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Father Randall Meissen, LC

Saint Leo welcomed the Reverend Randall Meissen as university chaplain in October 2020, and he now leads the University Ministry team. Meissen is a member of the religious order, the Legion of Christ, and was ordained as a priest in 2014. Prior to coming to Saint Leo, he served as sacramental associate at Our Savior Parish and the University of Southern California Caruso Catholic Center in Los Angeles. He also is a doctoral candidate in the history department of USC.

LEARN ABOUT FATHER RANDALL IN 15 QUESTIONS

  1. Describe yourself in three words:
    Inquisitive, analytic, compassionate
  2. Where did you grow up and what makes it special to you?
    I grew up on a small farm just outside of Salisbury, MO. The farm was a wonderful place to grow up, surrounded by the outdoors and open countryside. A good part of my extended family is in the area, so I will always treasure memories of a childhood surrounded by faith and family.
  3. What was your first job?
    There was never a shortage of chores to be done on the farm. However, the first job I remember getting paid for was cutting weeds out of my uncle’s soybean field.
  4. When did you know that the priesthood was your future?
    The call to the priesthood was an unexpected turn of events in my life. I went to college as a biology major and was extremely focused on getting into medical school as a career goal. However, after being involved in a car accident that took the life of one of my friends, I started to re-examine the big questions in life and turned intensely to prayer. Amid that process of deepening in my faith and becoming more involved with student ministry on campus, I experienced a call to the priesthood and decided to enter the seminary with the Legionaries of Christ after graduating from college.
  5. Who is your favorite saint and why?
    My favorite saint has to be John Paul II. He left a profound impact on the modern papacy and brought a new enthusiasm of spreading the gospel to all corners of the world. The so-called “John Paul II generation” of Catholics is a fruit of his outreach to young people at World Youth Days and has been a source of great innovation and revitalization in the church in my lifetime.
  6. What is your favorite Bible verse/Scripture?
    One of my favorite passages is the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11–32. That parable is powerful in how it describes the capacious mercy of God who, like a good father, hastens to embrace a lost child upon his return home.
  7. Where is the most interesting place you have ever been?
    I once had the chance to tour the papal gardens around Castel Gandolfo (the traditional summer retreat for the popes) with the Vatican’s top Latin translator as a guide.
  8. What excites you the most about Saint Leo University?
    Our students are the most exciting part! I love that our community is amazingly diverse. We must have a record for the most students from small island nations. Sometimes it stretches my geographic knowledge to the limit; I had never met anyone from Cabo Verde or from the Commonwealth of Dominica before coming to Saint Leo.
  9. How would you describe your homily style?
    You probably should ask students for a more objective opinion! In preparing homilies, I start by praying over the day’s readings and asking for light from the Holy Spirit. I try to keep things lively with stories and examples connecting the Bible message to students’ lives.
  10. Is there a myth about priests that you would like to dispel?
    I hope I can dispel the myth that priests are always boring! As the adage goes, “a sad saint is a bad saint,” and I see priesthood as a divinely inspired quest for sanctity…not a boring endeavor.
  11. What do you think our Catholic Identity calls us to do?
    Catholic universities are animated by a Christian anthropology that affirms each person as having a transcendent destiny and a worldview that sees continuity in truth, goodness, and beauty. This goes beyond merely fostering a higher education environment where faith reflection and practice are welcomed alongside rigorous academic study.
  12. Do you have any hobbies and what are they?
    In my free time, I enjoy hiking, running, Ultimate Frisbee, kayaking, and exploring parks and museums.
  13. What is your favorite song, artist, TV show, podcast, and/or book?
    I love [Giovanni Battista] Pergolesi’s hauntingly beautiful setting of the Stabat Mater, a hymn addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. The fact Pergolesi composed it in his final days of life makes it even more moving.
  14. What are you enjoying about Saint Leo and Florida?
    I am amazed by the pristine natural beauty of this area of Florida. Our lakeside campus is a treasure, and I have also enjoyed taking day trips to some of the nearby crystal-clear, spring-fed rivers and to Florida’s beaches. Winter in Florida is hard to beat!
  15. What is something that most people do not know about you?
    Sometimes people are surprised that I know a lot about insects. During high school and college, I had my own small business that sold insect collections to biology teachers, and I trapped and collected most of the insects myself. I paid for my first car in college out of the profits from selling insects. Dead grasshoppers for a set of wheels was a great trade!

Celebrating our 2020 Alumni Award Recipients

Each year, Saint Leo University alumni across the generations and around the world live out our core values and contribute to their communities, professions, and causes in a variety of ways. The Saint Leo Alumni Association seeks to celebrate the members of our alumni community and pay tribute to those who have reached remarkable goals either professionally or personally. Please join us in congratulating the recipients of Saint Leo University 2020 Alumni Awards.

