||Jeff Karls is the new associate director of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an office at the Bishop O’Connor Center. (Catholic Herald photo/Joe Ptak)
MADISON -- For Jeff Karls, it’s been a happy homecoming to return to the Diocese of Madison where he grew up in the Dane and Lodi areas.
The former president of the College of St. Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., Karls has returned to serve as associate director at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
He explains, “I am assisting Fr. Eric Nielsen, the director at St. Paul’s, in putting together a Strategic Plan to develop a Capital Campaign for the St. Paul’s building project.”
Karls brings a great deal of experience to this new position. As president of the college from 1998 to 2011, he coordinated the move from the college’s original campus in Bedford, N.H., to the new campus in Warner. There he helped design and build a $10 million, nine-building campus on 135 acres.
As president of the college, Karls increased fundraising and enrollment. He raised over $10 million through personal visits, direct mail, and foundation appeals. He received two of the largest foundation grants in the college’s history. He also developed and implemented a comprehensive strategic plan.
Prior to serving as the president of the College of St. Mary Magdalen, Karls was executive vice-president/treasurer at the college. Before that, he worked in the hotel and restaurant businesses.
Faith important in his life
Karls grew up in Dane, where he attended St. Michael School. His family later moved to Lodi.
However, as an adult, he returned to St. Michael Parish, where he was active in the parish choir and served on the parish council.
“My faith has always been very important to me,” he said.
Discerning a vocation
At the age of 32, he was discerning whether he had a vocation to the priesthood. His pastor at the time, Fr. Alfred Kunz, recommended that he study at the College of St. Mary Magdalen. Although Karls had studied business in college, he needed the philosophy and theology courses.
During his first year at the college in New Hampshire, the president, knowing his business background, asked him to help with the student financial aid program. “Then they needed help with the food services, so I managed the food service program,” said Karls.
“At that time I visited several seminaries and I was praying about my vocation. I said a novena to St. Joseph and asked him to send me a sign.
“At the end of the novena, the college president saw me in the parking lot and asked me to be executive vice president of the college. I guess I got my answer.”
Karls served in that position for 12 years, and then was selected to be president for another 12 years.
Met his future wife
He met his future wife, Julie Klucinec, a graduate of the college. They were married a year and a half later. “God blessed us with 10 children,” Karls said.
They lost one son to cancer. Their nine surviving children include six boys and three girls ages six to 22. The oldest daughter is serving in the Air Force.
The Karls family is now living in Lodi and belongs to St. Patrick Parish there. Karls said his family is doing well and adjusting to being in Wisconsin, which they have visited over the years.
The College of St. Mary Magdalen had purchased Durward’s Glen Retreat Center in Baraboo during Karls’ tenure as president (it has since been sold to a local group). “That brought me back and forth to Wisconsin more often,” he said.
St. Paul’s building project
“In that process I got to know Bishop Morlino and the pastoral staff in the diocese fairly well. I began to look at other work but wanted to continue to be involved in a Catholic apostolate.
“In conversations with Bishop Morlino, he told me about the work going on at St. Paul’s. I met Fr. Eric Nielsen and realized they were undertaking a big project. I was pleased with what was happening.
“I met with Father Nielsen and the position fell into place. I’m happy to be working in the Diocese of Madison and I hope I can apply my experience here.”
He is helping establish a steering committee and a capital campaign committee for the St. Paul’s building project. “It’s an opportune time now. I think it’s moving in a very positive direction. I’m very optimistic about it,” said Karls.
He has an office at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison, where there is more space and parking available. He may be reached at 608-821-3026 or