Four years ago Edward Snowden released thousands of documents about the National Security Agency’s monitoring of innocent American citizens in addition to countless world leaders.
Four years ago President Jack Ohle announced his retirement from Gustavus and the search for current President Becky Bergman had begun.
Four years ago Chaplain Brian Konkol started his career at Gustavus. And now, four years later, Brian has announced he has accepted the offer to serve as Dean of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University in New York this upcoming fall.
Originally from Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, Brian has served Gustavus Adolphus College and the larger St. Peter community as a preacher, minister, teacher, activist, and administrator.
Among his many achievements, Brian has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Viterbo University, a Master’s in Divinity from Luther Seminary, a Master’s in Theology, and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
After serving in Guyana from 2003 to 2007, in 2008 Brian and his wife Kristen moved to South Africa where they served together as Country Coordinators of the Young Adults in Global Mission program of the ELCA. He also assisted in parish ministry alongside isiZulu-speaking congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. They moved back to the United States in 2012.
Brian has also served as a faculty member at Gustavus, teaching for the Three Crowns Curriculum and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies program, and also took a class of students to South Africa during the January-Term of 2016. Brian described the experience as “one of the highlights of my time here.” He went on, saying, “among other things, we accompanied our students to an isiZulu speaking congregation that I had been to countless times before, and it was one of those profound moments where my past and present wonderfully came together. It was a breathtaking experience.”
“There’s something about driving up that hill and seeing yourself as a member of this special community.” — Brian Konkol
Brian’s family also has numerous connections to the country.
“I have two graduate degrees from a South African university, my son was born in South Africa, my daughter was conceived there, and they both have African names. The country, because of its amazing people, means a lot to Kristen and me,” Brian said.
When he joined Gustavus in 2013, he was accompanied by a fellow new Chaplain, Siri Erickson.
“When your office is next door, and your homes here in St. Peter are next door, and you start work on the exact same day, it truly binds you together. While I am moving on, Siri and I will be friends for the rest of our lives,” Brian said.
Erickson also noted their connection.
“We’ve helped each other learn how to do this work, and I will greatly miss talking about our hopes and dreams for Gustavus, brainstorming about new ideas and approaches to chaplaincy, and supporting each other through the joys and challenges of this work.”
“We were friends first and work partners second,” Brian said.
Brian was bittersweet about his leaving.
“With every change there is both gain and loss, for with every gain there is loss, and with every loss there is gain,” he said.
Going through his memories, he recalled his first interview with the school.
“The first time I spoke to the search committee, it was on the phone and I was incredibly ill with the flu,” Brian said. “I of course did not want to tell them how I was feeling and decided to push through with the interview. After the phone call finished, I remember my wife asking me how it all went, and I remember thinking ‘I have no idea.’ I felt awful, but it must have been good enough!”
He also recollected about seeing the campus for the first time as a candidate for the chaplaincy.
“It was a joy. There’s something about driving up that hill on College Avenue and seeing yourself as a member of this special community,” he said. “Gustavus is a well respected educational institution with a profound tradition of faith and learning. For me, I knew that the faculty, staff, and students would offer me a great deal, and I trusted that I could offer everyone something in return.”
Among his friends and fellow professors, Brian will also be missed by his students.
“I was moved by how he was so open and so present. He told me about his stories from South Africa and Guyana and how it transformed his life. I will miss his presence a lot. He is an authority figure on this campus but I also feel so comfortable calling him a friend. I know I can go to him for anything,” Hubert Ngabirano said.
The decision to leave for Syracuse was not an easy one for Brian and his family, but one of great joy and gratefulness.
“When Chancellor Syverud offered me the position at Syracuse, I was filled with gratitude, not merely to receive the call, but because of all that happened leading up to it,” Brian said. “I was able to receive that special phone call because of all of the people over the past decades that have invested in me. From high school educators to college professors to pastoral mentors, the first thing I thought about was how grateful I was to all of them. I am indebted to more people than I can name.”
Chaplain Brian Konkol’s final service will be the baccalaureate service on Sunday, May 28.