Alumnae Relations celebrates 100
A century ago, St. Kate’s formed an association to connect with its alumnae. Today, the University engages with over 47,000 diverse graduates. Karen Jothen MAOL’06, Alumnae Relations director, and Ruth Haag Brombach ’60, alumnae liaison and former director, reflect on the ways St. Kate’s supports its growing community.
Q: Let's start with how long you've been at St. Kate's, and your roles.
Jothen: I've been here five years — only five years, and I say that because Ruth has been here much longer, which is why we often refer to her as our institutional memory! Ruth, why don't you share with Lizzie how long you've been here.
Brombach: I worked as a volunteer from 1963 to 1972 and then in 1972, I began to work part-time for the then-director Sister Marie Ursule. In November of that year, she died a very sudden death. So, of course, what to do what a big question. To boil down a couple of months into two sentences: we always had a religious sister as the director, but no one was available. That meant we had to change our constitution and do things differently. I said I could keep things going, and then in March-April, I applied for the job. I became director of the alumnae association in April 1973 and served in that role until 2010.
Q: Who started Alumnae Relations?
Brombach: Sister Antonia McHugh, who was dean of St. Kate’s in 1917, displayed a routine throughout her administrative years of looking at more developed colleges and universities, and adapting their practices. So, it’s not surprising that she planned a meeting of graduates after commencement on June 7. That was the beginning of alumnae relations, or the alumnae association as they actually called it at that time.
Q: How many graduates were there?
Brombach: We had between 16 and 20 at the start, but they were an active group. Over the next 13 years, the membership grew and they approved a constitution, initiated a newsletter, celebrated the first memorial Mass, held homecoming and sent representatives to regional meetings.
Q: What were Mother Antonia’s reasons for establishing the association?
Brombach: She wanted to provide an avenue for people to keep in touch with one another, to foster recruitment of new students and, ultimately, to provide financial help to the institution. Although we do so much more today, our core reasons for being haven’t changed since those early years.
Q: How do you serve the community today?
Jothen: Our graduates represent a much more diverse population than they did even 25 years ago. Our College for Women is made up of 41 percent students of color and, unlike before, we also serve associate and graduate students. The way we communicate with alumnae has also certainly changed. We've gone from strictly print to using a variety of social media platforms.
Brombach: Last fall, we initiated a four-part online continuing education series that graduates can participate in at their convenience. Way back, when alumnae were available during the day, they came to a meeting at 10 in the morning and stayed for the day. Now, people are very busy and we structure our activities and events in the evening or weekends. As women’s lives have changed over the years, we have wanted to accommodate those changes. That’s part of our job — to be as creative as we can be.
Q. How has your work stayed the same?
Jothen: We continue to offer signature events we know alumnae appreciate, including Reunion, Conversation with Books and Home for the Holidays. Plus, we offer young alumnae networking and professional development opportunities like Katie Smarts and Katies Connect. Our service extends to current students as well. We pair them with alumnae in The Reflective Woman interviews and during our Citizen Katie day of service. One other responsibility is supporting the University’s mission and vision. We do this through the Alumnae Council and its 14 working groups. For example, our College for Adults Committee helps the administration shape curriculum and services for adult students.
Brombach: Going back in history again — we’ve always helped to address needs where they existed. Our religious Sisters were not allowed to solicit money, so alumnae said they would — and in the 1950s, the association began the annual fund. We organized and held Fontbonne Fairs in Fontbonne Hall to raise money for building St. Joseph Hall, which is now Coeur de Catherine. We ran the first mailroom because we generated the most mail. Now all of those tasks fall under different departments here at St. Catherine — the Office of Development and the Post Office, for example. Back then, these tasks were generally run by alumnae volunteers; sometimes in part by alumnae staff.
Q: Speaking of fundraising, why is it important for alums to donate?
Brombach: External organizations, like banks, foundations and research organizations, consider alumnae giving as they evaluate St. Kate’s for a loan, a grant or in ranking us as compared to peer universities. So, it's critical that our alumnae be engaged in the institution and show that engagement. That participation is a critical number in our institutional life.
Q: What is the percentage of alumnae giving?
Brombach: Today, it’s about 10 percent.
Q. Is that typical?
Jothen: We would like to increase it. Other private institutions average 20 to 50 percent alumnae who donate.
Q: Okay, that makes sense. Let's talk about feedback. What do you hear most often from St. Kate's alums?
Jothen: How grateful they are for their education! Our graduates often talk about how deeply they care for St. Kate’s. In fact, they will say that their lives were transformed in their education here.
Q. What are your plans for the anniversary year?
Jothen: We’re working out the details — but given that Sister Antonia invited a group of graduates in June to create an alumnae organization, we felt that it would be appropriate to have a yearlong anniversary beginning this June and ending in May 2018.
Brombach: We’ll have fun at Reunion 2017! We will have a display that will include the high points of the accomplishments of all the University presidents through Sister Andrea Lee, and we’re going to weave in the assistance of alumnae over those years.
Jothen: Our annual Alumnae Evening with the President will likely be the grand finale. Alumnae, particularly in our backyard, enjoy this event, which is held on the St. Paul campus.
Brombach: We will also live stream it to alumnae in our chapters so they can participate.
Q: OK. So, final question: what is the chemistry between alumnae leadership and positive results?
Jothen: Katies are doers; they always jump in when we need them. We've seen their determination to engage with the Alumnae Council. We’ve witnessed their engagement with students. Our alumnae really enjoy those projects that put them and students shoulder-to-shoulder or across the table from each other.
Brombach: Over and over again, and I've been at this a while, I am continually re-amazed — I’ll make up that word — at the energy and dedication of our people. This is volunteer work, and many of them are very interested in the future of St. Catherine. They’re very interested in making a difference, and that goes back to them being doers. All you have to do is say what you need, and someone will say, "well, I know how to do that." I’ve always said we have been blessed in every period with the talent needed to resolve challenges as they arise. We’ve had wonderfully talented leaders both on the committees, on the boards, on the council now — people who take up whatever has to be done.
Jothen: That's why our anniversary will also celebrate their leadership contributions and dedication to St. Kate’s. Watch for more information in your emails and mailboxes!
Learn more about Alumnae Relations.