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Former Shanley choir director, educator Brother Michael Collins dies

MINNEAPOLIS - Brother Michael Collins, a former teacher and choir director at Fargo's Shanley High School during the 1970s, died on Sunday after a brief battle with lung cancer.

MINNEAPOLIS - Brother Michael Collins, a former teacher and choir director at Fargo's Shanley High School during the 1970s, died on Sunday after a brief battle with lung cancer.

Collins, 74, was the current president of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. He died less than a month after being diagnosed with cancer, according to a post on his CaringBridge site.

The site, which was set up on Dec. 20, shows nearly 14,000 visits and more than 500 posts from well-wishers, including many Shanley alumni.

Collins grew up in north Minneapolis and was one of the first black graduates of DeLaSalle, where he also spent his first eight years teaching. In 1967, he moved to Fargo to teach at Shanley, where he would stay until 1980, according to a release from Mike O'Keefe, the vice president of DeLaSalle.

Collins first taught religion at Shanley before moving on to directing the school's boys choir, said Todd Mickelson, Shanley's development director and also a 1978 graduate of the school.

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Mickelson called Collins' leadership of the choir "an amazing experience."

"He brought a level of professionalism that was recognized across the country," Mickelson said. "He did an amazing job in teaching young men to sing."

Under Collins' direction, the choir sang at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., in both 1971 and 1978 and also regularly toured around the country.

Mickelson described Collins as well-spoken and polished, with a gift for language. Students respected him for the high expectations he placed on them, Mickelson said.

"You got a great sense of what true professionalism was all about from him," he added.

Collins made his mark on Shanley in other ways as well, including working to start a foundation to raise money for the then-independent school, Mickelson said.

In 1980, Collins left Shanley to teach at a school in Berkeley, Calif. In 1987, he was named co-principal of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul and in 1991 was named president of DeLaSalle.

Even after he left Fargo, Collins kept in regular contact with former students and members of the choir up until the week of his death, Mickelson said.

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"He really believed in the Shanley community being a family," he added.

That value of the Shanley family was especially evident, Mickelson said, when the boys choir, under Collins' direction, would sing at funerals of Shanley community members.

With Collins singing the lead, the choir would perform a gospel song called "Oh Happy Day" as the recessional for every funeral.

Collins' funeral will be held Saturday morning at the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis. Mickelson expects "Oh Happy Day" will be sung again then.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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