Traveling from across the United States, Benedictine Catholic higher education leaders, faculty, and staff gathered at Saint Leo University for the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities' annual conference, June 26 – 28. The week also included the Benedictine Leadership Formation Institute and Benedictine Pedagogy Conference. 


Saint Leo University was founded in 1889 by sisters, priests, and monks of the Order of St. Benedict, and the university’s core values are based on the Rule of St. Benedict and the 10 hallmarks of Benedictine education, focusing on the development of mind, body, and spirit. “Benedictine education is akin to ancient wisdom and traditions in that it stresses the education of the whole person rather than the intellect alone,” the ABCU stated.

This conference differed from traditional academic conferences in that it is “organized such that everyone is invited to listen not only to respected elders in the community, but also to listen to the liturgy,” said Dr. Thomas Humphries, Saint Leo professor of theology and religion, and one of the conference organizers. “We pray together, eat together, and speak together. These are elements of genuine community.” 

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It was the first time in 24 years that Saint Leo has hosted the conference, and Dr. Ed Dadez, university president, welcomed those attending: “Part of our Benedictine traditions, and central to who we are as an institution, is the notion of radical hospitality — opening our hearts and our home, enthusiastically welcoming visitors to join us in community.”

Dadez also gave the ABCU guests some helpful tips for visiting Florida including: “You will be really hot and humid here. Dress the way you like, but know us Floridians will not judge you on what you are wearing.”

In addition to Saint Leo University, conference participants represented the College of St. Scholastica, University of Mary, Mount Marty University, College of Saint Benedict, Saint John’s University, Saint Martin’s University, Saint Vincent College, St. Peter’s College, University of Mary, Belmont Abbey College, Saint Anselm College, Benedictine University, Aquinas College, and Benedictine College.

In the first pedagogy session, Dr. Kevin Vaughan of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, discussed engaging students. “The Rule of Benedict is the most significant for Benedictine education,” he said. But the challenge is “navigating the gap between a sixth century document and our campuses today.” 

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Other presenters for the conference’s pedagogy sessions included Dr. Pat Somers of Benedictine University; Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome of St. John’s University; Dr. Walter Baehrend of Benedictine University; Father Bernard Disco, OSB, of St. Anselm College; Dr. Thomas Humphries of Saint Leo University; Dr. Matthew Tapie of Saint Leo University; Dr. Eugene Torisky of St. Vincent College; Dr. Stephen Okey, interim director of Saint Leo’s new Doctor of Applied Theology  program; Dr. Roger Narloch of the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University; Dr. Scott Johnson of the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University; Dr. Jane Sims and Dr. Amy Nelson of the College of St. Scholastica; Dr. Kathy Magorian of Mount Marty University; Joe Rutten of Mount Marty University; Dr. Julie Dockery and Dr. Julie Cowgill of Benedictine University; and Dr. Tam Dinh, Dr. Jennifer Bonds-Raacke, and Gabriela Hyre of St. Martin’s University. Saint Leo religion and theology instructor Lucas Nocera facilitated a discussion session.

Communicating Benedictine values was the topic for discussion in one of the leadership formation institutes led by Father Nick Kleespie, OSB, of Saint John’s Abbey.


He noted that the participants might be challenged by what students are learning and taking away from the Benedictine values of each institution. “How do they articulate what they have learned and what they become?” he asked.

Kleespie also asked the participants to share what they think their schools are doing well in the area of communicating the Benedictine values. Other leadership formation presenters included Barb Rezac, oblate, OSB, of Mount Marty University; Dr. Nate Dehne of the College of St. Scholastica; Donelle Poling of Saint John’s School of Theology & Seminary; and Cathy Robak of the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University.

Alicia Cordoba, president of Aquinas College, gave the opening keynote address for the conference while Abbot John Klassen, OSB, gave the closing address.


Prayer, worship, and contemplation also made up a large portion of the conference with Abbot Isaac Camacho, OSB, trustee and alumnus of Saint Leo, celebrating Mass, and Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida, leading all in prayer before the opening dinner. Saint Leo professor Humphries led the community in the introduction to Lectio Divina (divine reading), the slow, contemplative form of prayer using text based on Scripture.

As a token of appreciation, Saint Leo University President Ed Dadez presented Patti Epsky, ABCU executive director, and Trisa Schaeffer, assistant director, with a charcuterie board engraved with the ABCU logo, which was made by Robin Lavalle, Dining Services manager for Saint Leo.  


 “Made of oak wood from one of our very own trees on campus, we hope this can begin a tradition of documenting the name of the host institution on the bottom of the board along with the year of the conference,” Dadez said. “May ABCU continue to be our strength, stability, and shelter as we advance our institutional missions, educate our students, and spread God’s love.”