Benedictine Spirit Award

Katie CalvertMary Kay “Katie” Calvert ’60 attended Holy Name Academy. In 1952, Calvert attended a summer camp held by the Benedictine Sisters of Florida. That camp changed her life and ignited a lifelong love affair with all things Holy Name. The Benedictine Sisters fostered her deep faith and four years later, granted her a scholarship to attend high school at Holy Name Academy. Upon graduation, Calvert went on to become a registered nurse. She later received a master’s degree in education to teach middle school. Calvert’s devotion to Saint Leo led her to support the Sister Mary Grace Riddles Endowed Scholarship, and she also continues to annually donate to the Benedictine Sisters of Florida. Calvert fondly remembers the nuns, priests, and friends that she made and who made such an impact on her life. She especially loved the dances that were held at the Saint Leo College Preparatory School each month.

Distinguished Alumnus/a  Award

Bill BiossatWilliam “Spider” Biossat ’69 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from University Campus. He dedicated his professional career to law enforcement, in which he began by working for the Florida Marine Patrol Narcotics Division and then later joined the Drug Enforcement Agency as a special agent. He later worked as a narcotics investigator for U.S. Customs, which led to further assignments as a resident agent-in-charge. Biossat and his wife, Darlos, have three children, who he believes are his greatest achievement. Biossat credits the time he spent at Saint Leo as shaping him to be the person he is today. He has fond memories of the love and support that he received from faculty and especially his fraternity brothers.

Father Jonathan ZingalesReverend Jonathan A. Zingales ’71 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Since the age of 9, Zingales knew he wanted to become a priest, and he was ordained in 1976. Throughout the years, he has served as a teacher, vice principal, and principal of Catholic high schools, and in 1985, he was selected as the secretary to the Superior General of the Benedictine Order in Rome. While in Rome, he graduated magna cum laude and earned his degree in canon law. He holds the office of Defender of the Bond and Promoter of Justice. Zingales is passionate about mentoring and educating children and has been a member of the Benedictine High School Board of Directors. Zingales fondly recalls how the Saint Leo University faculty and staff always listened to the students and were always there to help.

Roaring Onward Award – Class of 2020

Heavenly AguilarHeavenly Aguilar ’18, ’20 graduated from the Center for Online Learning with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and and is in law school. She started a nonprofit organization, Scholars for Youth Empowerment, which focuses on helping low income youths. She also volunteers to assist the elderly and fundraises for the arts. Aguilar’s favorite Saint Leo memory is the kindness of her professors. While attending Saint Leo, she was going through a tough time in her personal life and her professors helped to keep her studies on track.

Bradley BrooksDr. Bradley Brooks ’13 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from University Campus. He is in his fourth year as a psychiatry resident at the University of South Alabama Health and is serving as chief psychiatry resident. He was honored with the distinction of being named psychiatry teaching resident in 2019. He tries to exude excellence each day by helping students with their academics. Brooks’ favorite memory of Saint Leo is the late nights spent studying with fellow biology students.

Brian DavisonBrian Davison ’16 received his MBA through the on-ground master’s program. Today Davison is the vice president of basketball development and affairs for NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks. Prior to this role, Davison served as business director at Nike, where he started out at a Nike Factory Store as a retail manager. Because Davison had a wonderful mentor, he was inspired to pay it forward and mentors young adults who are looking for employment. Davison’s favorite memory of Saint Leo is receiving his MBA while working at Nike. He was learning about Theory of Concept and was able to apply what he learned to his position.

Caitlin ParrishCaitlin Parrish ’16, ’18 graduated from the Center for Online Learning with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and is employed by the Tampa (FL) Police Department as a Neighborhood Affairs and Crime Free Program officer, in the same district as her father, who is a senior sergeant. She began her career as a 911 Communications dispatcher and has moved up through the ranks. She is working on becoming a police officer. Parrish’s favorite memory from her time at Saint Leo was being a part of the Learning Enhancement for Academic Progress (LEAP) program. The program helped her transition to college life, and she still keeps in touch with the other 25 members of the group today.

Cheyenne SimmonsCheyenne Simmons ’14 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from University Campus. She is employed by the Orange County (FL) Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff. She also serves as a field training officer and helps prepare new police academy graduates for their positions as deputies. Simmons is enrolled in a graduate program in forensic wildlife conservation, and she hopes to blend her passion for wildlife with her professional experience in law enforcement. Simmons’ greatest Saint Leo memories are from her time as a Greek sister and also the traditions and manger scene at Christmas. “Saint Leo University was my home,” Simmons.

Teacher. Coach. Mentor. Administrator. Leader. These are all words used to describe Saint Leo alumnus Mike Lastra ’15. His passion is for lifting others up, helping them grow as students and educators. And he gives back to his alma mater in one very tangible way: He shares his love of learning and teaching with current Saint Leo University students and the greater education community.

Lastra earned his Master of Education degree with a specialization in educational leadership in 2015 from Saint Leo. He was named principal of Brooksville Elementary School in Hernando County, FL, in 2018. In addition to being the principal, Lastra is pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in school leadership at Saint Leo, and also serves as an adjunct faculty member for the university.

The road to becoming an educational leader started with a desire to be an athletics coach. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Chowan University in North Carolina and began teaching high school biology in 2004. “I taught high school for 12 years and coached football and wrestling,” Lastra said. “It was fun, and it was rewarding.”

He said it was a natural progression to become an administrator, something he did in 2015, when he became the assistant principal of Eastside Elementary, also in Hernando County. “I really started taking more leadership roles as a teacher-leader,” Lastra said. “The coach in me made me want to do that.”

