Google Custom
CivicLifeSportsSchoolsBusinessFoodOur HomesLetters/OpinionsCalendar

Published July 4th, 2012
Years of Yearning - The Making of Modern Saint Mary's College
By Sophie Braccini
Brother Mel Anderson Photo Sophie Braccini

When he walks about the college where he still lives and teaches The Great Books, the tall silhouette of Brother Mel Anderson cannot be mistaken or ignored. But many of the students who roam the grounds today may not know that for nearly 30 years this man led Saint Mary's slowly and steadily over the troubled waters of the '70s, '80s and '90s. He introduced such novelties as co-education, created bigger and better business schools and the school of education, resisted the attraction of extreme change where he thought the College would lose its Catholic identity, turned Saint Mary's into a profitable institution, and shepherded the emergence of the College mission statement that contains words he hopes to see turn into reality in the 21st century.
The book he wrote about his presidency, Years of Yearning, is a personal depiction of the challenges and the politics that existed in higher education from 1969 to 1997 and tells a large part of the history of the local college.
"I was asked to take the head of the college starting in '69, at a time of great societal change," said the Brother. During the '60s the College moved away from the Catholic tradition. It was the time of the civil rights movement, the nearby Berkeley campus was a center for activism against the Vietnam War and Saint Mary's was pulled in.
"My view was more traditional," said Brother Mel. "Changes were becoming too drastic, the teachings too secularized. It was a time of chaos in higher education, and I was told that I was chosen as president because of my understanding of the philosophy of the College."
Maintaining the core ethos of Saint Mary's guided Brother Mel's actions throughout his life: How can Christian values shed their light in a liberal education? How can we invite discussions and debates, while staying true to the Gospel of Christ? "There are some important questions that are raised today in the world," he said. "A Catholic Liberal Arts University has the mission of making sense of our world from our religious perspective."
This does not mean that Brother Mel disliked change, in fact he invited it. "I knew that this college had to become co-ed," he said. The transition from a male-only institution to one that welcomed women was not too hard. Brother Mel remembered a few acerbic remarks the first year, such as "here come the skirts," but they were soon forgotten and today Saint Mary's, like most colleges, has more female than male students.
Accepting women allowed the Brother to revitalize a program that was limping along: the School of Education. "There was no high quality school for future teachers in Contra Costa County," he recalled. After the School of Education, Brother Mel wanted to start an MBA program. "The idea was opposed by some members of the faculty assembly who said that business did not [belong] in a liberal arts college." But the MBA project prevailed.
Brother Mel initiated other changes on campus such as the School of Nursing, the internationalization of the campus, and the creation of a vocational program for older adults that was partially transferred to the University of Phoenix. "As we added students and schools, we had to build new structures," he said. The president tried to keep the campus as a work of art and hired a Japanese architect that had a sense of John J. Donovan's original design.
In his book, Brother Mel noted how each change required balancing the dynamic of the different powers on campus, explaining that major changes are decided by the Board of Trustees, and that when faculty votes, the president simply has a veto power.
As the college developed, Brother Mel said that he strived to maintain the spiritual focus of the college. "We needed to clarify our vision as the college grew," he said. He refers to Pope John Paul II text Ex Corde Ecclesiae text that says that from the heart of the Church comes the University. "We need controversy and adversary position; that makes the Church stronger," he said, "but we need to have a strong core of Catholic thinkers in the College who represent our Lasallian values."
As part of the preservation of the spiritual persona of the College one of the most important tasks of Brother Mel's tenure was the definition of the mission statement: "To probe deeply the mystery of existence by cultivating the ways of knowing and the arts of thinking. To affirm and foster the Christian understanding of the human person which animates the educational mission of the Catholic Church. To create a student-centered educational community whose members support one another with mutual understanding and respect."
Brother Mel said he would have liked to preside over the entire implementation of the mission, but added, "Those who sow the seeds are not those who reap the harvest." And this is where the title of his book comes from - the yearning to see his dream finally take shape.
Today Brother Mel continues to live on campus and participates in the Great Books program that's opened to students, alumni and the community. His book can be purchased in the campus' bookstore.


print story

Before you print this article, please remember that it will remain in our archive for you to visit anytime.
download pdf
(use the pdf document for best printing results!)

Send your comment to:
Reach the reporter at:

Quick Links for LamorindaWeekly.com
send artwork to:
Classified ads
Lamorinda Service Directory
About us and How to Contact us
Letter to the Editor
Send stories or ideas to:
Send sports stories and photos to:
Subscribe to receive a delivered or mailed copy
Subscribe to receive storylinks by email
Our Homes

Copyright Lamorinda Weekly, Moraga CA