Midwest Jesuits Who Lead Universities
For all the work the Jesuits do in Ignatian spirituality, social justice, and on the frontiers, the Society of Jesus is perhaps most well-known for education. What began with St. Ignatius of Loyola establishing the Roman College (now known as the Pontifical Gregorian University) in 1551 endures today, as the United States is home to 27 Jesuit colleges and universities, which compete on a national level in academics, research, and athletics. While some of these institutions are now led by laypeople, they all share a strong foundation that was put in place by Jesuit leadership, and they continue to be guided by Jesuit values.
Midwest Jesuit Fr. Michael Graham, who arrived at Xavier University in 1984 and assumed the presidency in 2001, retired this year, and he is succeeded by Dr. Colleen Hanycz, who he notes is a “Xavier person
Notably, the process of missioning a Jesuit to serve as a university president has changed significantly over the years. Any Jesuit who serves as university president is held to the same standards in terms of background and experience as a lay candidate would be. Father Graham’s Jesuit vocation was always tied to his desire to work in higher education, as he entered the Society midstream through his doctoral work. Entering a religious order while pursuing a doctorate might seem like an unconventional choice, but his formation as a Jesuit only served to strengthen his abilities as a leader.
“Discernment skills have been indispensable—both individually and collectively,” Fr. Graham says. “At my best, I’ve brought a decidedly pastoral dimension to my work here always, whether as a faculty member or in this office.”
Father John Fitzgibbons, SJ, had also hoped to be an educator, but he had not initially considered serving in administration. After serving as director of the Jesuit humanities program at Creighton University and then director of novices in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fr. Fitzgibbons headed to the University of San Francisco in 2006, where he planned to transition back to college teaching. Subsequently, the university’s president at the time, Fr. Stephen Privett, SJ, invited Fr. Fitzgibbons to undertake an “administrative internship,” which led to Fr. Fitzgibbons serving as an academic dean and vice president for administration. Father Fitzgibbons then became assistant provost for faculty development at Marquette University, and in 2012, he took office as the 24th president of Regis University in Denver. He notes that while he is not actively engaged in pastoral ministry, the role of president is “a very priestly and Jesuit ministry.” Father Fitzgibbons says, “At the heart of this service is the requirement that one helps the faculty and staff teach students of all ages and backgrounds to be critical thinkers, faithful persons, and lifelong learners.”
With nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., only a small fraction of students each year decide to pursue a degree from a Jesuit institution, and the Jesuit universities don’t take the responsibility of educating those students lightly. With all the challenges facing higher education, Fr. Fitzgibbons says, “The challenge is the hope. We form critical thinkers and communicators who become good and faithful citizens. There is no more noble vocation.”
Other Living Midwest Jesuits Who Have Served or Are Currently Serving as President of a Jesuit University:
Fr. Lawrence Biondi, Fr. Albert DiUlio, Fr. Daniel Hendrickson,* Fr. Timothy Lannon, Fr. William Leahy,* Fr. Richard Salmi, and Fr. Robert Wild
Grace Rice is a journalist based in Chicago and a graduate of Boston College, where she was editor-in-chief of The Rock. Currently, she works as assistant director of communications for the Midwest Jesuits.