Brother Thomas J. Scanlan, F.S.C., the former president of Manhattan College from the years 1987 to 2009, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 4, at the age of 72.
Br. Thomas was the 18th president of the college and had a long list of accomplishments during his tenure, including but not limited to increasing the college’s enrollment by 120 percent and focusing on the growth of the residential student population with the addition of Horan and Lee halls.
The college was accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) during his time as president and Br. Thomas himself was most recently awarded Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award in 2016 for his contributions to Catholic higher education.
News of his passing was sent out to students at 11:49 a.m. on Feb. 5 via email, which stated, “To the Manhattan College Community, It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of President Emeritus, Brother Thomas Scanlan, FSC. The College will release the attached press announcement shortly. Eternal rest grant unto him.”
The attached press announcement was published online and shared on social media sites subsequently.
“In the time that I have come to know Br. Thomas, I developed a deep appreciation for his visionary side … Brother’s decisions were grounded firmly in a deep faith and in the Lasallian mission. He made bold and courageous decisions grounded in that faith,” said current president Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D. in the statement released by Manhattan College.
The college then planned a wake and a mass in honor of Br. Thomas in the Chapel of De La Salle and his Brothers on Friday, Feb. 9 from 3 – 8 p.m., and on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. The Mass of Resurrection was held on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 11:00 a.m. Many alumni and past and present Manhattan College faculty were in attendance, sharing stories and reminiscing about Br. Thomas and who he was as a person, a president, a Brother and a friend.
Br. Thomas was born and raised in New York City. He received his B.A. in physics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., but returned to the city for his Masters in mathematics at New York University and his Ph.D. in business administration at Columbia University.
A city man through-and-through, he loved his baseball team, the New York Yankees with a strong passion.
Small anecdotes like these come directly from a life-long friend and co-worker of his, Brother Patrick Horner of Manhattan College’s English department. The two had met in high school, Br. Thomas a few years older than him.
Br. Patrick shared many stories throughout their years of friendship, focusing especially on how intelligent and quick-witted Br. Thomas was in subjects like mathematics. Br. Patrick was sure to mention that although they would “quarrel on most things” there would be “no way” he’d fight with him over numbers, claiming he was “meticulous” with them.
“[We were taking the New York State Regents Exams] and he went up to the front of the room, threw out his scrap paper that he had done all of his calculations on and grabbed a second stack of scrap paper. He went back to his desk and did the whole thing again. He did the whole test a second time and compared the answers. Most people I knew had enough difficulty finishing it. He had done the whole thing twice and then recorded it,” said Br. Patrick.
He also mentioned Br. Thomas being disliked by graduate students at the Catholic University of America for being a “curve breaker”, as he would often take graduate-level classes as an undergraduate student and do extremely well on all of the assessments.
Br. Thomas was also able to obtain his Ph.D. from Columbia in only three years, all while being a resident director (RD) at Manhattan College.
“I mean this properly, he wasn’t interested in the degree as an end in itself. He saw it as a credential that he would need to have in order to be able to do the kind of educational and administrative work that he was already being being prepped and touted for,” said Br. Patrick.
By this Br. Patrick meant that at one point during his RD tenure, Br. Thomas was approached by a past MC president, Brother Gregory Nugent, to keep the college in mind.
“If you ask people who knew him when he was here on campus, they would say ‘he always knew where you stood, he was straightforward, a straight shooter’ they would always tell you these things. But they wouldn’t say much about his being, I’m sorry, this is me– cuddly. He was, in some respects, he had to be. He was doing a difficult task, [especially over at Bethlehem University],” said Br. Patrick.
Br. Thomas had served as vice chancellor and chief executive officer at the university located in Palestine before coming to MC.
In terms of friendship, Br. Patrick also touched on the two long-time friends becoming co-workers in the same institution. Although they worked in separate departments, the two found themselves talking at restaurants and being front with each other in an honest and insightful relationship.
One thing Br. Patrick remembers the two talking about was business matters, in which he was able to give his two cents to Br. Thomas. These included turning the religious studies department towards a better situation in terms of numbers and attitude for the Catholic religion. He had many decisions to make, many meetings to attend and he did not always agree with his co-workers but managed to work everything out in the end.
”Thomas went on being Thomas,” said Br. Patrick.
“I think everyone will talk about all of the buildings that were carried out during his direction. But the key thing he did was he rescued the place. I don’t think any of us knew to what extent the college was really under [in terms of] financial pressure. We knew, but we didn’t really have [the knowledge]. He really faced it head on and took some very honest and forthright decisions and told everybody what he was doing and did it and got everything back on track. And the buildings, those came later once he had gotten the equilibrium restored,” said Br. Patrick.
Br. Patrick hopes that, despite all of the accomplishments Br. Thomas had as president, people will remember him not only as a great leader, but as he came to know him: a good friend.
“Some folks might have felt like they knew Thomas the administrator, the master-of-numbers, you know? They did not necessarily know or get the chance to know […] he very much wanted to be and remained as much as he could, a Brother to the students,” said Br. Patrick.
Another member of the staff during the presidency of Br. Thomas was Brother Robert Berger of the religious studies department. Br. Robert served as vice president of student life during the time Br. Thomas was announced as president.
“He was totally dedicated to make this a better place. He was just outstanding. […] He left us in a really strong position [both] academically [and] financially. He trained people to have a vision and that continues today. He tapped into the alumni and alumnae in a way that enabled them to give back to their alma mater. He would receive an award like [the Hesburgh Award] one night and the next day he was just as humble as another member of the department,” said Br. Robert.
Br. Robert also mentions his dedication to the Brothers. Br. Thomas entered the novitiate in 1962 and took his perpetual vows in 1970, according to his obituary published in the New York Times on Feb. 8.
“From the moment he entered the Brothers, he was just dedicated to the ministry. His intelligence was off the charts and his dedication was equally high. It was just an unbelievable combination,” said Br. Robert.
It is well-known amongst many on campus that Br. Thomas was the reason for the creation of Horan Hall and Lee Hall and the expansion of the Mary Alice and Thomas O’Malley Library. But many do not know that Br. Thomas, named by the New York Times as the “lofty new resident” from an article in 1990, lived in the newly-built Horan Hall with his own students. Br. Robert included a humorous anecdote he had noticed from an alumni on Facebook.
“When the student went back to his room, Brother Thomas was sitting there, but unfortunately he was sitting in a chair that the student had stolen from the college’s basketball team with the insignia on it. So, he brought the chair back,” said Br. Robert.
Although the college community will miss Br. Thomas, the impact on Manhattan College as a whole has been made clear in the lives he touched and the innovations he made to make the school better as a whole. Br. Thomas has left a legacy for years to come.
Br. Robert believes that to be true, stating, “If it wasn’t for him, this property would be a parking lot where you would say, ‘oh here’s where Manhattan College used to be.’ He really put us on the map.”
Read more: Quadrangle Flashback of Brother Thomas Scanlan’s first interview with the newspaper under the editorship of current MC adjunct, Patrice Athanasidy.