Student, professors honored at St. Thomas Day celebration

Tommies past and present gathered Wednesday to celebrate St. Thomas Day, a day used to honor distinguished alumni and students who have made meaningful contributions to the university and community.

Five St. Thomas community members, including three alumni, one faculty member and one student, were presented with awards for various achievements. The evening began at 5:30 p.m. with a Mass in the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, followed by a dinner and awards ceremony in Woulfe Alumni Hall.

Mark Lacek ‘88 was given the Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic work in honor of his daughter Faith Ann, who was delivered stillborn in 2000.

“It’s very humbling to say the least,” Lasek said. “Nothing really happens in this world today solo. It’s all about people coming together for a cause that matters. Fortunately for myself and my wife, there were enough people that cared and thought that what we were doing really mattered and they jumped on board and helped us get there.”

Lacek co-founded Faith’s Lodge as a retreat for parents who have lost a child or have a child with a terminal illness. He said Faith’s legacy has impacted people’s lives and will continue to do so for years to come.

“When you lose a child, all of your hopes and dreams for that child go out the door at the same time,” Lasek said. “It feels really good that my daughter was the catalyst for all the good that’s come because of her.”

St. Thomas biology professor Jill Manske was named Professor of the Year. Manske, a 24-year veteran of the biology department, has focused much of her research on immunizations and helping those in need.

“I think what makes it special is that it’s from your peers,” Manske said. “So that my colleagues that I respect so much would even consider me for this award is humbling and amazing.”

While the respect from her peers felt good, Manske said she believes most important part of being a professor is the students.

“You can’t be professor of the year or the month or the day without students.” Manske said. “It really is all about the students.”

The evening’s other honorees were 2015 Tommie Award recipient Mariann Kukielka, Distinguished Alumnus John Carr (Class of 1959) and the Monsignor James Lavin Award winner John Carr (Class of 1972).

Zach Neubauer can be reached at