Memorials planned for June 28-29, also livestreamed online

Sister Thomas Welder walks along Sageway on campus overlooking the majestic Missouri River Valley.

BISMARCK, ND — Former University of Mary President Sister Thomas Welder, OSB, has passed away at her Annunciation Monastery home early this morning, June 22, south of Bismarck, ND, following a recent diagnosis of kidney cancer.

Revered locally, regionally and nationally as a true servant-leader for living the Gospel of Jesus, the 80-year old Welder cared for the Christ-like development of all University of Mary students and the well-being of all faculty, staff, and her beloved Sisters of Annunciation Monastery.

“Sister Thomas lived her life for others,” said Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress of Annunciation Monastery.  “She was always giving to others, whether it was a smile, an encouraging word or a promise of prayer. She often said that the greatest gift you could give a person was the gift of your time, and she did that without fail. Sister Thomas modeled so many of our Benedictine values with ease and grace. She truly received all as Christ. She was intent on maintaining a vibrant connection between the sisters of the monastery and our sponsored institutions.”

The Sisters sponsor the University of Mary, where the public will be able to gather and memorialize her life and lay her to rest. The celebration of Welder’s life will take place over two days.

Mary College becomes the University of Mary as Sr. Thomas puts the University Drive sign up.

The public is welcome to join the following memorial ceremonies and funeral online through livestream at www.youtube.com/universityofmary/live.  A public visitation is planned from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 28 in Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel (OLA), located in the Benedictine Center for Servant Leadership building on campus.  A vigil service with Evening Prayer will follow at 7:00 p.m.  Before her funeral at 10:00 a.m. in OLA on Monday, June 29, a second public visitation will be held prior from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m.  The funeral is open to Welder’s family and close friends.

Sister Thomas Welder’s first day as president of Mary College.

Welder will then be immediately buried after Mass in the nearby Monastery Cemetery located on the west bluff next to the Benedictine Center for Servant Leadership, overlooking the Missouri River.

“Sister Thomas Welder was a rare person,” said University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea. “Under her leadership and vision, the University of Mary was confirmed in its purpose to form leaders in the service of truth in renewed and ever-growing ways, and Sister Thomas’s leadership touched thousands of students’ lives as the university grew and expanded over her presidency. But perhaps even more than this, Sister Thomas was known for her attentiveness, her humility, her heart for service, and her love for her vocation as a Benedictine Sister of Annunciation Monastery. It was these qualities, too, which touched innumerable lives over the course of her life.”

In 2019, Bismarck’s CBS affiliate, KXMB TV, honored Welder for Women’s History Month. During that interview, when reporter and anchor Lauren Kalberer asked Welder what she thinks about being regarded as one of the most influential women of our time, “It gives me pause. First of all, what do we mean by influence? And, what kind of a difference can we make, because, as I think of leadership, I think about it much more in terms of influence, than I do of power or control,” responded Welder.

During that same TV interview, Shea commented, “Sister Thomas Welder — more than leading by words, leads by her example and by the way she treats people.”

Welder influenced millions of people during her lifetime, and more profoundly, so many students during her time as the longest serving female university president in American history from 1978 to 2009. Her joyful laugh, witty humor, profound wisdom, and genuine love and respect for others were hallmarks of her character as she lived the Benedictine values. Her knack for remembering names, particularly the thousands of students, alumni and faculty, is one of her most gifted qualities that will be forever treasured.

“With an incredible ability to remember names and faces of almost everyone she met, Sister Thomas was always focused on the person directly in front of her,” added Kunze. “Her attention to the details of daily lives and family members of those she met would be recalled in future encounters. Students, faculty, staff, and guests of the Monastery would marvel when she asked about people and situations in their lives that had been discussed months, even years, earlier. She had a ready laugh and gentle nature that made others comfortable in her presence.”

Welder, a Bismarck native, attended the College of St. Benedict, graduated from the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, and earned a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of the Annunciation Monastery.

Sister Thomas Welder receives the Rough Rider Award from Governor John Hoeven and is enshrined into North Dakota Hall of Fame.

Welder began her career as a teacher at the university in 1963, when it was named Mary College. As president, Welder helped the school gain university status, experienced steady growth, added numerous undergraduate and on-site graduate degree programs throughout North Dakota, helped make Mary one of the premier institutions for the preparation of leaders, and fostered leadership development in students and colleagues. The Norsk Høstfest Association inducted Welder into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame, she received the Lifetime of Caring Award from the United Way, and on May 4, 2004, she earned the state’s highest honor from Governor John Hoeven — the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award — presented to individuals who have received national recognition, reflecting credit and honor upon North Dakota and its citizens:

“ … Sister Thomas promotes competence in communication, a commitment to values and service to community.  Her strong belief of growing into leadership through service stands as a model for North Dakota and the nation,” reads an excerpt from the plaque beneath her portrait that hangs in the North Dakota Hall of Fame in the lower level of the State Capitol Building.

During the later years of her presidency, Welder endured chronic kidney complications that led to a transplant in 2001. In 2005, she learned that due to a virus she would need a second kidney transplant, but had to regularly undergo dialysis until a successful second kidney transplant could be done in 2011.

United Tribes Technical College gives Sister Thomas Welder a quilt for her 31 years as president.

At the start of Shea’s current presidency in 2009 and after her 31-year tenure as the fourth University of Mary president, Welder continued to be involved with University of Mary as president emerita — remaining active with public speaking events, committees and fundraising in the department of Mission Advancement.

In lieu of flowers, if you wish to honor the memory of Sister Thomas Welder, her love for University of Mary’s students, lifelong mission of servant leadership, and genuine care for others, memorial donations are being accepted to Annunciation Monastery or for the university’s Sister Thomas Welder Scholarship Fund at www.umary.edu/SisterThomas.  They can also be mailed to the Office of Mission Advancement in care of the Sister Thomas Welder Scholarship Fund at 7500 University Drive, Bismarck, ND, 58504.