ST. PAUL, Minn., September 27, 2013 ( – The newly-installed president of the Roman Catholic-affiliated University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a historical first in more than one way – not only is she the first woman to be selected as the university’s head, she is also the first layperson.

With the inauguration of Julie Sullivan, St. Thomas has broken a more than 100-year tradition of entrusting only priests to lead the school.  Sullivan called her installation “a sign of the times,” and wasted no time in demonstrating her commitment to radical change for the 10,000-student institution.

Sullivan made headlines this week thanks to her opening speech, in which she promised to promote “inclusion” for open homosexuals and seemed to endorse same-sex “marriage,” which was recently  made legal in Minnesota despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church. 


“It pains me to think that a gay student, staff or faculty member would ever feel unwelcome or a need to ‘hide’ at St. Thomas,” said Sullivan.  “As Pope Francis reminds us, we are not called to judge.  We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation. And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”

Homosexual activists applauded Sullivan’s remarks.  Danielle Tschida, a St. Thomas junior who heads campus gay advocacy group UST Allies, told the Pioneer Press that her first thought upon hearing about Sullivan’s speech was “Great, we have another ally.”

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But Matthew Archbold of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic education watchdog group, said Sullivan’s comments lacked precision and could lead students astray. 

“The Church clearly calls for loving and respecting all,” Archbold wrote on the group’s blog, “but without any mention from Sullivan of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage, her approach could lead students to think that their Catholicism calls them to accept homosexual behavior as non-sinful.”

Newman Society president Patrick Reilly agreed.  “This issue is particularly difficult for Catholics because we have such a strong position on the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts,” he said.  “On the other hand, we must be loving and welcoming to everybody.”

“In every statement we make,” Reilly added, “both sentiments need to come through.”

It remains to be seen whether Sullivan’s controversial statements were simply poor communication or a sign of things to come.  But she has said her proudest achievement in her previous role as provost of the University of San Diego, another Catholic institution, was securing the school’s position as one of the first Ashoka-affiliated “Changemaker” schools, and that she would like to see St. Thomas join the list.

In a speech at USD last year celebrating the university’s selection for the Changemaker program, Sullivan drew on quotes from Ashoka founder Bill Drayton and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, both longtime liberal activists, as she told students and faculty that empathy and respect for diverse viewpoints are far more important than distinctions between right and wrong,   

 “A changemaker is comfortable with ambiguity,” said Sullivan, explaining what would be expected from future USD graduates. “He or she resists easy bi-polar distinctions and understands that we live in a world of many shades of gray.”

Ashoka, which funds the Changemaker program, is a global NGO with ties to George Soros that finances “change agents” around the world, many of whom work to expand access to contraception and abortion or promote cultural acceptance of homosexual behavior

The organization recently branched out into education with its Changemaker program, which selects schools based on their commitment to promoting “systematic social change” through their curriculum and school-sponsored activities.  In addition to the University of San Diego, the organization has similarly honored Washington D.C.’s notoriously liberal Georgetown Day School, citing its “Gay Pride Week” as an “empathy innovation” that helped it make the cut.  The group also features a “Changemaker of the Week” on its website, with this week’s selection being Queer Nebraska Youth Network founder Drew Heckman.