It was suggested that he move into administration. “I never had taught a day of elementary,” he said. “I went from high school teacher to assistant elementary principal. It was a very different jump. The principal who hired me said, ‘leaders are leaders, and I can teach you what you need to be an elementary assistant principal.’”

From that point forward, Lastra’s leadership abilities and skills grew. He found great value in his Saint Leo education, which helped prepare him for his leadership role, Lastra said. “When we talk about the administrative, planning, and learning domains, the [Master of Education] program definitely prepares you for that,” he said. “With the Saint Leo program, we had to get practicum hours. That really rounds you as a leader.”

While some people may think that an online degree program isn’t as strong as the in-classroom experience, Lastra said at Saint Leo that is not the case because of the people—the dedicated faculty, staff, and students.

“I think the sense of community at Saint Leo, the teachers, and those working with Saint Leo in many capacities, truly prepare their graduate and undergraduate students to become teachers and administrators. “I don’t know of any other university where you get that sense of community,” Lastra said. “Even with the online programs, there is that feeling of being a part of the community.”

‘A Teacher’s Principal’

Alumnus Mike Lastra is the principal at Brooksville Elementary School. He continues to give back to the profession by helping up-and-coming teachers at Saint Leo University.

Now, Lastra contributes to the next generation of teachers as well as those who already are working in school districts throughout Florida. In addition to Saint Leo students, Lastra and his school works with students at schools across the state.

“Mike’s impact ranges from pre-service teachers, to university undergraduate and graduate programs, to elementary students and their families, his teachers, and the greater education community,” said Dr. Holly Atkins, chair of Saint Leo’s undergraduate education program.

He has conducted presentations for Saint Leo’s Teacher Technology Summer Institute, sharing innovative best practices for the meaningful use of technology in K-12 classrooms, Atkins said. “Teachers are often heard saying, ‘I want to go work for him!’ He is what I would call a ‘teacher’s principal.’ He walks the walk, doesn’t just talk the talk.”

Lastra has become something of a “tech guru” for educators and educators-to-be, teaching them how to use technology in the classroom and reach their students using it.

For Saint Leo students, he is a favorite speaker for Dr. Rachel Hernandez’ educational technology class. “For the last five semesters, he has been hosting a technology field trip each semester at his school,” Hernandez said. “The [Saint Leo] students tour the classrooms to see [elementary school] students engaged in various tools that enhance learning. He then takes the students and gives a debrief so that they can ask questions.”

Lastra said he thinks it is important for Saint Leo’s education students to visit with tech-savvy teachers. “It’s so powerful for Saint Leo students to see what they’ve been learning in their classroom, working in real life,” he said. “Some of the students say they learned more that day than all year!”

He also is a popular adjunct instructor for the university, Atkins said. “He shares his real-world knowledge teaching EDU 428: Educational Governance,” she said. “Students learn the legal, ethical rights, and responsibilities of classroom teachers through the leadership of an instructor who lives these principles each day.”

To encourage faculty at his school to engage in after-school professional development, Lastra holds “Tech Taco Tuesdays.”  

“Teachers attend the technology-focused professional development, and he feeds them,” Atkins said. “Most often, he is the presenter. This is so important in creating a culture in which teachers actively see their principal right there with them—working together to support the school community.”

While he is serious about the business of being an educator, Lastra’s favorite thing is “acting like a kid all the time.” He participates in dress-up days at the elementary school, dressing in silly outfits and costumes, which he says “keeps him young at heart.”

Lastra also persists in his own education. “The love of learning is really just being a continuous learner,” he said. “Whether it’s going to a conference, reading up on the latest trends, or sharing our knowledge. When I stop learning, I should really retire!”

He also looks to hire teachers who will follow in his footsteps. “My main thing is I want a teacher who is passionate and is all about kids,” he said. He advises anyone who wants to be an educator to “remember your why” and keep the reason for being an educator at the forefront.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Leo University faculty and staff demonstrated a commitment to our community in a variety of ways—from facilitating free educational webinars to help small business owners and first responders to offering complimentary, on-demand courses designed to help individuals relieve stress.

When news about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine surfaced, Saint Leo University stepped up in another way by offering to serve as a vaccine distribution site for the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County. Since January, more than 25,000 members of the public have passed through University Campus to receive the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.

In April, the university was fortunate to offer its own vaccine clinic event for members of the university community. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and their household members were able to come to University Campus and receive a vaccine through a drive-thru event.

Jessica Van Guilder ’12, ’15 was among the alumni who received a vaccine at University Campus. She lives in close-by Land O’ Lakes, FL, and still keeps in touch with fellow alumni and staff at the university.

“I decided it was one of the best chances for me to get the vaccine early,” she said.

Elissa Noblitt, who graduated from the university in 2020, also came to University Campus from Orlando to get a vaccine. “I drove down because I trusted Saint Leo, and I knew that the university would run the operation well,” Noblitt said.

Saint Leo University unveiled its newest amenity, a 12-station Esports Arena, in March, in Apartment Building 5 at University Campus. The arena serves as the home to the university’s new esports team, and when not in use by the team, other students may use the state-of-the-art gaming stations.

