II Student Center. Following are President Minnis’ remarks on the occasion.

Thank you Fr. Brendan for providing that beautiful opening prayer.

This is a great day at Benedictine College.

The unveiling of the portrait of St. John Paul II in the student center named for him on the eve of his first Feast Day as a Saint, is significant. This comes on the heels of the college naming and dedicating this very building to St. John Paul II on the day of his canonization — April 27, 2014.

St. John Paul II’s impact on this college — and on me personally — goes back to the very beginning of his pontificate.

St. John Paul II became Pope the year I was a freshman at Benedictine, and his reign as Pope ended during my first year back as President.

My sophomore year, in 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the United States. He stopped in all the great American cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago … and Altoona, Iowa.

A group of students from Benedictine College decided to see him there. The trip took three and a half hours, the bus commandeered by Fr. Matthew Habinger and Fr. Denis Meade almost ran out of gas on the way home, and Benedictine College students were part of the almost million people on a farm in Iowa to see this new Pope. Fortunately, I was one of those students.

Seeing this towering man of virtue and courage so close to home made a huge impact on me. In fact, when I became president of Benedictine College I was inspired to repeat his message of “Be not Afraid” in my inauguration speech laying out plans for the college.

About 11 years after I saw him in Iowa, in 1990, Benedictine College’s enrollment was at its lowest point ever. That was the year that Pope John Paul II promulgated Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), his transformative Apostolic Constitution governing Catholic colleges and universities. The powerful ideas in that beautiful document helped many universities strengthen the core reasons for their success. It was a new blueprint on how a Catholic college should be run — emphasizing being faithfully Catholic and academically excellent. And it was a blueprint Benedictine College decided to follow and still follows today. When Ex Corde Ecclesiae was promulgated, we had 570 students. This year we welcomed over 1800.

Then, in 1993, Pope John Paul II held World Youth Day in Denver. This visit was pivotal to many vocations in the Church.

A Future Chaplain and a Future Abbot

Paul Rolling and his friends made a road trip there. He says the experience of seeing the Holy Father gave him joy in his heart and tears in his eyes, and he says John Paul II is the reason he became a priest — now our own Fr. Brendan Rolling.

We are glad he did, because Father Brendan implemented John Paul’s theology of the body in our student life policies, and built one of the best college ministry programs in the United States.

There was another Raven who went to World Youth Day in Denver: Jim Albers. We know him now as Abbot James Albers, the abbot who consecrated Benedictine College to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in imitation of John Paul’s motto, Totus Tuus (All Yours).

John Paul’s energy and enthusiasm has driven so much at Benedictine College.

The college’s landmark document Benedictine 2020: A Vision for Greatness defines its academic goals by quoting John Paul: “As a Catholic college, we consider faith and reason as ‘two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth.’ [John Paul II, Fides et Ratio]”

This building represents St. John Paul II’s impact in several ways.

Built in the year 1996, the building was built during the pontificate of John Paul and represented a turning point for the college.

The St. John Paul II Student Center houses the heart and soul of the college’s community life.

This building captures the spirit of John Paul II in its very variety: It is a place that embraces his love of sports, his love of art, his passion for the theater, and his embrace of student life.

It is also a great opportunity for us to honor one of the great leaders of our time. St. John Paul II had a huge impact on our world.

  • He revitalized the faith by creating the first Catechism of the Catholic Church since 1566.
  • He promoted peace by helping defeat Soviet Communism.
  • He helped create the pro-life movement by his strong defense of life.
  • He promoted the rosary, Divine Mercy and Eucharistic Adoration.
  • He promoted Ecumenism and made huge strides for the unity of Christians.
  • He promoted strong interreligious relations, particularly with the Jewish community.
  • And he popularized the term the “new evangelization,” helping Catholics all over the world understand their mission in the world.

So it is very appropriate that a building be named after St. John Paul II at Benedictine College, the Flagship College of the New Evangelization.

The naming of this building the St. John Paul II Student Center was the vision of Fr. Brendan Rolling, the Chaplain of Benedictine College and David Trotter, the Director for Mission and Ministry at Benedictine College.

Description of the Portrait

We were excited to dedicate this building in that Saint’s name and now equally excited to unveil a portrait of St. John Paul II to hang in the stairway of this building. We have asked Fr. Brendan Rolling, David Trotter, Dr. Linda Henry, Vice-President of Student Life and Dr. Joe Wurtz, Dean of Students to do the honors.

Will you now unveil the portrait.

This portrait of St. John Paul II was painted by Dawna Gardner from Maine. She is the same painter that painted the portrait of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta that hangs in the Mother Teresa Center for Nursing and Health Education and was unveiled on her 100th Birthday in 2010.

A picture of John Paul II was used as the model for this painting by Dawna Gardner, chosen by the college. It is significant for a couple of reasons.

First, the original photograph did not have him holding a Rosary, but his love of Our Lady and the commitment this college has to the Rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary inspired us to ask her to add it.

The second inspiration was from the homily by Fr. Brendan on the day of the naming of this building—the day of the canonization of St. John Paul II.

During that homily, Fr. Brendan told the story of the day, in 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in an attempted assassination. As the Pope began to fall, he looked up to the sky and saw an image of our Lady, the woman to whom he had dedicated his papacy. Even though the gunshot wounds would be very dangerous, the Pope said that he knew because of the image of His Mother, that he would survive.

It was that story inspired by Fr. Brendan’s homily that caused this portrait to be painted in this manner. This painting will hang in the stairway leading from the second floor to the first floor of this building. And because of its placement, the portrait of St. John Paul II, will have his hand raised and his eyes looking in the direction of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Grotto—forever having the image of His Mother before him.

This is a significant and meaningful piece of art for this building and for the campus.

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 honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.