Recent Communications

Various communications have been sent to students, faculty and staff, and parents throughout this preparation period.

The most recent communications are provided below. This page will be updated as further communications are shared.

Messages from Father James Burns

Dear Saint Mary’s Community,

The events of the past weeks have caused ever greater reflection on my part and have brought me deeper into the mystery of Lent as that time of interior preparation for the hope that is Easter. I have been particularly struck by this line from Mark 1:35, “At daybreak, Jesus left the town and went off to a lonely place to pray.” This may feel in many ways like our own personal experience. We have had to leave town and go to an “alone” place, even a “lonely” place. Of course, a key difference is that we have gone off not of our own choosing but due to external events. Yet here we are. Perhaps the challenge for many of us now is, how we find God in these events and through the experiences that surround us and people who are around us? How do we find the sacred and the good in these alone and lonely places we are now faced with?

A lesson recounted from the life of Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty (essentially a Dorothy Day of Canada) is instructive here. She came to Canada as a Russian noblewoman and refugee. After her husband died, she arranged for her son’s education, sold everything, and went to live in the slums of Toronto. There she served those who were considered society’s outcasts. Later she wrote a book titled Poustinia. Poustinia is Russian for “desert,” but it means more than a physical place; it means an isolated place where a person can pray in solitude, uninterrupted. Like Jesus, Catherine de Hueck Doherty sought solitude to pray and reflect — to hear the still small voice of God urging her (and now us) to understand His will. How many people have had to go off to an alone place in order to receive enlightenment and even refreshment for the task and life ahead? How much good has come by way of literature, art, inventions, new thinking, new ways of being together, from going away to think, pray and reflect?  Would Baroness de Hueck have been able to give us her works had she not spent time in that lonely, deserted place where the Spirit of God was more fully present to her without interruption?  The modern poet Carl Sandburg said, “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.” Perhaps we might ask ourselves what of our current situation lends itself to creative solitude?

I am also conscious at this time that on March 17 we remembered Saint Patrick and were mindful of Founders’ Day. Both Saint Patrick and our founders witnessed many times of solitude and aloneness in which they had to come face to face with daunting tasks, whether being taken from one’s home against one’s will as Saint Patrick was or facing the realities, at times quite challenging, of running Lasallian schools as our founders did. In the still of these silent moments, when they were all alone, they were confronted with what God was asking of them, for their good and their neighbors. Could they have achieved all that they did without this silent, still time away?

Further, having just received a beautiful letter of encouragement, trust, and faith, in my work and yours, from the Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Brother Robert Schieler, FSC, I am sustained in my belief that the way we are doing all that we do has such great value and import, even if we now work remotely. To quote Brother Superior, “… [as] we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. Choosing him as the patron of our Institute, Saint La Salle did so because he believed Saint Joseph demonstrated that he possessed the qualities and virtues needed for the responsibilities entrusted to him by God. I believe God has entrusted you with the qualities and virtues necessary to guide the university through this crisis.” He wrote this for the Feast of Saint Joseph, which is today, March 19. As I find myself looking out my office window in Winona at Saint Joseph’s Hall, this letter and the figure of Saint Joseph are reminders that much of what we do is done in that silent, strong, assured but sometimes lonely place with God. In this time away from our community, great things are not only possible but the greatest among these is possible, specifically, the attainment of all things for the greatest Good.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we have been granted this time that we are now living in because the greatest Good could only happen in that still, deserted, lonely, lovely place with God. You all remain in my prayers during these quiet days. I remain full of thanksgiving to all, especially the many who have gone above and beyond in quiet and solitude to make things safe, beautiful, and good for so many. I would encourage you all, given the hard work over the past few days, to give yourself a day of rest on Sunday. Take the time to reflect on how important you are to so many people, including our Saint Mary’s community.

Saint Joseph, Pray for us!

Gratefully in Saint John Baptist de La Salle, I remain,

Rev. James Patrick Burns

Third Sunday of Lent
Dear Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Community,

The Peace of the Lord be with you.