Esports is one of the most rapidly growing sports and is on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue this year, according to Business Insider’s Esports Ecosystem Report 2021.

Saint Leo’s esports team is a school-sponsored and funded club sport that fields competitive teams in League of Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate games. People worldwide can access the Lions’ play via Twitch while others can watch via TVs in Building 5’s lobby.


Esports at Saint Leo

To learn more about Saint Leo’s esports team and the Esport Arena, visit saintleo.edu/esports

For the first time in program history, the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Tournament title belongs to Saint Leo men’s basketball for the 2020-2021 season. It was no easy feat, as the team had to take down the 25-time conference and SSC tournament champions, Florida Southern College. The Lions won 83-70 at the tournament held in March at University Campus.

The Lions (7-1) took the title with exceptional play from Rusty Moorer and Frank Webb Jr. Both players, who were named to the SSC All-Tournament Team, put up double-digits as Moorer led all scorers with 28 on the night. Webb notched another double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds on the way to earning the Tournament Most Valuable Player honor.

Jared Coomer heard his name called for the all-tournament team after his performance throughout the tournament, helping the Lions achieve a game-high of 13 rebounds and 12 on the defensive front. Saint Leo claimed the rebounding battle, 50-42.

Wade Coomer provided the spark the Green and Gold needed by adding 11 points off the bench and hit clutch threes down the stretch to build the lead for the Lions.

After winning the tournament, Saint Leo men’s basketball earned a total of five All-SSC awards, including Newcomer of the Year and Coach of the Year. Conference coaches selected Frank Webb Jr. as the Newcomer of the Year, while Coach Lance Randall was tabbed the Coach of the Year.

Senior Shane Bracken of the Saint Leo men’s track team traveled to Allendale, MI, to represent the Green & Gold at the 2021 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championship, which took place May 2729.

While Bracken was seeking the Lions’ first individual title in track program history, he ended up receiving his second career outdoor track AllAmerican honor and placing eighth in the final.

Bracken, who entered the championship with the secondfastest qualifying time, hovered between sixth and eighth throughout the entire race. The Foxford, Ireland, native completed the distance in 3:54.01just a second off the winning pace of 3:52.95.

Bracken took eighth overall in his first appearance at the NCAA Championships in the 1500m in 2019, running 3:59.93, a time which would have netted him 12th in 2021.

Delaney Chrisco
Photo: Delaney Chrisco scores a goal during a home game against Florida Tech.

The Saint Leo women’s lacrosse program celebrated its first-ever Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-Americans this spring. Saint Leo women’s lacrosse attacker Ashlee Wilsynski, midfielder Delaney Chrisco, and defender Ashley Salvett were among the 48 student-athletes selected for one of three 2021 Division II All-American teams.

Saint Leo University was one of 21 institutions represented in the organization’s All-American accolades. Wilsynski, Chrisco, and Salvett each received third-team honors among their respective positions.

“We have been fortunate in the Sunshine State Conference to regularly compete against some of the best players in DII, but today is the first day we can say at Saint Leo that some of the best wear our uniforms,” said Caitlin Hansen, head coach of Saint Leo women’s lacrosse. “To have three players named IWLCA All-Americans is amazing for these individuals, their teammates, and our program. I am so proud!”

Saint Leo women’s lacrosse wrapped up the shortened 2021 season with a 5-5 overall record, going 3-3 in the Sunshine State Conference. The Lions finished the year ranked 22nd among the IWLCA Division II Coaches’ Poll and fourth among the seven conference teams that opted into competing during the season.

Hungry Lion Food Truck

Montserrat Molina ’21 samples food at the “soft opening” of the Hungry Lion in February.

Saint Leo University is taking Dining Services on the road. The university officially opened its food truck, The Hungry Lion, in February at University Campus.

The Hungry Lion will provide fresh, delicious food “on the go’” in a variety of locations, both on- and off-campus. Simultaneously, the pictures displayed on the 34-foot truck give community members a peek at the campus.

Items on The Hungry Lion’s menu include steak, turkey, or black bean burgers; pizzas; melts; grinders; hand-cut chips dusted with cheese; and rosemary garlic butter Tuscan fries. The menu changes seasonally said Dining Services Director and Executive Chef Justin Bush.

The truck is busy serving those on campus, and it will travel in the future for community and university events.

The Guilamo family including dad Harold, new student Katelyn, mom Gloria, and brother Joshua, of Bradenton, FL, take a break during move-in day at Saint Leo on August 28.

The university welcomed its largest number of new students for the Fall 2021 Semester at Saint Leo’s residential campus in Pasco County, FL. 

This year, more than 1,100 new campus students joined the Saint Leo community, a number that surpasses the size of the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 classes, previously the largest and second-largest in the institution’s 132-year history. The number of new students (undergraduate and graduate combined) at University Campus has steadily increased, with a drop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Lions were selected from 11,977 applicants, the largest application pool in Saint Leo’s history. This year’s applications rose 81 percent over the previous year and can be attributed to new academic programs, the D2R Program, the Tuition Advantage Program as well as the Catholic Promise Scholarship and other new financial aid programs. 

