Ushering in a new era for both the University and the greater Jesuit community, Dr. Mark R. Nemec, PhD, the school’s first lay person was officially inaugurated on Friday Oct. 20, as the ninth president to be appointed to the position. Kicking off the series of events, Nemec spoke in the Tully Dining Commons as part of his student reception, where he made an effort to connect with students by talking to them at dinner.
At the Tully on Wednesday, Oct. 18, Nemec expressed that “it’s really exciting to kick off this whole inauguration week here because this place, in many ways, represents so much of Fairfield’s future … if you look at this building, its core is the same as it has always been, but around it is the modernization that makes it something exceptional.” Nemec also alluded to the notion that the Tully represents community and family, adding that he was grateful for all the University has done to welcome him and his family to the school.
The official inauguration ceremony took place at 1:30 p.m. on Bellarmine Lawn, with representatives from several universities around the country and the world, such as Oxford University and Yale University, in attendance. The Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies Dr. Paul Lakeland introduced the event, as well as the procession of the greater community of universities and spoke about the significance of the event as a whole.
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Christine Siegel was the Mistress of Ceremonies, offering introductions for each of the speakers and giving them the platform to send President Nemec their best wishes for his time as head of the University.
The Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Rev. Frank J. Caggiano, was also in attendance after conducting the inaugural mass that morning. He also initiated a prayer to wish Nemec the best in his endeavors and to continue the University’s mission of “opening young minds to the truths of our world,” and prayed that President Nemec would be inspired “to lead with justice, prudence, humility, and wisdom.”
Offering their best wishes for President Nemec, many were given the chance to speak, such as Michael Tetreau, First Selectman of the Town of Fairfield, Kimberly M. Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President for Student Life at Yale University, John A. Pagano, President of the Alumni Board of Directors, as well as Cara Gibbons ’18, Fairfield University Student Association President, to name a few.
First Selectman Tetreau said, “Dr. Nemec, we know you represent the finest qualities found in the Jesuit tradition for higher education. Your contributions to the Fairfield community may be just starting, but your service and dedication to this University and our community will most surely be outstanding.”
Goff-Crews stated that “we depend on excellent leaders who are willing to serve and who understand the complexity of leading an institution that must focus on past, present and the future.” She also pointed out that “[Nemec] brings with him to Fairfield not only wisdom, but a sense of humor, [as well as] important leadership experiences that will serve him and Connecticut well.”
Gibbons, representing the undergraduate student population at the University and speaking about the student experience at the school, said that “undergraduate education at Fairfield University has always centered around the ideal of men and women for others.”
Gibbons also added “we, as undergraduates, excel in service to the community; our mission volunteer trips make a difference for us and others around the world… Our life at Fairfield is a balance of intellectual and social activity.” She emphasized that FUSA looks forward to working with President Nemec in order to improve the undergraduate experience for all students and to enhance the educational and social experiences at the University for all of us.
One of the students in attendance at the event, Jaclyn Cuculino ‘20, added that “I’m really excited that Fairfield has a new president and I think he’ll do great things for both the students and the whole community alike.”
Glee club member Dana Saad ‘18 said, “it was a beautiful day, and watching the procession, and the ceremony, and all the faculty, it was nice … it’s like foreshadowing to graduation. And performing at such a historic event, and to be in the program, I felt honored.”
Speaking toward the end of the inaugural ceremony, former Fairfield University President, Rev. Jeffery P. von Arx, S.J. also welcomed President Nemec to the Fairfield community by wishing him all the best in continuing the University’s Jesuit mission, in particular by citing the phrase “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam,” which is a foundational ideal of the Jesuit tradition and a Latin phrase meaning, “for the greater glory of God.”
Fr. von Arx passed on the traditional mace of the University, which represents the symbol of the president’s authority and chain of the office, the symbol of the office of the president, to his successor.
In President Nemec’s inaugural address itself, he expressed his goals for his presidency and called upon Fairfield to stand up to the challenges of the modern world in that, “the world needs the work we do, but we must also … be committed to remain relevant.” He added, “the modern Jesuit Catholic University must be committed to forming well-rounded men and women by educating through a commitment to ‘cura personalis,’ caring for the mind, the body, and the soul.”
Lastly, Nemec said, “As steward of this great University, this is my one ask, my one prayer for all of us. That we as an institution, we as a community, we as a family continue to uphold our core values and commitments while embracing the challenge of being a model for the 21st century, so we may make the most of our blessings and so we may continue our rise, and that we do so for the greater glory of God.”