Many of you are aware that both Bishop John Quinn, Ordinary of the Diocese of Winona Rochester, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Ordinary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (the two dioceses where our campuses are located) have declared that, in response to the coronavirus outbreak (and out of an abundance of caution and concern for the welfare of the faithful in their charge), the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for Catholics would be lifted until the virus is under control. In relation to this, and as a result of moving so much of our teaching online while asking most of our students to return home, we have cancelled daily and Sunday Mass at Saint Thomas More Chapel (though the seminary priests will still celebrate Mass daily at 7:30 AM in their Chapel).

This is a very unusual step since Sunday Mass has been celebrated uninterrupted on our Campus for nearly 110 years. While this is cause for reflection on what it means for us as a community of faith, reminding us as well of our fragility, it also causes us a certain sadness of heart and pain of loss, realizing that we cannot as easily meet with Our Lord in the Holy Mass and pray together in that Eucharistic setting for ourselves, each other and the world. Yet, it is also a call for us to be ever grateful that we have been so blessed to have the Lord present to us in the Eucharist so often, for so many generations and whom we can still visit with and speak to in the Blessed Sacrament. 

The events of the past month and more are a reminder of our obligations. As the pastor for the University community (that represents so many hands, hearts and lives), I am aware of the awesome responsibility to pray and offer sacrifice for our beloved Saint Mary’s, and to do so fully and profoundly. To that responsibility, I invite each and every one of you to share. We will all need the strength that only God can provide but we are confident He will grant it. He will give us the courage, as well, for the sacrifices that will be required of all of us. This will be the case not only because we now need to teach and learn differently but also because we will need to do much more than in the past to make sure we come through the other side of this pandemic rooted and strong, in our beliefs and in our institution: communally and personally; physically and financially.

As I celebrated the Holy Eucharist for all of you (and your families and loved ones) this past Sunday, I kept each of you in prayer (Wherefore also we pray always for you; that our God would make you worthy of His vocation, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith in power II Thes1:11). I also am praying singularly at the Chapel of Saint Thomas More for each of your concerns and those of the world. Our humble Chapel, and that of Saint Mary of the Angels, have been sacred places where many of us (and our ancestors, too) have found the true source of solace and support during times of trial and sadness. They have also been places where we have expressed to God our joy and happiness in moments of success and achievement, remembering the work is always His. Sacraments have been celebrated, vows have been made, prayers have been committed to the Lord and Saints for our loved ones during many a trial or tribulation from war to injury, from seeking guidance and discernment to abiding prayers for family and friends in need. The very stones and the altar of God join us over the years, uniting us in decades of prayers and loving witness to all that has been and all that is yet to be. We can still all be united in this one special way, as we pray each for the other in our own chapels, churches, houses of prayer or homes. 

For those who are feeling more anxious and afraid, and lest we become overwhelmed in the current context, I want to pass along to you what a dear friend recently passed on to me as a point to think about, ponder over and pray with, reflecting on the current situation (I have altered just a few words mindful of our current context).

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be [affected] by an [pandemic virus], let that [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing …, chatting to our friends … —not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

—C. S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Finally, let us join together in the prayer of Pope Francis, to his mother and ours, the Patroness of Our University, Blessed Mary Mother of God, for all those affected by the virus and all those working to alleviate and end the consequences of it in every field and position.

Dearest Mother Mary,

You always shine on our path as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to You, who are Health of the Sick, who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping Your faith firm.

You, who are Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need, and we are sure You will provide for us so that, as in Cana of Galilee,

we may return to joy and to feasting after this time of trial.

Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform to the will of the Father and to do as we are told by Jesus, who has taken upon Himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows to lead us, through the cross, to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle, Pray for us!

In His Divine Will,
Rev. James Patrick Burns, IVD

Dear Saint Mary’s University Community,

Since my last communication, the threat of COVID-19 has progressed, with the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic. We are now taking added precautions to keep our Saint Mary’s community safe. Although there still are no reported cases of COVID-19 within our university community, we’ve taken steps to reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus.

After considerable deliberation and consultation, and after reviewing local, national, and international recommendations, we will cancel all in-person classes on all campuses Monday and Tuesday, March 16-17, and will move our undergraduate and graduate courses to online delivery beginning, Wednesday, March 18, continuing through Monday, April 13. Programs and courses currently delivered online are unaffected by this change. We will reassess the situation as April 13 approaches and communicate any changes as soon as possible relative to a decision to resume normal operations beginning April 14.

