Outgoing president’s faith touted as benefit to University

Faith and Service
November 27, 2023

Extending the Marianist mission

by Nathaniel Miller

Getting up from his seat in the Bill Greehey Arena, St. Mary’s University President Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., made his way to the stage and walked up to the podium like he’s done more than a few times since June 2012.

Addressing St. Mary’s students, staff and faculty in August 2023 during the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, also known as Opening School Mass, Mengler restated the importance of the Catholic and Marianist mission, focusing on the formation of faith.

“As Christians, the way of servant leadership modeled by our teacher and Lord becomes our own,” Mengler said. “All that is asked on our part is faithfulness to love God and neighbor.”

Since being selected as the University’s 13th president — the second layperson to hold the position — Mengler’s goal has been to make St. Mary’s not just a top-notch Catholic institution in the Southwest, but a premier university where people can “revitalize and expand” what makes exceptional Catholics and servant leaders.

Sharing the St. Mary’s mission

In pursuit of this mission, Mengler, along with his wife, Mona Mengler, have been recognized by members of the Catholic community inside and outside of the University.

“I have come to know Tom and Mona very well over the past decade — they are faith-filled Catholics who put their faith into action — not only in the outstanding efforts they make on behalf of St. Mary’s University, but in many other fields,” said the Most Rev. Gustavo García-Siller, M.Sp.S., Archbishop of San Antonio. “They do this quietly and without fanfare.”

Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., speaks at the 60th annual Red Mass.
Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., speaks at the 60th annual Red Mass.

Despite his humble demeanor, Mengler still brought fanfare to the accomplishments and new additions to the University in its pursuit of expanding Catholic studies and reinforcing Catholic Intellectual Tradition.

In a February 2014 speech, Mengler shared his vision for St. Mary’s to expand the education of Marianist values to prepare for a future in which those teachings can be continued and extended by laypeople, in addition to priests and brothers.

In that same speech, Mengler announced two new endowments, one supporting research initiatives for Theology and Philosophy faculty, and another funding student scholarships for studying peace and social justice. Mengler also announced the acquisition of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible and the establishment of the Escobedo Saint John’s Bible Lecture Series, funded by Ruben Escobedo (B.B.A. ’60) and his wife, Veronica Salazar Escobedo.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illustrated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine abbey since the invention of the printing press. The Heritage Edition owned by the University is a high-quality reproduction of the seven-volume set, one of only 299 created.

To bring the work to life for the community, the Escobedo Saint John’s Bible Lecture Series draws biblical scholars to campus to share knowledge on topics enhancing intellectual development and spiritual growth. Martin Beirne (J.D. ’69), St. Mary’s University Trustee Emeritus — who has a passion for Catholic Intellectual Tradition and endowed the Beirne Director of the Center for Catholic Studies with a $1 million gift — considers the Escobedo Saint John’s Bible Lecture Series part of what helps make the University a beacon for Catholic teachings.

“In a world we live in that can seem full of negativism, we need people out there explaining what faith is about, who people of faith are and what they can do,” Beirne said.

Building a strong foundation

Being offered a chance to support Mengler’s vision for further infusing the Catholic Intellectual Tradition into education, Beirne and his wife, Kathleen Beirne, could not pass up the invitation.

The University established the Beirne Director and the Center for Catholic Studies in 2018. The Center enables faculty, staff, alumni and students to deepen their understanding of Marianist education and the Southwest. The Center’s events include the Escobedo Saint John’s Bible Lecture Series, the MacTaggart Catholic Intellectual Tradition Lecture Series and the Lin Great Speakers Series. Another area for teaching and implementing Catholic Intellectual Tradition involves planning how St. Mary’s can embrace environmental sustainability.

St. Mary's University acquires the Heritage Edition of The Saint John's Bible in September 2013.
St. Mary’s University acquires the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible in September 2013.

Heeding Pope Francis’ call regarding the moral and ethical reasons for environmentalism, Mengler led the University to become the first in Texas to pledge to be part of the international Laudato Si’ seven-year action plan in November 2021.

“In making this commitment, President Mengler has not only highlighted a focus on environmental sustainability that aligns with our Marianist mission, but he has positioned our University to address the concerns and meet the needs of current and future members of the St. Mary’s community,” said David Turner, Ph.D., Chair of the St. Mary’s Laudato Si’ committee and Professor of Environmental Science.

