St. Norbert College appoints Brian Bruess as its eighth president

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | December 14, 2016

Bruess, a St. Norbert alum, succeeds Tom Kunkel

GREEN BAY — The eighth president in the 118-year history of St. Norbert College is returning to a place he called home for four years. Dr.

Brian Bruess (Photo courtesy of St. Norbert College)

(rhymes with “peace”), a 1990 graduate of St. Norbert, was introduced to the college and local community on Dec. 12 in Old St. Joseph Church. Bruess, who will begin in his new position on July 1, will succeed Dr. Tom Kunkel who will retire in May 31 after leading the college for the past nine years.

Bruess, a Monroe, Wis., native, will be only the second St. Norbert graduate to serve as president. Norbertine Fr. Dennis Burke, a 1926 graduate, was the first. Bruess received bachelor’s degrees in sociology and psychology from St. Norbert.

He earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.. Bruess is currently executive vice president and chief operating officer at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. His responsibilities at the university during his 21-year tenure have included enrollment management, student affairs, information technology, athletics, finance and administration. Prior to his position at St. Catherine, he served in a variety of leadership roles at Ohio University.

“I don’t think I would have ever imagined, as a student here, that I would be in this position,” said Bruess. “It was an amazing experience. I was involved in a lot of the richness of the St. Norbert community. I played basketball and was a research assistant for the psychology department for a couple years. It was St. Norbert that encouraged me to think about a vocation in Catholic higher education.”

Bruess became emotional when speaking about the influence of the late Dr. Tom Fasse, a longtime sociology professor at St. Norbert. In an interview with The Compass, he mentioned other professors who stood out while he was an undergrad, including Dr. Ray Zurawski, his advisor; Gerry Mattern, his music appreciation instructor whom he credits for his love of classical music; and the late Fr. Richard Ver Bust, a longtime Compass columnist, who taught Christian ethics.

The new St. Norbert president plans to build on the college’s strong position.

“It’s a matter of continuing that strength of leadership,” he said, “finding new ways to exceed expectations. It’s really a continuation of a lot of partnerships as you see with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette, with the 3-plus-3 law program (enables qualifying St. Norbert undergraduates to enroll at Marquette Law School after completing three years of education).”

Bruess called the St. Norbert partnership with GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education) and Notre Dame Academy, introduced in June of 2015, “visionary.” He was involved with Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“That intersection is very important to me,” he said. “Anything we can do in terms of partnerships to strengthen Catholic education is of value to me.”

Upholding the Catholic mission of the college, while welcoming people of all faith traditions, is another priority, he added.

“Being open and receptive to the faith development of all of our students is a principle notion of our Catholic tradition,” he said. “I have a lot of experience with this because, at St. Catherine, religious diversity is profound with Muslim students, Lutheran students, Catholic students. We think that difference of belief actually creates a more robust, engaging community while maintaining our Catholic tradition and heritage.”

Bruess and his wife, Carol, also a 1990 St. Norbert graduate, have two children: Tony, a junior at Stanford University, and Gracie, a junior in high school. Carol is currently a professor of communication and journalism and director of the family studies program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Bruess looks forward to working in cooperation with the Diocese of Green Bay. He met Bishop David Ricken on the eve of his introduction as the next president.

“We tried to sneak over for 7 p.m. Mass because that was our Mass for students,” he said. “It wasn’t very easy to be discreet, but I was able to meet the bishop. He was presiding at Mass, so that was pretty fun.”

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