Sister Thomas Welder passes away

Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 11:35 AM CDT
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UPDATE: Monsignor James Shea released the following statement:

"It is with a heavy heart that I write to share the news that Sister Thomas Welder passed into eternal life at about 1:00 a.m. this morning, following a brief battle with kidney cancer. Sister Thomas Welder joined Annunciation Monastery in 1961. She had begun classes with Mary College's inaugural freshman class just two years prior, in 1959. In 1964, she made her perpetual profession of monastic vows. And in 1978, she was named the 5th president of Mary College, soon to become University of Mary, a capacity in which she would serve for the next 31 years. She has served as our president emerita since 2009. Sister Thomas was a true servant leader. A life of profound stability as well as life-giving dynamism, of courage and vision as well as a rare depth of humility, Sister Thomas spent her years living and laboring on our prairie, in service to her fellow Sisters, our students, and our community. Her contributions to the University of Mary are innumerable and inexpressible. Her work reached and grew the very roots of our mission to form leaders in the service of truth, and our university remains ever touched by her stalwart faith, her supple heart, and her renewing hope. Above all, as a Benedictine Sister of Annunciation Monastery, we remember that Sister Thomas Welder belonged to the Lord, and it is to the Lord's embrace she goes now. Her life revolved around prayer and community, a rhythm of life which infused her mind and heart with that wisdom and quiet joy we've each come to cherish. And so as we commend Sister Thomas to God, we pray in faith-filled hope those words which Sister would have prayed every evening, in preparation for the coming of night and of that rest which is everlasting: "The Mighty One has done great things for me … His mercy is on all the faithful, through everlasting ages…" A press release with funeral arrangements can be found here. In the meantime, I will offer a simple Mass for her repose in Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel at 12:00 noon today, using prayers from the Roman Missal for one who has just passed away. As we mourn the loss of Sister Thomas, and as we thank God for the great gift of her life, please join me in prayer for the repose of her soul and for the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery. May she rest in peace, and may the Lord comfort and accompany all of us in these days of farewell. May God bless you. In Mary, Monsignor Shea

Sen. John Hoeven released the following statement on the passing of Sister Thomas Welder:

“Mikey and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Sister Thomas Welder. She was a person of great faith who lived her life in service to her community. Sister Thomas did an incredible job leading the University of Mary and was beloved by both the students and faculty. As governor, I was honored to award Sister Thomas with the Rough Rider Award in recognition of her influence and leadership. Mikey and I extend our deepest condolences to her loved ones and express our sincere appreciation for her lifetime of service and commitment to her community and God.”

Gov. Doug Burgum released the following statement regarding the passing of Sister Thomas Welder, former longtime president of the University of Mary and 2004 recipient of the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest commendation for its citizens.

“Sister Thomas Welder touched the lives of countless students and North Dakotans through her remarkable intelligence, capable leadership and profound faith,” Burgum said. “With her gracious hospitality, deep passion for education and a solid foundation built on values and service, Sister Thomas lifted the University of Mary to new heights as a beacon of servant leadership. She radiated wisdom and grace, striving to imbue those qualities in all who were fortunate to cross her path – whose names she had an uncanny ability to remember. “Having worked with Sister Thomas on Vision 2000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I witnessed firsthand the tremendous power in her quiet, humble leadership style. Sister Thomas embodied the Rough Rider qualities of reflecting credit and honor upon our state and its citizens, and North Dakota is an immeasurably better place because of her extraordinary service and leadership. We are eternally grateful for the incredible legacy she leaves behind, spreading the light of knowledge and faith across our state, nation and world. Kathryn and I extend our deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers to her family, friends, the Benedictine Sisters and the entire University of Mary community.”

Former University of Mary President Sister Thomas Welder passed away at her Annunciation Monastery home early Monday morning 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.

The public is welcome to join the following memorial ceremonies and funeral online through livestream at 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.

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.”

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.

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.

At the start of Shea’s current presidency in 2009 and after her 31-year tenure as the fifth 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 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.

A Tribute Sister Thomas Welder

Sister Thomas Welder touched thousands of students’ lives as the University of Mary grew and expanded over her presidency, known for her attentiveness, humility, her heart for service and her love for her vocation as a Benedictine Sister of Annunciation Monastery.

Posted by KFYR-TV on Monday, June 29, 2020