On Friday, April 15, the Campus Ministry CORE Team presented their second installment of Holy Spirits and Biblical Brew for the semester featuring President Collins.
“This is my life story,” Collins said as he began his talk. “Feel free to sleep, laugh, cry.” This was met by many laughs.
Throughout his life, Collins has struggled against his introversion while living an extremely public life. He realized that any challenges he has faced were always temporary and have resulted in making him stronger. Finally, he recognized how he has never doubted his faith though he acknowledged that practicing it has not always been consistent. These three themes were present throughout his presentation.
Collins separated his life into five eras: his first 18 years, young adult years, next 18 years, early career, and most recent 18 years.
Collins grew up as the oldest of six children in Huntley and Crystal Lake, IL. As a child, he was always the “nice kid”, meaning he was always invited to the birthday parties in middle school and was a strict rule follower. However, because of his introversion, he never felt good enough. Part of this feeling was based on the economic situation of his family. His clothes were always second hand, his lunch was not always fully packed, and he and his siblings were always dropped off at school in a taxi because their mother could not drive. At the same time, Collins looks back at these years as fortunate because of his education at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Crystal Lake. With the great examples from the priests and religious sisters who taught at the school, his faith was a huge blessing throughout his grade school years.
He then attended Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, IL. These years were primarily lonely. It wasn’t until later in his high school career than he found solid friendships. He wanted to be the cool kid, and he admitted that his role model at the time was Greg Brady. At the same time, he worked at a factory where he was made fun of daily. This brought him to vow that he would never treat anyone as poorly as he had been treated if he ever was given a position of authority.
Next, Collins went to college at Loras. There he made three great friends who encouraged him to run as a class officer. Looking back, this was one of the greatest decisions he made during college. This position helped Collins learn how to act in a small position of authority, and it also brought him into a more social group. However, his faith life was on autopilot because his life became so social. Through an unexpected friendship, Collins was encouraged to go on an Antioch retreat.
“Other people looked out for me, took a lead,” Collins reflected. “In ways that you can’t imagine, it changed my Loras experience.”
The years after graduation were filled with many struggles and blessings. Through God’s providence, he was offered an admissions position at Loras only months after graduation. Then, Nov. 3 of that year, he received a call from his brother telling him that their dad had fallen off a ladder. This led to nine months of intensive care and 18 years living like an Alzheimer’s patient, though he never forgot the names of his children. This led to a couple of his sibling’s questioning God, but he was able to look at it was a blessing and used it to make him stronger in his faith. For the next few years, he acted as a father to his younger siblings. During this time, Collins transitioned from his job at Loras to a few positions at Drake University. When he met his wife, Lisa, they decided to move back to Dubuque, and Collins got another job at Loras. However, this was not always easy. Lisa decided to be a stay at home mom, and with their family quickly growing, they struggled to keep up economically. Still, it was a blessed time filled with faith and love.
In 2004, Collins became president of Loras College. Yet, he entered his position during a time of chaos as he was the fourth president in four years. During the first few years, Collins faced struggles that he could not have expected. Among these were the deaths of students and faculty, the difficulty of firing and disciplining friends, and the loneliness of not being able to share these struggles with everyone. Looking back, Collins acknowledges the loneliness he faced during his younger years as a blessing because they prepared him for the loneliness he faced during this early presidency. At one point when he was struggling to feel confident in his capabilities, he was uplifted by inspiring words from a new board chair.
“You are a man of faith…(and) no one else is more passionate about Loras than you…Don’t change who you are,” he told Collins.
Throughout his life, he has learned many lessons. Among them are knowing that in service, there is sacrifice but no self. Also, he had learned to navigate the future without a plan by putting it in God’s hands.
“I’m not anxious to be a college president anywhere else. I don’t want to work anywhere else.”
While his life has not been perfect, Collins feels extremely blessed. In fact, he would choose his life over Greg Brady’s any day. He would rather struggle through the trials his positions contains while trying to serve the college and God. His faith is deeper than ever through more prayer and devotion even amidst his busy life.
“The world tells us to seek success, power, and money, God tells us to seek humility, service, and love,” Collins quoted Pope Francis. He knows in this way, he has found a calling and not a job as the president at Loras.