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Shaw releases new biography of St. Olaf College’s second president

Professor Emeritus of Religion Joseph Shaw ’49 has published a biography of St. Olaf College’s second president, John Nathan Kildahl.

St. Olaf Professor Emeritus of Religion Joseph Shaw ’49 has published a biography of the college’s second president.

John Nathan Kildahl is a careful investigation into the life and times of a gifted servant of the college and the church. Drawing primarily on resources from the St. Olaf College Archives, Shaw presents a very personal record of Kildahl that reads much like a narrative — but one with historical substance. The project was assisted by a grant from the Nygaard Foundation.

Shaw felt compelled to complete this biography for many reasons. Having already written a centennial history of the college in 1974, as well as biographies of St. Olaf founder Bernt Julius Muus and first President Thorbjorn Nelson Mohn, among other works, Shaw took John Nathan Kildahl as the natural next step for publication.

While doing research for his previous books about St. Olaf, says Shaw, he came across numerous references to the second president.

“I became aware that Kildahl was simply a very important and pivotal leader in St. Olaf’s early history,” Shaw says.

ShawJoeBook165x255After immigrating to America from Norway, the Kildahl family soon settled in Northfield. John Nathan Kildahl studied at Luther College and Luther Seminary in Madison, Wisconsin, to become ordained as a pastor. After serving congregations in southern Minnesota and Chicago, Kildahl was president of St. Olaf College from 1899 to 1914.

Called by the church to be a professor of theology in 1914, he taught at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, until his death in 1920.

Shaw says Kildahl left the college a significant legacy that the campus community can be grateful for today. Kildahl enriched St. Olaf’s academic program, expanded the campus, saved coeducation, built a strong faculty (including Ole Rolvaag and F. Melius Christiansen), organized student leadership outlets, established an endowment fund, and solidified the college’s relationship with other academic institutions, with the Lutheran church, and with Norway.

John Nathan Kildahl can be purchased at the St. Olaf Bookstore.