The St. John's University Board of Regents has chosen economics professor Michael Hemesath as its new president, marking the first time a non-clergy member has held the top position at the 155-year-old Catholic institution.
"The selection of a lay president represents a new era in the long history of Saint John's University, yet I want to emphasize the continuity that will be at the heart of this transition," Hemesath said in a statement released by the Collegeville, Minn., school on Tuesday.
Hemesath, an economics professor at Carleton College, will begin his new job on July 1. He is a 1981 graduate of St. John's.
In a statement, the school said Hemesath is the first layperson to be appointed to a full presidential term at St. John's. University bylaws allow the position to be filled by either a clergy member or a layperson, school spokesperson Michael Hemmesch said.
"The Board selected Dr. Hemesath because he is passionate about St. John's University's ability to transform young men's lives through its commitment to the liberal arts and its embodiment of Benedictine values, and because of his outstanding background as a scholar and faculty leader at Carleton College," Ann Huntrods, chair of St. John's Board of Regents, said in the statement. "Dr. Hemesath is uniquely qualified to lead Saint John's at this historic time. It is apparent that Dr. Hemesath understands the importance of the ties between the university and the abbey even as their relationship evolves."
Hemesath received master's and doctorate degrees in economics from Harvard University and has held his professorship at Carleton College since 1989, the statement said.
Hemesath will replace Rev. Robert Koopmann, who was appointed to a three-year-term as president in 2009. In May 2011, Koopmann released a statement announcing he would not seek a second term.
"The stress of this position is significant," Koopmann said in the May statement. "Although I am in good health now, I know I need to restore a better balance in my life."
Koopmann praised his successor in the University statement released Tuesday.
"I am confident he possesses the personal skills and professional experience needed to lead this great institution," he said. "He brings with him a thorough understanding of contemporary higher education and a deep appreciation for the Benedictine values that are so important to our community."