And there is a lot of international flavor on campus this year, as Saint Leo welcomed its largest international class with new students from 50 countries. 

Of the new students at University Campus, 59 percent are from Florida; 16 percent are from out of state; and 25 percent are from international countries. 

“I’m excited for new experiences, beginning my education, and working toward my goals,” said Katelyn Guilamo as she moved in to her residence hall on August 28. A freshman, Guilamo is majoring in early childhood education. She chose Saint Leo University because, “I like the environment and the smaller classes. You get more one-on-one attention.”

Her mother, Gloria Guilamo said she was feeling a little anxious about Katelyn moving away. “But she’s got the wings, and I’m letting her fly,” Gloria Guilamo said. “This is for her education
and for her future.”

From his time at Saint Leo University, Davion Cooper ’11 showed signs of promise that he was destined to be a leader.

The accounting major served as a resident assistant and was president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity while studying at University Campus. He achieved several academic accolades, being named student of the year by both the Tapia College of Business (then a school) and its Accounting Department. He also was selected for a fellowship for a master’s degree in his field.

After his formal education, Cooper’s success continued when he landed his first job at one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young. There, he worked with a variety of public and private companies performing external audits of financial statements, among other tasks.

Ten years later after holding many progressively responsible roles, he is the vice president and corporate controller at Dude Solutions, a global software company headquartered in Cary, NC, that provides support to more than 12,000 companies in the areas of operations, maintenance, and facilities.

Cooper oversees a team of 20 professionals to manage the company’s global financial operations, while also supporting executive leaders in strategic decision-making. On page 28, Cooper shares some insights about his current role and reflects on what may have led to his success.

  1. What do you enjoy the most about your work at Dude Solutions?

    It is exciting to be part of the reason why an organization grows and expands globally. I get to be a voice behind the decisions that influence the future of the company. I enjoy being able to make a daily, tangible impact on a global company, putting in place initiatives in a challenging role where I know my work makes a difference.

  2. What do you think has helped you achieve career growth throughout the years?

    Continuous learning and the strong belief that people matter. I love to learn. As a leader, I recognize that I cannot be the expert on every topic. However, I am always looking to grow in my knowledge and skill sets, which includes learning about topics that may not be directly related to my current responsibilities. I ask a lot of questions. I believe in people and know that the best way to achieve sustainable career growth is to invest in meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. People matter and will support you if you treat them fairly, regardless of their role.

  3. In your experience, what are the qualities that distinguish a good leader from a great leader

    The key quality that transforms a good leader into a great leader is the ability to inspire teams to rally around a vision. Great leaders recognize that they can only accomplish their missions through people. They connect with people to articulate a clear and inspiring vision that becomes a rallying call for the entire team. They recognize that success is predicated upon getting people to buy into a vision and to pull in the same direction. 

  4. What are some lessons you learned from your time at Saint Leo that have helped you in your career?

    Saint Leo was a smaller and more intimate environment than many other institutions. That intimacy helped to reinforce the value of building relationships that has stayed with me and benefitted my career. Saint Leo also emphasized the value of responsible stewardship, which I still embrace. This value has had an influence on my career decisions. In my role, I have the weighty responsibility of always making sure that my financial decisions and the decisions of the company are for the benefit of its many stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and others. Being a part of the Saint Leo community emphasized the responsibility that we all have to each other and that still sticks with me.


More about Davion

The person who inspires you the most:
Martin Luther King Jr. He inspired people to imagine what was possible rather than simply what was.

Your favorite business book:
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

Your motivation for getting up each day:
My two children. I want to show them what’s possible every day and to make them proud.

Advice for future leaders:
People matter. You cannot do it by yourself. Everyone is watching, and they tend to mirror the tone that you set. If you want a culture of accountability, inclusion, integrity, and continuous improvement, you need to demonstrate that on a daily basis. Your success starts and ends with the people around you.

In February, Saint Leo University broke ground on the Wellness Center, which will be located on the west end of campus by Lake Jovita. The 59,000-square-foot facility will create an environment for holistic health and well-being that integrates student recreation, fitness, health services, counseling services, and campus ministry.

The groundbreaking ceremony included remarks from Dewey Mitchell, chair of the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees, who welcomed everyone.

“This day is finally here; praise God,” said Mitchell. “This is a wonderful amenity for the university and the community.”

Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese, Saint Leo president; Celine-Deon Palmer, Student Government Union president 2019-2020; D. Dewey Mitchell, Saint Leo Board of Trustees chair, break grown for the Wellness Center.
Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese, Saint Leo president; Celine-Deon Palmer, Student Government Union president 2019-2020; and D. Dewey Mitchell, Saint Leo Board of Trustees chair, break ground for the Wellness Center.
Dr. Senese speaking at the Wellness Center Groundbreaking
University President Jeffrey D. Senese emphasizes the impact the Wellness Center will make on the region.

Dr. Melanie Storms, senior vice president, served as the emcee, and Sister Roberta Bailey, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida, provided those in attendance with a historical perspective on the property. University President Jeffrey D. Senese made remarks about the benefits of the Wellness Center, and Abbot Isaac Camacho, OSB, a Saint Leo alumnus, blessed the site.

