In 2005 we were having coffee for the first time near his office in the Twin Cities. Prince Wallace ’68 had asked to meet with me to discuss his native Bahamas and, like many things in life, I had no idea what a blessing this meeting would prove to be. Prince’s personal story was incredibly powerful, but even more so was the story he told that day of the people of the Bahamas and how the century-long commitment of the Benedictines forever changed the course of a nation.
Like many of his Bahamian contemporaries from SJU and CSB, Prince Wallace was born into a very proud, but very poor, Nassau family. Conditions in his neighborhood were sparse, with no running water and no electricity. What's remarkable is that his family's history with the Benedictines dated back to its very beginnings. It was in the 1890s when Fr. Gabriel Roerig, OSB, an early missionary, was instrumental in the conversion of Prince's grandfather – Joseph Glass – to Catholicism. So for Prince there was little doubt that he would attend school at St. Augustine's, which the Benedictines from Saint John's Abbey had established in 1945. Prince reminisced that after classes ended for the day they would compete in sports and then remain at the school well into the evening. There he studied by light that was simply unavailable at home.
One of Prince's mentors at St. Augustine's was Leviticus "Lou" Adderley, a 1955 Saint John's graduate. Lou had been an economics major who had also excelled in track and field, wrestling and tennis. After graduation Lou returned to the Bahamas and became the first lay teacher and coach at St. Augustine's, and later he became its first lay headmaster. "Uncle Lou," together with Fr. Cornelius "Cornbread" Osendorf, OSB, inspired Prince to further his studies at Saint John's. It was at Saint John's where Prince met his wife, Sandra Hiemenz Wallace, a St. Cloud native. They decided to make their life in Minnesota, and today in Minnesota they run several successful companies with their family. But they remain deeply committed to the Bahamas.
Prince and Sandra credit the Benedictines from Collegeville and St. Joseph for their success and for the success of the Bahamas. With education as the cornerstone, Prince observed that the Benedictines built communities as well as a country. He noted that the Bahamas gained its independence peacefully on July 10, 1973, and today it boasts one of the strongest economies in the Caribbean, measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The first Bahamian Johnnies, Useph Baker and Etienne Dupuch, later "Sir Etienne," journeyed north to Collegeville in the late 1920s. Sir Etienne’s brother, Eugene Dupuch, followed soon thereafter, completing his degree in 1934. These students and others preceded Prince’s mentor.
Since those early days many more graduates have embraced the same values and become mentors to future generations of Bahamian Johnnies and Bennies. Pierre Dupuch ’60, Andrew Curry ’60, Telzena Coakley ’62, Msgr. Preston Moss ’65, Basil Christie ’66, The Hon. Neville Adderley ’67, Sydney Outten ’69, Alpheus Finlayson ’70, Daryl Butler ’72, Philip Galanis ’75, Ed Fields ’81, Earl Thompson ’85, Mark Munnings ’86, Todd Beneby ’87, Leon Dupuch ’90, Sidney Belleza Outten ’96, Hiltina Adderley Scott ’01, Denard Cleare ’02, Justin Ritchie ’09, Megan Curry ’11, Taneisha Dean ’12, Cassie Knowles ’12, Junardo Hall ’12, Thalia Thurston ’13 and Anthonique Hanna ’13 are just a handful of names among the hundreds of Johnnies and Bennies who have assumed leadership roles in medicine, finance and banking, telecommunications, law, accounting, education, public service and public policy, among others. The collective CSB/SJU contribution to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is immeasurable.
Ten years ago I made my first trip to Nassau, where I joined Br. Dietrich Reinhart and the Wallaces to celebrate Saint John's Sesquicentennial. Every year since then the two colleges have returned to the Bahamas with Prince and Sandra. Next week presidents Michael Hemesath (SJU) and Mary Dana Hinton (CSB) will gather together in Nassau to celebrate our rich history and deep friendship. Thanks to the dedication of Judith Adderley and others, there are roughly 50 Bahamian students currently studying at CSB/SJU. This is worth celebrating and it is only possible because of the exceptional support and generosity of our Bahamian friends.
2005 marked the end of our formal Benedictine presence in the Bahamas. Prince wanted to meet with me that day because he had a dream for his native country. He wanted to help ensure that Saint John's and Saint Ben's continue to build upon this transformative Benedictine relationship, and that together we would all be willing to step up where the monks and sisters had left off. He called it "Phase II for a new century." He reflected: "Fr. Cornelius told me that as I made good in life, I ought to do the same for others. Sandra and I have taken that advice to heart. The scholarship that I received provided the opportunities to help me, my family, and many others." For years the Wallaces have provided significant scholarship support and in 2015, together with Basil Christie and Philip Galanis, they helped launch the Lou Adderley Endowed Scholarship Fund for young men and women from the Bahamas.
The leadership of the Bahamian Chapters of the College of Saint Benedict Alumnae Association and the Saint John’s University Alumni Association has been extraordinary. Today it is clear that the Benedictine spirit endures in the hearts of an entire nation. Prince's dream is more than alive. It's thriving!