Georgetown Names Layperson as University President
Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Hints Disappointment; Others Show Support
Published: Monday, February 19, 2001
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
In a move of particular interest to administrators, faculty and students at Jesuit institutions, Georgetown University, often considered the preeminent Jesuit institution of higher learning in the United States, officially named a layperson as its new president last Friday.
Georgetown Senior Vice President John J. DeGioia will succeed Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, as university president when O’Donovan retires from the post on June 12.
DeGioia is certainly not a stranger to Georgetown. He has worked at the university since he graduated from Georgetown with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1979.
Beginning in 1982, he served as the assistant to then-president Rev. Timothy S. Healy, SJ.
From 1985 until 1992, DeGioia was Georgetown’s dean of student affairs and was named to his current position as senior vice president in 1998. In 1995, he earned a doctorate in philosophy from Georgetown and is a lecturer and faculty member in the university’s philosophy department.
Several members of the Georgetown community were enthusiastic about the appointment.
“I think he embodies what Georgetown’s about,” Rev. Brian O. McDermott, SJ, rector of Georgetown’s Jesuit community told the Washington Post. “It’s a plus he’s coming from within the heart of the university.”
John R. Kennedy, the chairman of the board of directors at Georgetown, sent out a letter to the Georgetown community.
“In view of a number of qualified Jesuit candidates, as you know, the board established an open search process,” The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted the letter as saying. “As Georgetown’s first lay president, Jack is deeply committed to working closely with the Jesuit community, the Jesuit Provincial and the Society of Jesus as a whole to ensure the central place of Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit traditions in the life of university.”
Many surmise that the most qualified Jesuit candidate was Rev. Michael J. Garazini, SJ, who was a special assistant to the president at Georgetown, but was recently appointed to the position of president at Loyola University Chicago, another Jesuit institution.
While members of the Catholic and Jesuit communities have expressed welcoming sentiments to Georgetown’s new president, Rev. Theodore E. McCormick, the new archbishop of Washington and a Cardinal-designate expressed hints of disappointment in a statement released last Thursday night.
“While many of us were hoping that a Jesuit priest might be found for the leadership of this important Jesuit institution, I welcome Dr. John DeGioia. He is known and respected as a fine Catholic scholar,” read the statement, which appeared in the Post.
Individuals here at Boston College have acknowledged the evolving state of Jesuit universities for some time, including Rev. Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, vice president for University mission and ministry, in a paper entitled “Beyond the Thin Black Line.”
He describes the task of combining Jesuit ideals with modern culture as a challenging one.
“Here is also a challenge for Jesuits specifically,” wrote Appleyard in the paper, “to put our spirituality at the service of our lay colleagues, to invest energy and financial resources of our communities strategically, according to clear priorities, in structures that serve this purpose in the institutions where we work.”
Appleyard added that “all the men and women who are our colleagues are called to ministry and mission, and that the role of Jesuits is to help them discover and enrich this dimension of their lives.”
“In many ways, this decision represents Jesuit Superior General Peter Hans Kolvenbach’s encouragement to pursue new paradigms in Jesuit-lay partnerships at Jesuit institutions throughout the world. We wish Georgetown and its new president the very best,” said Jack Dunn, BC’s director of public affairs.