Construction is underway with plans to open the Wellness Center in Fall 2021.

Saint Leo opened Benedict’s Coffeehouse on January 13 in the former mail center building, following an extensive renovation. Benedict’s Coffeehouse is a We Proudly Serve Starbucks™ venue, featuring Starbucks coffees, specialty drinks and teas, and a variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, and snacks.

Serving coffee at Benedict's CoffeehouseThe coffeehouse name was selected to reflect Saint Leo University’s Benedictine history and tradition. The building at the east end of the Kirk Hall lawn was renovated to create a comfortable space for the university’s students, faculty, and staff, as well as guests from the surrounding community. There is inside seating and an outside patio area.

Saint Leo students had long wanted a campus coffeehouse, and the Student Government Union and students provided a little more than half the funding for the building. “This occasion represents promises kept,” said Celine-Deon Palmer, SGU president for 2019-2020, at the grand opening. “‘Benny’s’ as it already is being called, “represents community at its very core,” Palmer said.

More information can be found at saintleo.edu/benedicts-coffeehouse.

Saint Leo University students, faculty, and the public learned more about the steps society can take to be more inclusive of those with disabilities during a February visit from author and speaker Michael Hingson.

Michael Hingson talks to Saint Leo students with his guide dog, Alamo
Michael Hingson talks to Saint Leo students with his guide dog, Alamo.

Now 70, Hingson has been blind since birth and has worked with trained guide dogs since his teen years. In 2001, he and his guide dog were at his workplace—a regional sales office of a technology company—in the World Trade Center in New York City when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

The team escaped by walking down 78 flights of stairs together, and they were able to help others out, as well. During his visit to Saint Leo, Hingson was accompanied by Alamo, his current guide dog. His public talk and multiple class visits were arranged by the College of Arts and Sciences and made possible by a special program created by the Council of Independent Colleges.

Professor Jack McTague retires from Saint Leo University after 44 years of teaching.

Scores of alumni who studied at University Campus recognize Professor Jack McTague as the cheerful fellow who plays bass with other faculty rock enthusiasts in their band, Time Warp. Some know him as a loyal fan of the Lions men basketball team, while theater enthusiasts may think of him as a patron of campus musicals, and sometimes even a cast member.

Jack McTague throughout the years

Beyond those classic McTague vignettes, though, is a more substantive story. McTague is the history professor who has actually become part of Saint Leo history through 44 years of service to students and camaraderie with colleagues. This spring marked McTague’s final semester of teaching undergraduates before retirement.

This accomplishment has alumni and colleagues pausing in appreciation for the effect McTague has had. On one level, people have been remarking on McTague’s steadfast show of community through attendance at events outside the classroom, in support of campus lectures and programming, or at students’ athletic contests and artistic efforts.

Then there is the measure of success a teacher can have in helping students to mature intellectually. McTague has always stressed to students the importance of thinking about context when confronting big questions. Much of the time, he means they need to know or learn enough to be informed citizens.

“Should there be any restrictions on freedom of speech?” McTague asked a class of eight seniors one day in February. The young citizens in the spring History of Ideas course had just read some texts that were in philosophical agreement with the American Bill of Rights. Now McTague was asking them to articulate their own beliefs about freedoms in light of hate speech, social media, the Global War on Terrorism, and other complexities of contemporary times. And then McTague asked them another question, and another.

Emily Mincey ’16 recalls that course, one of her favorites among the many she, a history major, took with McTague. His way of posing discussion questions “gave us the space to learn,” she said. In fact, she knew any course she took with him “was going to be a productive and enjoyable learning experience.”

Because McTague has always been primarily assigned to teach history from beyond the United States, he has likely had an even greater effect in helping students understand lessons from abroad. “The world is so much more connected now,” McTague said. “We certainly need to learn a lot more about China, we need to know more about the Mideast. Being in Florida, we need to know about Latin America.”

Some military-affiliated students come to class already aware of this, owing to previous deployments abroad or potential deployments in their futures, he said. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, he recalled, a sizable enrollment of military students impressed the faculty and classmates. “They were all very serious, hard-working students. In any class they were in, they raised the level,” McTague said.

In more recent years, the pattern has reappeared. Criminal justice majors who are concentrating on homeland security studies consistently enroll in an upper-level course he teaches on the Mideast, he added. “A lot more of our students are going to be traveling and serving in that part of the world.”

The subject matter does not come easily though. American students have told McTague that courses on the histories of other nations are more challenging than the U.S. history courses. “I know it’s tough,” he responds. “You’ve never heard of these names before now, and you’ve never heard of these events.”

In truth, he literally does know what they are going through in learning about regions that are new to them. The scholar has been called upon to expand his own base of knowledge dramatically from his early teaching days.

When the young John J. McTague Jr. first came to Saint Leo from the State University of Buffalo for an interview in 1976, he had an advantage in that his doctoral research and dissertation examined Britain, the United States, and Palestine, and that he had also studied Japan. Other young academics were much more specialized in their doctoral pursuits. Saint Leo had only one opening for one historian to teach history from beyond the United States (the one other historian on staff covered U.S. history). So McTague was the most qualified academically, and he knew from his own undergraduate college days that he could enjoy a small, Catholic campus atmosphere.

