College celebrates 70th anniversary of Phi Beta Kappa chapter Oct. 29
The gold key is the symbol of Phi Beta Kappa, representing a tradition of academic excellence dating to the society's founding in 1776.

College celebrates 70th anniversary of Phi Beta Kappa chapter Oct. 29

The College of St. Catherine’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa turns 70 this year, and the college threw a birthday party for it Oct. 29.

Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in the United States, is an institutional symbol of a strong liberal arts foundation. The society was founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1776.

The St. Kate's chapter, Gamma of Minnesota, admitted its first members in the spring of 1938. Over its 70-year history, the chapter has admitted over 1,100 members, who have become notable in many professions and the community as a whole.

To mark the occasion, members of the St. Kate’s chapter gave away free cake in the cafeterias of the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses over the lunch hour. A reception for current and former Phi Beta Kappa inductees and faculty members was held in Rauenhorst Ballroom in the evening. The event was attended by over 150 alumnae and current students.

Jane Lamm Carroll ’80, associate professor of history and president of the St. Kate's chapter, spoke about the history of the society at St. Kate's. President Andrea J. Lee, IHM, spoke about the strong tradition of liberal arts at St. Kate's. Alan Silva, dean of arts and sciences, served as emcee for the event.

The importance of liberal arts

More than just preparing students to enter the work force, a liberal arts education is holistic — it provides a broad base of knowledge and produces well-rounded graduates.

“Education at St. Catherine's is unique because it is based in the liberal arts — St. Catherine's education is more than just taking library courses and becoming a librarian, or taking nursing courses and becoming a nurse,” says Ruth Brombach, director of the College of St. Catherine Alumnae Association.

Membership in Phi Beta Kappa is contingent on being an undergraduate liberal arts major and having a questioning mind, a central component of a liberal arts education.

In addition to recognizing excellence in liberal arts, Phi Beta Kappa provides members with a renewed sense of duty and a commitment to serve others.

"Being a member of Phi Beta Kappa says something about your achievements, but also shows your commitment to the liberal arts and sciences," says Carroll. "It's about a life-long commitment to learning and promoting education."

These ideals ring true for many St. Kate's alumnae and Phi Beta Kappa members.

“Membership in Phi Beta Kappa, while giving a sense of pride, reminds me that I have been given many gifts that been to be given back through my work, personal relationships and family life,” said Phi Beta Kappa member Kathleen Gunderson Borgen ’79.

Building a reputation

Becoming a Phi Beta Kappa institution was a priority very early in the college’s history.

Sister Antonia McHugh, president of the college from 1919–1937, was committed to seeing the College of St. Catherine recognized among the most prestigious educators of women in the liberal arts. Becoming a Phi Beta Kappa institution was a key part of building that reputation.

Phi Beta Kappa requires excellence in the liberal arts, central to tradition at St. Kate’s — but getting a chapter wasn’t easy. Initially applying in 1921, the college was rejected by the society because of concern surrounding its affiliation with the Catholic Church.

Determined to prove St. Kate’s deserved a chapter, Sr. Antonia enlisted the help of the president of the University of Minnesota, who became a strong advocate of the college.

As a result of this effort, in 1937 St. Kate’s became the first Catholic institution of higher education in the United States to receive a charter for a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

St. Kate’s remained the only Catholic Phi Beta Kappa institution nationwide until 1941. It was the only Catholic women's college until Trinity College (Washington, D.C.) was chartered in 1971 — a span of 34 years. St. Kate’s remains the only Catholic college or university in Minnesota with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

At St. Kate’s, Phi Beta Kappa has become a symbol of the college’s strong tradition and commitment to liberal arts education. Eight of the ten presidents of St. Kate's have been Phi Beta Kappa members.

“From the very beginning, we weren’t just sending people out to get a job, but we were educating women,” says Brombach. “Educated women should have a background in science, theology, literature, music, and so on.”

By Andy Ferron
Oct. 29, 2007

Contact Andy Ferron, (651) 690-6831

More Living the Liberal Arts »