by TaLeiza Calloway
St. John’s University will be led by one of their own in the coming months.
A search committee selected 1981 alumnus Michael Hemesath to serve as the school’s 13th president – a move that for the first time shifts the 155-year tradition of leadership from that of the monks to a layperson. Hemesath will take his post July 1.
Hemesath, 53, graduated from SJU with a degree in economics and holds a master’s and doctorate in economics from Harvard University. He has been on the economics faculty at Carleton since 1989 and has served as faculty president since 2009. Before coming to Carleton, he was on the faculty for two years at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., according to a news release from St. John’s University.
He is honored to return to his alma mater and serve as its leader.
“It’s incredible,” Hemesath said of his appointment. “It’s a real blessing and a gift. It’s not something I ever dreamed would be possible but here it is.”
He brings a unique set of experiences to the position that includes working at an institution outside of St. John’s and having a family. It is these “unique experiences” he says helped the search committee make the selection. The historic shift in power is not lost on Hemesath but it is his goal that it become a seamless transition.
“From my perspective, a successful outcome from this transition three to five years down the road is that no one notices any difference . . .” he said. “This is a legal change, not a philosophical change.”
Continuing to strengthen the relationship between SJU and CSB, as well as helping to navigate the transition between the monastery and the university, are also top areas of focus for him.
What he said he is looking forward to the most is getting to know the community again. He views his new position as a long-term relationship and during his first year that will be his focus: starting the relationship out right by learning what the concerns, issues and passions his fellow community members have for St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict.
He also plans to apply his Benedictine education in his new post.
“The first word of the rule of St. Benedict is ‘listen,’” Hemesath said. “My goal in the first year is to be guided by that philosophy. I want to listen to all parts of the community.”
Hemesath and his family plan to make the move to Collegeville in mid-July. He and his wife, Elizabeth Galbraith, have a 1-year-old son, Cameron. Galbraith is a professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Hemesath is the first lay president to be appointed to a full presidential term at St. John’s University. Daniel Whalen served as interim president from 2008-09.