It's been a few years since John Fitzgerald walked the halls of Saint John's, but it's fair to say that his legacy endures to this day, in ways that might surprise you.
Born in Willmar, MN, John never attended Saint John's. Still, when he first set foot on campus in 1942, I suspect he never imagined what an impact his accounting skills might have someday. That was the year Saint John's became his client, and so began what may have been the most rewarding task of his career.
John had done routine audits for a few schools, but at Saint John's he encountered an institution that had far outgrown the accounting of a simpler era. Could he create a system that would serve the needs of a monastery, a university, a prep school, a publishing house and several foreign missions run by the abbey? Was there a magic formula that could do it all?
To his credit, John brought creativity, common sense, and a little bit of wit, wrote Fr. Martin Schirber. I suspect you had to have more than an average sense of humor to devise one plan that would serve all. But John did it, and in the case of the University his work had far-reaching consequences. The system he devised served as the prerequisite for the University's accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in the late 1940s. Since then the University has never looked back.
John passed away in 1980, and shortly thereafter a few of his friends joined with his accounting firm, Main Hurdman, to fund The John P. Fitzgerald Memorial Scholarship . John's son, Mike, (an alumnus of the University of Minnesota), continued to add to the fund until his own death in 2009. And through it all the purpose of the fund has remained constant: to support junior and senior accounting majors at Saint John's. Happily, dozens of students through the years have been the beneficiaries.
Recently I visited with Mike's widow, Marisa. She divides her time between Tucson and her native Madrid, and she offered her thoughts on a campus that she has never walked and students she's never met. She pointed out that she never met her father-in-law either, so that's not kept her from developing her own relationship with Saint John's.
She saw the pleasure in Mike's face when he read letters from the recipients of the scholarship, and now she's stepped into that role. This year brought three letters, from seniors from Appleton, WI, Spicer, MN, and South St. Paul. It's great to see the legacy of her father-in-law at Saint John's, and like Mike she now has her own appreciation for the place.
Fr. Martin too has passed from the scene, but his words about John Fitzgerald describe a man whose work continues to touch the lives of so many. "When I recall those important years in Saint John's history, I think of John Fitzgerald's brilliance, imagination, innovation and sharp Irish humor. We always knew we were more than a client to him; we were his close friends." Saint John's does that to people.