University of Mary celebrates Catholic Studies father, Dr. Don Briel

The University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., is celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Don Briel, founder of America’s first Catholic Studies program. Guided by his own thorough study of Blessed John Henry Newman and Christopher Dawson, Briel directed students across the nation towards the integration of the truth of the Catholic faith with university studies and—importantly—with daily life.

Don Briel died on Feb. 15 at his home surrounded by his five children and friends. He was diagnosed in mid-January with two forms of acute leukemia. He was 71 years old.

While his ingenious Catholic Studies programs worked to revitalize American culture at a national level, he was dear to all at the University of Mary in a particular way. Holding the University of Mary’s “Blessed John Henry Newman Chair of Liberal Arts” since 2014, Briel developed our Gregorian Scholars Honors Program, was instrumental in the birth of our Catholic Studies program, and taught hundreds of students at our Rome campus.

Briel influenced and inspired our university as a whole. To our students, especially to those fortunate to have been taught by him in Rome, he was a beloved teacher of St. Benedict and Christopher Dawson, a respected mentor and model in academics, a lasting inspiration in the life of faith, and a true friend in Christ. Numerous students wrote letters to Briel after hearing the sad news of his recent leukemia diagnosis, some of which are included here:

“It was during that semester as we dove into the writings of Christopher Dawson with you that I was able to understand the incredible impact that Christianity has had on culture throughout history, and the crisis we face in turning away from it today. I still feel the impact of this knowledge as I minister to college students as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, hoping to help bring Catholicism into the culture of these young people at such a crucial point in their lives. As a former student of yours and of Catholic Studies as a whole, I have been amazed at how much more fulfilling all aspects of life are when seen through the proper Catholic lens. Thank you so much for your presence and vision and the quiet way you were always able to invite your students deeper into the reality of our lives and culture.” — Peter Foley, West St. Paul, Minn.; Rome campus student, spring 2015

“Thank you so much for coming and teaching us in Rome and for developing the Gregorian Scholars program; both have greatly influenced my life and moved me towards the good. When you taught us, you guided our discussions without us perceiving it, but always made sure our questions were answered and that we arrived at the truth. Thank you so much and I pray that God guides you gently on this next step of your mirabilis via.” — Shae Ryalls, Gig Harbor, Wash.; Rome campus student, spring 2016

“Your course taught us that following Christ through truth, beauty, and goodness is something always to strive for. You taught us that being a saint will not be easy, but that it truly is the only way worth living. Dr. Briel, your course did teach us this, but most importantly, your character, your virtue, and your Holy Christian example, taught us this during our time abroad. This example helped lead us to the choice of marriage early on in life, it only being a semester after Madelyn’s course with you. You taught us that our ‘yes; to Christ can take us on a wild, wonderful adventure, just as it did for Saint Benedict.” — John Dinkel, Long Prairie, Minn.; Rome campus student, fall 2014; and Madelyn (Lipp) Dinkel, Minot, N.D.; Rome campus student, fall 2015

“Once you had arrived, the amount of information I learned was astronomical. Going back and reading my personal journal I kept, I described you as ‘…such an interesting man who seems to have endless information to share.’ The classes you taught were more than simply informative for Benedict: Yesterday and Today, but also for the cultivation of my Catholic experience in Rome. Studying the secularization of Western Culture helped me on my journey to deciding to join the Catholic Church, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you for all you have done to impact students’ Catholic educations, as well as the tremendous gift you gave me in opening my eyes to the Catholic Church in a way I had never before.” — Elizabeth Netz, Grand Forks, N.D.; Rome campus student, fall 2016

From all of us at the University of Mary, thank you, Dr. Briel.

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you,
go forth, faithful Christian.

May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the Virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the Angels and Saints.

— From the USCCB, “Prayer of Commendation”

TOM ACKERMAN is the director of communications at University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

This article is adapted from a news release issued by the University of Mary on Feb. 14, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.