He has had to continue learning though, and researching and writing. In 1983, he published a book, British Policy in Palestine 1917-1922, which drew from the same topic he researched for his dissertation topic. Numerous articles and conference presentations have followed in the decades since, primarily dealing with Mideast history and politics. He also has enjoyed writing book reviews for a variety of professional journals and newspapers.

Traveling, too, has been an important learning mode. When McTague was first offered the Saint Leo job, he recalled, he had been to Europe twice and to Israel.

But as time went on, McTague and colleagues agreed the Saint Leo world history curriculum should be expanded. And McTague always felt a history professor should have a first-person acquaintance with the culture of countries in his or her teaching areas. Saint Leo has been supportive, he said, by making professional development money available that helped him finance summer educational travel.

“My two trips to China have been very useful for my classes in Far Eastern History and trips to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan have been helpful in my Middle Eastern History classes.” His trips to 10 countries in Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean have helped inform classes on that region, as well. “I’ve now been to 40 countries,” he said.

In the future, he would like to travel more, with another trip to Israel among his planned destinations. And then he may be back to teach a course from time to time because he’s also the resident expert on Latin American history.


McTague’s Movies

Jack McTague is happy to recommend movies that have a basis in historical events. Here are some of his suggestions, organized by regions of the world.

Latin America
The Mission, Like Water for Chocolate, Frida, Roma

Middle East
Lawrence of Arabia, Argo, The Kingdom

Far East
The Last Emperor, Gandhi, Seven Years in Tibet, The Last Samurai


Congratulations

The university extends its best wishes also to these faculty, who decided to retire this academic year.

  • Francis Githieya, assistant professor of philosophy, theology, and religion, Atlanta
  • Susan Foster, professor of sport business
  • Marguerite McInnis, associate professor of social work
  • David Persky, professor of criminal justice
  • Thomas Ricard, assistant professor of physics and physical sciences
  • Joanne Roberts, associate professor of education
  • Leonard Territo, distinguished professor (graduate studies) of criminal justice

Center photo by Cheryl Hemphill. Other images courtesy of Time Warp, and from Saint Leo files

Highlights on recent Saint Leo University faculty accomplishments and contributions in teaching and learning.

Dr. Karen Hannel of the College of Arts and Sciences and her husband, Dr. Eric Hannel, an adjunct instructor with Saint LeoHistorical research by Dr. Karen Hannel of the College of Arts and Sciences and her husband, Dr. Eric Hannel, an adjunct instructor with Saint Leo, prompted the state of Florida to approve the placement of an official marker to note that a vibrant township once existed north of University Campus in the 1800s. The town of Chipco was a trading post established by white settlers and was named for a Seminole chief who actually lived nearby, but separately, with some members of his tribe for a time after the mid-1850s. The white town grew to have a nearby railway link, lumber-planing mill, grist mill, school, and post office, along with farms. The Pasco County (FL) town reached the peak of its commercial prominence in the 1880s, but disappeared by 1909 after a series of economic reversals. Chief Chipco and his band had long since moved to a different locale in mid-Florida, and the chief died in 1881 at more than 100 years of age, according to a newspaper account. The Hannels continue to research this settlement, as its trajectory illustrates so much about the racial interactions, intermittent wars, and economic developments of 19th-century Florida.


Dr. Iain Duffy, a microbiologist and member of the science faculty at University Campus, is president of the Florida Academy of Sciences and is now in the second year of a two-year term. The academy is comprised of scholars from the life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, computer and mathematical sciences, and science teaching, and publishes a quarterly journal.


Dr. Leon Mohan and Dr. Dene WilliamsonDr. Leon Mohan and Dr. Deneˊ Williamson of the Tapia College of Business were published in late 2019 in the International Journal of Sport, Exercise and Physical Education with their article “Youth Sport Participation as a Result of Social Identity Theory.” The article describes survey research conducted in a South Florida city with youths involved with sports through various community organizations. In particular, the researchers zeroed in on children ages 9 to 13, who were primarily African American and Hispanic, to see what role social factors played in getting and keeping the youths involved in sports. The short-term objective was to help associations find influences that can be maintained to get and keep children physically active. Sports that parents and guardians were familiar with, sports played by famous athletes, and sports played by friends and peers were motivating influences. The business professors included work by undergraduate student John-Paul West in their research and publication.


Dr. Matthew TapieDr. Matthew Tapie, theology faculty member and director of the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, was invited in February by Spring Hill College in Alabama to deliver a talk on a particularly difficult point in Catholic and Jewish relations. Since 2018, Tapie has been speaking in academic settings and published in academic theological journals on the new controversy about the forced religious conversion of a young boy named Edgardo Mortaro in Bologna, Italy, in 1858. The child was being raised by a Jewish family, in accordance with their own faith, when the Catholic Church learned the boy secretly had been given a Catholic baptism when he was an infant and facing illness. A maid employed by the family performed the baptism without permission from or the knowledge of the baby’s parents. The woman presumably was leaning on her own Catholic teaching as motivation and feared for the soul of the baby if he did not recover. The boy was forcibly removed from his home on the order of Pope Pius IX when the Church eventually learned of this, and despite an international scandal, the church never backed down and instead raised the child.

