Catherine Veschi/The Mirror

Catherine Veschi/The Mirror

For the first time since Fairfield’s founding in 1942, laypeople or non-ordained members of the Catholic Church, as well as Jesuits, are being considered for nomination as the president of the University.

The president will follow Father Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J, according to Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson.

“As we conduct this current search for the next president, we are actively seeking Jesuits with the appropriate background for the role,” said Anderson. “However, the Society of Jesus is declining in numbers and there are simply significantly fewer Jesuits than there were in the past and fewer who have the background and expertise for the post.”

Anderson continued, “While we are seeking a Jesuit candidate, we are also looking for laypeople with the appropriate credentials.”

According to Anderson, these credentials include a “commitment to mission and identity of Fairfield, broad academic and leadership knowledge and understanding, senior level leadership experience, character and integrity and a strong vision.”

Anderson went on to point out that there are many Jesuit institutions with lay presidents. She spoke of Dr. Mark Reed, who was the Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at Fairfield and is now the president of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Penn. and Dr. Timothy Snyder, who was once dean of the College of Arts and Science at Fairfield and is now the president of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif.

Additionally, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has non-Jesuit President John J. DeGioia, according to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. appointed the first female lay president of a Jesuit university in the world in April 2014.

Accounting for three new appointments of lay presidents since its writing, an article in John Carroll Magazine stated that 12 of the 28 schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities are headed by lay presidents. The number is much higher in recent years than it was in the past.

According to the Huffington Post, DeGioia, who was appointed in 2001, was the first lay president of a Jesuit institution. Since then, the number of lay presidents has risen to what it is today.

The reason for the growing trend, according to a Huffington Post article published in 2013, is because of the diminishing number of American Jesuits. In the 1960s, there were about 7,000 American Jesuit priests. By 1982, there were 5,500 American Jesuit priests and at the time of the article’s writing, there were only 2,500.

Freshman Jackie Lomino at St. Joseph’s University commented, “I have never been at a Jesuit college with a Jesuit president, but I like Dr. Reed. He’s very nice and interactive with the student body, which I think is what really matters when taking into account their needs and concerns.”

Lomino continued, “Although Dr. Reed is a lay president, he still embraces the concepts and morals of a Jesuit school, therefore having little impact on changing the influence of the Jesuit mission.”

Andrew J. McMahon ’89, P’13 ’19, the Chair of the University’s presidential search committee, commented on the decreasing number of Jesuits.

“The number of Jesuits is declining, which means there are fewer available and fewer with the expertise for the role of president,” said McMahon. “This is different than in years past when the pool was larger.”

Fairfield, which is in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, would remain a Jesuit institution no matter who is chosen as president.

“The roots and foundation of our pedagogical approach, the focus on the development of the whole person, which is called cura personalis, is central to our education approach and that would not change,” said Anderson.

Sophomore Lauren Hart believes that, as long as the University continues to uphold these values, it does not matter if the next president is a Jesuit.

“The Jesuit identity of Fairfield is important to me and to the University and as long as the president, whether Jesuit or non-Jesuit, upholds the Jesuit ideals, either would be a good addition,” said Hart.

Associate Professor of English and American Literature Elizabeth Petrino echoed Hart’s sentiment.

“Whether or not the person is a Jesuit is much less important than having a leader who will articulate the vision of the University’s social justice mission to the outside world,” said Petrino.

McMahon agreed that the candidate must continue to have Jesuit values.

“The candidate we choose will have the right talent and expertise to lead our University,” said McMahon. “If that candidate is a layperson, they will continue to uphold our heritage as a Jesuit Catholic institution. Our foundation and the mission will remain central to our identity.”

However, Father Mark P. Scalese, S.J. pointed out the positive aspects of having a Jesuit president at a Jesuit university.

“As a Jesuit, I think there’s a value in being able to have a Jesuit as a president because a Jesuit would be somebody who knows the tradition of a Jesuit education, who would be very well-immersed in the Jesuit values that we want to continue at a place like Fairfield,” said Fr. Scalese.

Fr. Scalese also recognized the fact that there are fewer Jesuits qualified for the job and therefore, it is OK that there may be a lay president.

“I recognize that that’s just the hard reality that we live in and so because of that, I am very much OK with there being a non-Jesuit president as long as they are a good person,” he said.

Anderson also emphasized the importance of Fairfield maintaining its Jesuit ideals under its new president.

“As a Jesuit institution, [we] have a particular obligation to the promotion of justice and that emphasis on serving the common good and forming persons who are inspired to give back to their communities would not change either,” said Anderson.

Anderson pointed out that Fairfield will continue to have its Campus Ministry and liturgical structure.

“We have many institutions in place at Fairfield that contribute to ensuring that our Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity remains at the center of what we do,” commented Anderson.

Anderson also pointed out that Fairfield has a Vice President for Mission and Identity, a Center for Catholic Studies and the Center for Faith and Public Life to help maintain Fairfield’s Catholic reputation.

Petrino elaborated on why it would be good to have a non-Jesuit president.

“Having a non-Jesuit president would, I believe, make people aware that Fairfield University embraces people from a variety of countries and faith traditions,” said Petrino. “This can only strengthen us as a school, a community and a nation.”

One Response

  1. David Orintas class of 1964

    Having a Jesuit as president is essential. There is a substantial difference between being a Jesuit and being a lay person. The commitment to Catholic/Jesuit values is greater with a Jesuit. Witness the lengthy formation period for a Jesuit: 10 or more years.

    as of 2013 there were about 2395 Jesuits in the United States. Certainly there is at least one among 2395 suited to be Fairfield’s next president. Not having a Jesuit president diminishes the Jesuit/Catholic values of the university/.


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