St. Thomas University celebrates 20th anniversary of President Casale’s tenure

 

It has been exactly 20 years since Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale has assumed the presidency of St. Thomas University. Moving here in 1994 from his native New Jersey, he is now the longest serving college or university president in Florida.

A leader’s real impact, of course, is measured in achievements, not years, and Monsignor Casale’s achievements extend beyond increasing enrollment, expanding the academic programs, adding the buildings that house them, acquiring major gifts, and fostering important research.

Tucked away on a 140-acre campus just off the Palmetto in Miami Gardens, the only Archdiocesan University in the Southeast has become a key player in the global human rights movement. Consistent with the social justice mission of the Catholic Church, Monsignor Casale extended St. Thomas’ focus from the campus to the surrounding community and the world at large.

Under his leadership, the Law School’s signature Master of Laws and Doctoral programs in Intercultural Human Rights were created. Featuring scholars from Oxford, Yale and other centers of academic excellence, as well as key instructors from respected NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the program has by now trained and graduated over 300 budding leaders from over 75 countries since its inception in 2001.

They are “warriors for dignity” fighting the good fight against the ills of society in all four corners of the Earth. A good number of them teach human rights law in universities around the world: from Cornell to Madrid, to Hong Kong, Kosovo, Addis Ababa, and the United Nations University. One of the program’s directors now serves on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Monsignor Casale has driven and supported many other initiatives in the field of human rights, foremost in the field of human trafficking. He convened, in 2004, the workshop leading to the influential Miami Declaration of Principles against Human Trafficking and the establishment of a Human Trafficking Academy funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The country and the world have witnessed President Casale in action. Congress did when he testified before the House of Representatives, recommending substantial changes in our laws combating trafficking in persons, and he has presented key lectures at human rights conferences and interdisciplinary workshops on several continents — work leading, most recently, to the formulation of the 2013 Siena Principles on Human Trafficking and Public Health.

None of which means that, on any particular day, you wouldn’t find Monsignor Casale eating breakfast with students in the University cafeteria, attending meetings of this committee or that, or patting a campus worker on the back for a job well done. A strong leader who has solidified every aspect of the University, he is, nonetheless, a vivacious, personable and humble man.

Nor does the school’s presence on the world stage mean that it has overlooked the community. Indeed, the University’s involvement in global affairs grows out of its intense community involvement.

The late Monsignor Bryan Walsh, who conceived and conducted Operation Pedro Pan which brought over 14,000 community members here from Castro’s Cuba in the 1960’s, was a key participant in the founding of St. Thomas’ Human Rights Institute.

Under the steady guidance of President Casale, this Institute now serves thousands of migrants annually, mainly those from Cuba and Haiti. Through a new Center for Community Engagement, St. ThomasUniversity serves Haiti’s poorest regions on site via fair trade coffee, solar energy, and Haitian artisan initiatives.

Environmental sustainability, criminal justice and proper care for the elderly remain key concerns of the School of Law, supported by the Monsignor as much as the tradition of symposia exploring and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples around the world.

Monsignor Casale has been a good shepherd to his community. With gratitude for all you have done, and are yet to do, South Florida wishes you a Happy 20th Anniversary, Monsignor!

Professor Siegfried Wiessner is the senior member of St. Thomas University’s law faculty and Director of its Graduate Program in Intercultural Human Rights. Email: swiessner@stu.edu

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