The case was known chiefly by academics in recent history, but is the subject of the film The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortaro, which was made and directed by Steven Spielberg, but not widely released.

Around the time of the film’s completion, a theologian wrote an academic article that caused hurt feelings and astonishment anew among Catholics and Jews by defending Pope Pius IX and aspects of church law. Tapie’s recent and continuing work on this helps academics and others to become informed about the facts of the 162-year-old case and Catholic reaction today.


Dr. Moneque Walker-PickettDr. Moneque Walker-Pickett, professor and associate chair of the undergraduate criminal justice program, was selected for a prestigious fellowship program in higher education. She is one of only 38 professionals to be included in the 2020-2021 American Council on Education Fellows Program. The objective of the program is to provide learning opportunities that condense years of practical higher education experience into a curriculum of a single year. Fellows receive strategic planning training, make numerous visits to other campuses, and take part in interactive sessions. Upon completion of the program, fellows return to their own campuses better equipped to address evolving challenges in higher education. Walker-Pickett joins a diverse fellowship class comprised of individuals from Georgetown University, Purdue University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, among other institutions. In addition to holding a doctorate in sociology, Walker-Pickett holds a law degree and worked previously as an attorney. She became a full-time member of the Saint Leo University faculty at University Campus in August 2012.

Educating students where they live and work is a core part of Saint Leo. Since 1973, the university has taught students at education centers and other teaching locations, in addition to University Campus. 

Center students for the most part are older and nontraditional students, meaning they may not enter college at age 18, immediately after graduating from high school. They often are working full time and juggling family commitments with studying. Saint Leo’s centers focus on offering classes when students need them. 

Making education center students feel a part of the university is crucial to their success. The centers sponsor many activities and clubs to bring students together, including participating in Saint Leo Serves projects in their communities. Saint Leo changes our students’ lives and makes a difference in the communities where centers are located.

University administration continuously monitors center locations to make sure they are meeting the needs of current and prospective students. In the past few years, Saint Leo has opened new locations and expanded others to better provide educational opportunities for the surrounding communities. Soon, the university will better serve the Charleston, SC, region with the opening of a new center in Summerville, SC, and a second one on the Naval Weapons Station Charleston at Joint Base Charleston. Here’s a look at some of Saint Leo’s new and expanded education centers.

Florida

Tampa

– MacDill Air Force Base

East Pasco Education Center 
at University Campus

Brooksville Pasco-Hernando

State College Office

New Port Richey PHSC Office

Spring Hill PHSC Office

Gainesville

Lakeland

Lake City 

Key West
at Naval Air Station Key West

Jacksonville

Naval Station Mayport Office

The Jacksonville center moved in December 2017 to a new location in the Oakleaf Town Center, an open-air regional shopping center. The 8,400-square-foot center gives students access to five classrooms, administrative staff, and a computer lab, as well as Saint Leo’s online library collection, online tutoring, and personalized career services.

Madison

Ocala

Saint Leo’s Ocala location opened in the fall of 2016. Its 9,172 square feet features 10 classrooms that include the latest technology, a computer lab, and student lounges.

Tallahassee

Georgia

Atlanta

Classes began in January 2019 at the new Atlanta Education Center at Lindbergh City Center. The centers in Morrow and Marietta, GA, ceased operations in December. Saint Leo occupies the entire second floor of the new Atlanta center with more than 23,000 square feet. It features eight classrooms with plans to develop more, a Learning Resource Center, cybersecurity lab, and student lounge.

Gwinnett

Savannah

A grand opening ceremony was held in October 2018 at a new location, but Saint Leo has served the Savannah community since 1975, when it began offering classes at Hunter Army Airfield (HAAF) and Fort Stewart. The new location is 14,900 square feet. It features 13 classrooms, a “cyber bar,” Learning Resource Center, computer lab, student study room, and student lounge. In addition, the center boasts the university’s third Military Resource Center for student-veterans and military-related students.

Virginia

Fort Lee

South Hampton Roads

JEB-Little Creek Office

Naval Air Station Oceana 
Office

Naval Station Norfolk Office

Saint Leo University celebrated the grand opening of its new location in 2016 at Naval Station Norfolk.

Chesapeake

Newport News

Fort Eustis Office

Langley Air Force Base Office 

Saint Leo University celebrated the grand opening of its expanded Newport News location in April 2018. The center added 4,386 square feet to its site, enabling it to open with a fully equipped cybersecurity lab, as well as additional classroom space, a study lounge, and a Military Resource Center.

South Carolina

Charleston

Summerville area
The new location for the Charleston Education Center is in the booming Nexton area of Summerville. It opens this fall and will offer updated technology, larger classrooms, a dedicated computer lab, learning resource center, student lounge, and more support services. Moving into a stand-alone location also will provide an opportunity to build stronger business partnerships that will benefit students and alumni.

Naval Weapons 
Station Charleston

Opening this fall.

Shaw Air Force Base
Sumter Office

Texas

Corpus Christi
at Naval Air Station

Corpus Christi

Mississippi

Columbus
at Columbus Air Force Base

California

San Diego
at Naval Base
 
San Diego