Jason King, Ph.D., the Beirne Director of the Center for Catholic Studies who joined St. Mary’s in June, said sustainability objectives rooted in Catholicism, resources dedicated to achieving goals in the Marianist traditions and Mengler’s support for the director role inspired him to apply. King was previously the Irene S. Taylor Endowed Chair for Catholic Family Studies and the Director of Core Curriculum at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

“Tom’s gift to St. Mary’s is his own personal Catholic faith and how he allowed that faith to play itself out in his leadership at St. Mary’s,”

The Rev. John Thompson, S.M., Ed.D

“When I was considering the job, I asked people about President Mengler’s leadership at St. Mary’s University,” King said. “Everyone I spoke to said he took the school’s Catholic identity seriously and made St. Mary’s a model for other institutions.”

Strengthening the West Side

The St. Mary’s community is not contained within the campus’ gates. Students armed with paint brushes, rakes and good intentions head out into the city to do works of service for nonprofit organizations. The University also invites residents to run or walk in the StMU 5K for the Neighborhood each fall. A faith-based leadership and service program called the Marianist Leadership Program cultivates and nurtures family spirit while allowing students to focus on faith and leadership.

In 2023, the Continuing the Heritage Day of Service celebrated 26 years of service. The event has empowered about 13,500 volunteers to donate time and energy to local nonprofits over the past quarter-century.

Students perform community service during Continuing the Heritage in August 2023.
Students perform community service during Continuing the Heritage in August 2023.

Looking to expand support for services in the neighborhood near St. Mary’s, the StMU 5K became a running success, contributing to the health of the community as well as raising funds for those in need.

Since 2017, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, located next to campus, has received $75,000 from funds raised during the event. That money helps the church pay for operational expenses, unexpected repairs and for high school students to attend the Marianist LIFE summer program, a faith formation experience.

The Rev. John Thompson, S.M., Ed.D., the University’s Vice President for Mission, pastored the Holy Rosary congregation for four years prior to joining St. Mary’s.

Seeing opportunities for community outreach, Thompson said Marianist Leadership Program students are offered opportunities to work with the church and, over the years, Holy Rosary has seen an increase in student attendance. Nicolas Romero (B.S. ’20), an alumnus of the Marianist Leadership Program and a former President’s Ambassador, said the organization educates students about servant leadership. Romero added he had a chance to see Mengler’s management style up close as a President’s Ambassador.

Now a mechanical engineer in Cleveland, Romero said he uses what he learned every day — particularly the importance of keeping your word.

“If President Mengler said he was going to do something, he did it,” Romero said.

Thompson said it’s evident Mengler, as a lay leader, uses his strong Catholic faith as a compass when it comes to guiding the University.

“Tom’s gift to St. Mary’s is his own personal Catholic faith and how he allowed that faith to play itself out in his leadership at St. Mary’s,” Thompson said.

Read more about President Thomas M. Mengler's tenure at St. Mary's University

Retiring President Thomas M. Mengler leaves lasting mark

Over the course of 12 years, Thomas Mengler — the second most famous face of St. Mary's behind Rattler Man — shared his vision of expanding the University’s Catholic and Marianist traditions.

Integrating Catholic Intellectual Tradition helps students become critical thinkers

Focusing on educating students to think beyond themselves, the core curriculum is instrumental to giving them a liberal arts education integrated with Catholic and Marianist values.

Big grants and revamped career services enhance the student experience

Through grants and a realigned career services office, the University’s faculty and staff continuously look to improve the college experience, give hands-on learning opportunities and pinpoint a vocation that aligns with students’ passions.

Mengler’s steadfast work helps The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign reach new heights

The success of St. Mary’s University’s largest campaign didn’t happen without President Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., logging thousands of miles, shaking hundreds of hands and emphatically sharing a vision about the future of its campus and schools.

Board Chair reflects on President Tom Mengler’s tenure

Nearly a dozen years of visionary leadership and unwavering dedication have reshaped St. Mary’s University under the guidance of President Thomas M. Mengler, J.D.

Presidential duo creates 12 memorable years at St. Mary’s helm

Since 2012, Tom and Mona Mengler have embraced St. Mary's University, the Marianist charism and San Antonio. The couple shares their thoughts on what the University's community has meant to them.

St. Mary’s community speaks about Tom and Mona Mengler’s tenure

As Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., prepares to retire as the 13th president of St. Mary’s University, those who worked closest with him and his wife share their thoughts on the couple.

Back to top