The decision to move classes online has been made after considerable prayer, reflection, consultation, and discussion. Saint Mary’s is known for its close and personal connections in the classroom, and for its hands-on learning and community atmosphere. In these extraordinary times, we are compelled to limit the spread of this virus. We ask for everyone’s continued prayers and patience as we navigate the many new challenges this brings forth.

Students - Winona Campus

During this time, we are asking undergraduate students to return home to continue their studies online until April 14. All in-season student-athletes, international students, and students who need special housing consideration should complete this form to stay on campus. Students who have an internship, practica, student teaching, and lab research may also request a special housing consideration. Students should monitor their emails closely for communications from faculty about next steps. Faculty will communicate with students no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, with further information about how courses will be delivered moving forward. Your Saint Mary’s student email account will be the official means of communication with faculty regarding coursework and for COVID-19 updates.

Please begin gathering all of your textbooks, laptops, and other academic materials, as well as personal essentials. We ask students to please plan to be out of the residence halls and off campus by 3 p.m. Sunday, March 15.

Students - Twin Cities, Rochester, and Apple Valley

Students should monitor their Saint Mary’s student email account closely for communications from faculty about next steps. Faculty will communicate with students no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16. Your Saint Mary’s student email account will be the official means of communication with students. Students who have an internship or practica, or are student teaching, will continue under their current arrangements. 

We are working hard to ensure all our students are able to meet their academic requirements remotely.


All university offices and services remain open. Our staff members are essential to ensuring the university can maintain operations in a safe and responsible way. All staff, including academic support staff, are expected to report for work unless they are feeling ill. Human Resources will be sharing additional guidance.


We are working to avoid events that bring large numbers of people together in close proximity. As such, we are reviewing the numerous events planned this spring on all of our campuses. To that end, the decision has been made to suspend our Founders’ Day, originally scheduled for Tuesday, March 17, with the goal of rescheduling later in the academic year. Additionally, we are examining options with respect to spring large group events. These measures are being taken to help ensure the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as to decrease the potential impact on the larger community. At present, any events held after April 13 will continue as scheduled at this time. You will, of course, be informed of any changes.


In addition to our previous restrictions on international travel, university-sponsored domestic travel will require the approval of the provost for academic travel or the senior vice president for finance and operations for staff travel. We also ask that all staff and faculty members consider using technology to hold meetings between and across campuses whenever possible.


Saint Mary’s Pandemic Assessment and Coordinating Team (PACT) continues to meet daily and work closely with our local, state, and federal partners to assess risks to our university and to plan accordingly. Refer to our for the most recent university updates on this matter. Please also continue to closely monitor your email.

Finally, I want to thank the many members of the administration, faculty, and staff who have been working diligently around the clock to prepare for these events and who continue to assist in meeting the needs of our students. We are blessed to have such committed individuals working together for the common good of our university and community.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. Let us continue to pray for all those affected by this virus. In a special way, we ask for the intercession and patronage of Saint John Baptist de La Salle to guide the efforts of medical personnel working around the clock to respond to this pandemic.

Rev. James Patrick Burns, IVD, Ph.D.

Messages to Students in our Graduate and Professional Programs

Messages to our Students in our Undergraduate Programs

Messages to our Faculty and Staff

Dear Faculty and Staff,

I promised in my email on March 12 I would provide you with further information and updates as we learned more about the rapidly evolving situation relative to the coronavirus. I am now in a better position to do so given further information from local, state, and federal offices, as well as in consultation with experts here at Saint Mary’s and externally.

As a result, we are all the more aware of how we are joined together in the midst of this unprecedented situation. It also brings to the fore our reliance on faith and compassion, our ongoing attention to wellbeing and safety, and the active engagement of our intellect and will. That the coronavirus has presented us with a series of difficult choices goes without saying, but please know that all of our decisions are being made with the wellbeing of our students, staff, faculty, and community in mind.

