Opening Doors Campaign exceeds $500 million goal, despite recession

The recession may have been a factor making it hard to fundraise for some nationwide university campaigns, but it wasn’t for St. Thomas’ Opening Doors since they closed it $15 million over the $500 million goal. The St. Thomas community joined together Wednesday, Oct. 17, evening to celebrate the end of the Opening Doors Campaign, raising $515,104,773 for the university.

The Anderson Field House was transformed into a black-tie banquet hall for 650 donors to the campaign, a small portion of the total 43,539 who donated. While the $500 million goal was exceeded, the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, said it was a relief to be celebrating, as there was concern about the success of the campaign early on.

“I’ve been thinking about this for years, especially during the recession when we were stressing out about making our $500 million goal,” Dease said. “To get here tonight and to see that we’re going to have a party, for me, it’s as good as it gets. I’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time.”

The Opening Doors Campaign began in 2005, and went public in 2007, just before the economic downturn. Dease said there were some doubts along the way, but with the help of the St. Thomas community, the Opening Doors campaign was an enormous success.

“There were those who thought we should set a more realistic goal, but in the end we decided to go for it,” Dease said. “It is a tribute to our benefactors, alumni, and all who have been generous with us. They weren’t going to let a big thing like the Great Recession deter us from achieving our goals, and I find that very humbling.”

Opening Doors ended with nearly $254 million raised for financial aid and academic programs, and another $176 million for construction and renovations. It also raised $52 million in other restricted gifts and $32 million for the Annual Fund.

A campaign co-chair Richard Schulze said the financial aid raised would give students many opportunities in the future.

“Scholarships not only open doors, but also keep them open,” Schulze said. “I have seen it happen time and time again: Students arrive confident but a bit unsure of themselves and their new environment, and mature into young adults ready to take on the world.”

Some of the more noticeable changes to campus came from the Opening Doors construction funds, including the building of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, Student Center, and Parking Facility, expansion of Sitzmann Hall and Gainey Conference Center, and funds to renovate the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“The beauty of our campus and quality of its facilities have become a St. Thomas hallmark,” Steve Hoeppner, executive director of development, said. “But from the start, this campaign was not about the appearance of our buildings… but what goes on inside them.”

The campaign reached its goal with the help of three gifts of more than $50 million each, two made anonymously. When matched, the challenge grants collectively added $90 million to the campaign and pushed the total beyond the $500 million goal.

“While the big gifts were significant to our success, equally so were the tens of thousands of our alumni and friends who contributed what they could,” John Morrison, co-chair of the Opening Doors campaign, said. “The spirit, breadth and depth of this campaign were unprecedented.”

Dease, who will retire in 2013 after 22 years as university president, said the St. Thomas trustees played a huge role in exceeding the Opening Doors campaign. Trustee Lee Anderson and his wife Penny donated $60 million at the beginning of the campaign, helping to underwrite three major construction projects on St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus.

“Our trustees were nothing short of heroic,” Dease said. “They knew from the start that raising $500 million was going to be a challenge, but they never wavered.”

The university honored the four Opening Doors co-chairs at Wednesday’s dinner. John Morrison and Richard Schulze received the Archbishop John Ireland Award for their contributions to higher education. Susan Morrison and Maureen Schulze received honorary doctor of humane letters degrees.

The Opening Doors campaign is the most successful fundraising campaign of any private institution of higher education in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North and South Dakota.

The Opening Doors Campaign final goal is larger than St. Thomas’s four previous campaigns combined, which was $359.5 million.

They were: “Ever Press Forward,” completed in 2001, which raised $250 million; “Century II,” completed in 1991, which raised $83.1 million; “Priorities for the ’80s,” completed in 1982, which raised $20.1 million; and “Program for Great Teaching,” completed in 1965, which raised $6.3 million.

Mark Dienhart, executive vice president and chief operating officer of St. Thomas and director of the campaign, thanked students, faculty and staff for their contributions, and praised St. Thomas employees for their effectiveness in raising funds, holding events and communicating about the campaign.

“Many, many people have been engaged in this effort for the better part of a decade,” Dienhart said, “and their good work has created a lasting impact on this institution.”

Gabrielle Martinson can be reached at

8 Replies to “Opening Doors Campaign exceeds $500 million goal, despite recession”

  1. The Opening Doors campaign has been completed and was more successful than anyone could have imagined.  Despite this, and despite the fact that a new School for the Arts was one of the priorities listed on the Opening Doors Campaign web page for the past four years, Music still resides in the outdated and insufficient Brady Educational Center.  This is despite huge growth in numbers as well as national success and recognition in the Music Department.  Thank you, St. Thomas, for working so hard to adhere to the “priorities” laid out at the beginning of the campaign.  

  2. Steven,

    They were according to the Opening Doors website, where it was included in the list of priorities for the campaign.  I didn’t just make that one up ;)

  3. Uff da, Steven.  That’s quite the assertion.  Arts (music specifically), an ACADEMIC subject at an ACADEMIC institution, should never be a priority?  Arts are not just fun and games; they are a legitimate field of study, just like English, Theology, Business, etc.  If priority at an academic institution should not be given to academic subjects, then what should it be given to?  Art has and always will hold a central place in the human experience.  It is important, and should be placed at the same priority level as other parts of the human experience.  

  4. I’m in favor of funding arts programs, but the university can’t force donors to contribute to initiatives they don’t want to. Perhaps it was overambitious to include a new School for the Arts in such a large campaign with so many options that may appeal more to donors.

  5. It looks like this entire discussion was premature.

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