Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was honored on August 1 with the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the annual Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion. He graduated from Saint Meinrad College in 1974. He retired in 2019 after leading the Archdiocese of Seattle for nine years. Before that, he served as bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, IL, for four years and as bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock for six years.
The award, given by Saint Meinrad, was established in 1990 to honor alumni who exemplify the Gospel values and have provided exemplary service in their lives or professions. The recipient also reflects and upholds the core values and mission of Saint Meinrad. The association’s board of directors reviews nominations for the award annually and makes the recommendations.
James Peter Sartain, a native of Memphis, TN, came to Saint Meinrad as a college student in 1971, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 1974. He earned his next two degrees in Rome: a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1977 and a licentiate in sacred theology with a specialization in sacramental theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum San Anselmo in 1979.
Sartain was ordained to the priesthood in 1978. In the Diocese of Memphis, he served at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish and at St. Louis Parish. He also served as chancellor and vicar general for Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, as well as the vocations director.
In 2000, St. John Paul II appointed him as the bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, where fostering vocations among youth and ministering to the state’s growing Hispanic population were among his priorities. According to the Little Rock diocesan website, Sartain took an immersion course in Spanish in 2001 and emphasized the need for the diocese’s priests and seminarians to learn the language.
As a bishop, he also served as the chairman of the Catholic Home Missions committee and as the secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He became the bishop of the Diocese of Joliet in 2006. During his four years there, Bishop Sartain helped solidify the diocese’s finances and began a thorough study of its parochial schools. As a result, a strategic plan was created to guide the development of Catholic education for the future.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed him archbishop of Seattle in 2010, and he served in that role until his retirement, due to health reasons, in 2019.
Archbishop Sartain has also served Saint Meinrad as a member of the Seminary and School of Theology’s Board of Overseers from 1997 to 2000, as well as a member of the Saint Meinrad Alumni Board.
In his acceptance speech, Archbishop Sartain said, “The foundation that developed while I was here taught me to strive for humility, to strive for respect of every other person you come into contact with, and most of all to strive to be united with God. I will never ever forget that foundation that was given to me.”
He becomes the 33rd Saint Meinrad alumnus to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award.