Brother Michael Collins, DeLaSalle High School president, dies

| January 8, 2012 | 3 Comments

Brother Michael Collins, right, congratulates DeLaSalle boys basketball coach Dave Thorson following the school's Class AAA championship victory in 2006. (Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

Brother Michael Collins, longtime president of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, died Jan. 8 from complications related to lung cancer that was first diagnosed less than a month ago. He was 74.

The funeral will be 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, with visitation at the church one hour before services. Visitation also will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, at DeLaSalle High School, with a prayer service at 7:30 p.m.

Brother Michael, a member of the Christian Brothers for 54 years, was president of DeLaSalle — his alma mater — since 1991. During his tenure, enrollment at the school more than doubled, it raised more than $25 million from benefactors, and it created an academic environment in which at least 96 percent of graduates annually have matriculated to college in the past decade.

A prominent figure nationally in Catholic education, Brother Michael sat on the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association from 1996-2004, serving as president of the secondary schools department from 1996-2000 and as vice chair of the full board from 2001-2004.

Fostering diversity

Brother Michael was invited to speak at high schools and colleges across the country on topics related to urban, multicultural education — with a particular emphasis on Catholic schools.

He received the NCEA’s 2007 Sister Catherine T. McNamee, CSJ Award for his leadership in promoting diversity in Catholic education.

Brother Michael Collins (Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

In an interview at the time with The Catholic Spirit, Brother Michael said the real challenge is what the school does once students arrive.

“The argument that many address about recruitment … needs to be coupled with … retention,” he said. “Retention is something that we are about every day, and retention has to do with creating a sense of community among students of every color, every religion, every race, every socio-economic group.”

Brother Michael served on many boards and councils throughout his career, including the boards of trustees for both St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Lewis University in Illinois. He served as chair of the Minnesota Independent Schools Forum, a consortium of private and independent schools in the state, and was appointed by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the Council on Black Minnesotans, on which he served two terms and was chair from 2008-2010.

Long teaching career

Brother Michael grew up in north Minneapolis and attended Ascension grade school before graduating from DeLaSalle High School in 1955.

He attended St. Mary’s University in Winona, another Lasallian institution, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, with minors in English, speech and music in 1959. During his college years, after a period of discernment, he joined the Christian Brothers, taking his initial vows in 1957.

Brother Michael served at four different high schools affiliated with the Christian Brothers, beginning his teaching and administrative career at DeLaSalle from 1959-1967, moving to Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D., in 1967, and on to St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, Calif., in 1980, before returning to the Twin Cities in 1987 as one of the first co-principals of the newly-merged Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul.

Brother Michael began his career at DeLaSalle teaching English, religion and music. He first earned public acclaim as a choral director, leading both the men’s chorus of DeLaSalle to the World’s Fair in 1964 and the men’s chorus of Shanley to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., in 1971 and 1978. An accomplished vocalist himself, many hundreds of his students, colleagues and friends in education asked Brother Michael to sing at weddings, funerals and other events

He spent a sabbatical year in 1990-91 as part-time assistant to the president at DeLaSalle while finishing his work on a doctorate in private school leadership from the University of San Francisco. He was named president of DeLaSalle in 1991 and was the longest-tenured chief administrator in the 112-year history of the school.

The Christian Brothers and Lasallian schools draw their mission from the work of  St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle himself, who first opened schools in France to ensure that children from all backgrounds and socio-economic classes had access to quality education. This mission particularly resonated with Brother Michael. In later years, he was instrumental in educating lay colleagues in Lasallian schools about the historical mission and modern relevance of this educational model.

For more information, visit Brother Michael’s CaringBridge website.

Do you have a favorite memory of Brother Michael Collins? If so, please share it in the comments section, below.

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