Today, I have made the difficult decision to close all of our campuses through the end of the academic year. The following are some key points and information you will need as you prepare for the coming months:

  • For the remainder of the semester and until further notice, classes will continue online.
  • All Saint Mary’s faculty and staff, except those providing essential services, are being directed to work from their homes, effective no later than Friday, March 20, at noon. Your supervisor will follow up with you by Friday, at the latest, to determine the next steps and to advise if you are an essential employee.
  • If you are not an essential employee and not able to perform the responsibilities of your job from home, please use vacation time and sick time as needed. Your supervisor will follow up with you by the end of next week.
  • Please review the Temporary Policy for Work Flexibility on Blackboard and attached here for details of expectations, as well as the IT guidance on working from home.
  • As an additional and helpful reminder, most university buildings on the Winona Campus are locked. You will need to use your SMUMN ID to enter those buildings. Therefore, we ask you to please carry it with you at all times.
  • Buildings on the Rochester Campus are locked. Please call ahead to obtain access to the building.
  • All buildings on the Twin Cities Campus are locked.
  • With the decision to request all faculty and staff work from home, the best way to reach a specific person or office is by email, which is the official method for university communications.
  • All events through the end of the semester have been canceled or postponed, including commencement on the Winona Campus.
  • Please continue to check your Saint Mary’s email for updated information, as well as the COVID-19 Updates webpage.
  • I have also communicated with all students via email, copies of which can be found on the COVID-19 Updates webpage.

Arrangements are being made to ensure IT, Cardinal Central, Student Central, and Human Resources remain staffed and fully available. Additionally, the library and Writing Center will continue to operate online.

I am well aware that you never imagined you would have to be confronted with the impact of a virus like COVID-19. Please know my heart and prayers are with you today and always as you rise to adapt to these changes and the challenges we now face.

While the immediate future may hold some uncertainty and concerns for you, I want to assure and remind you that Saint Mary’s University will continue to support you and cares about your wellbeing. While we do not yet have all the answers you may need, as each day brings new information, we are working hard to use this new information to make the best decisions. We will continue to keep you informed so you can make decisions that are best for all of us.

While this disruption to our everyday lives is unprecedented, I encourage you, like me, to take solace in faith and the good will of those around us. So many stories have emerged and continue to do so about people going out of their way to be more generous, more thoughtful and encouraging, of displaying more of what the common good is really about. I am reminded that, as difficult as this current situation is, we will be stronger and more resilient in the future, having seen just what can be done when the goodness within manifests itself in doing what is right, good and true for all members of our community.

Whatever may come in the next months, I am confident that your own good character and dedication will give you strength, will nurture your soul, and will help us look to the future with renewed hope and confidence. As we pray with the Prophet Jeremiah “For I know well the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your benefit, not your woe, for a future full of hope!”

Saint John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us and keep us united in Christ’s Love.

Rev. James Patrick Burns, IVD, Ph.D.

Dear Saint Mary’s Staff and Faculty,  

The COVID-19 outbreak has upended many of our plans and expectations over the past week, and will continue to do so in the coming months. Your patience, collaboration, and support of our students and each other across campuses is appreciated, and a clear demonstration of our Lasallian Catholic heritage.

I have three important updates for you:

Temporary Policy for Work Flexibility

Because of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the university recognizes the need to provide flexibility for faculty and staff who are ill, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, are more susceptible to COVID-19 because of an underlying health condition, caring for family who are ill, or caring for children who are at home due to school closures. 

The university will work to provide work flexibility as it is able, recognizing that the nature of some positions preclude them from being granted flexibility in schedule or location.

The full policy is attached here, and will be added to the HR section of the Faculty/Staff portal.If you have any questions or concerns, please talk with your supervisor or email To aid in tracking requests, please do not mail individuals within Human Resources.

Events and Facilities

In accordance with the university’s decision to minimize the spread of COVID-19, all public events have been suspended through Monday, April 13. We will continue to assess events scheduled after that date. Please note these suspensions and cancellations apply to meetings you have scheduled on campuses with outside vendors or groups. While buildings remain open to faculty and staff, they are not open to external people or groups.

Continued Updates

For continued updates, please visit There, you will also find copies of messages sent to our undergraduate and graduate students.

We appreciate your continued patience as we navigate these unprecedented challenges. Whatever may come in the weeks ahead, we are confident that our university community will pull together in unified and caring support. We all look forward to the day when we can safely resume our regular activities. Meanwhile, it is our resolve that this extraordinary situation will make us an even stronger university.


Benjamin Murray ’96, CPA, MPA
Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations

Messages for Parents of our Students