The University Board of Directors unanimously elected Senior Vice President John J. DeGioia as Georgetown’s 48th president last Thursday. DeGioia is the first lay person to run any of the 28 Jesuit colleges or universities in the country.
“The board was deeply impressed with Jack’s commitment to Georgetown, excellence in teaching and research, his profound appreciation for the University’s Catholic and Jesuit identity and his demonstrated leadership ability,” John Kennedy (CAS ‘52), chair of the Board of Directors, said. “We are all pleased that someone who is of Georgetown will lead Georgetown.”
DeGioia graduated from the College in 1979 and became the special assistant to former Georgetown President Timothy Healy, S.J. in 1983. He has served as Dean of Students, Chief Administrative Officer, a professor in the Philosophy department and, most recently, as Senior Vice President.
“I’m very excited,” DeGioia said. “I’ve been a part of this community for 26 years and the Jesuits have educated me, I’ve inherited their tradition and I’m prepared for this responsibility.”
Last April, University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., announced his intention to retire. Kennedy appointed members from the Board of Directors, staff, faculty, alumni and one student to the search committee in charge of finding a new president. Kennedy expressed the board’s strong preference for a Jesuit candidate but said a shrinking pool of Jesuit candidates meant the board would consider all applicants.
Sources close to the search process said that the committee seriously considered at least one Jesuit in the final few stages, Fordham University Dean Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. The search committee had difficulty finding a Jesuit who would both accept the position and be qualified for it, the sources said.
Many of the presidents of Jesuit universities only recently ascended to their positions. Loyola University of Chicago, Loyola Marymount University, Georgetown University, the College of the Holy Cross, Creighton University, Xavier University, Wheeling Jesuit University, the University of San Francisco and the University of Scranton are among the Jesuit colleges and universities that have conducted presidential searches over the last few years.
“While many of us were hoping that a Jesuit priest might be found for the leadership of this important institution, I welcome Dr. John DeGioia as the new President of Georgetown,” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington said. McCarrick only recently replaced Cardinal James Hickey as Washington’s Archbishop.
DeGioia said he did not anticipate any problems working with McCarrick. “I think I had a very, very strong relationship with the Archdiocese during my years in the administration, and I expect that is going to continue under the new archbishop,” DeGioia said.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a group founded to promote the Catholic identity of Catholic institutions of higher education has been critical of O’Donovan and has not released a statement on DeGioia’s election.
“[T]o suggest that a layman cannot properly maintain the mission of John Carroll is utterly to misunderstand the call of our Church in the Second Vatican Council for the laity to step up to bat,” Manual Miranda, president of the Cardinal Newman Society said. “This is the century of the laity and it is entirely right that a layman should undertake the helm of the alma mater of America’s catholic colleges and universities … Whether Jack is the right layman remains to be seen, but we should believe the Holy Spirit acts with purpose.”
Brian McDermott, S.J., the rector of Georgetown’s Jesuit community, said he looked forward to working closely with DeGioia.
“I think that what is special is that Jack DeGioia embodies the Catholic Ignatian identity of Georgetown University,” McDermott said. “I look forward to partnering with him as rector of the [Jesuit] community and the Jesuit community looks forward to partnering with him. We pledge our support and our whole hearted cooperation and outreach.”
Fundraising, need-blind financial aid, academic excellence and Jesuit identity are all areas DeGioia said he plans to focus on. He said he is optimistic about the future of Georgetown.
“The reason for my optimism is predicated on a couple of things,” DeGioia said. “We have been successful in securing the future of the medical center … second, perhaps more important, our Third Century Campaign has been successful beyond our wildest dreams. Third, the heart and soul of this institution is our student body and the quality of our faculty; both have remained exceptionally strong.”
One of the first challenges DeGioia will face is the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a papal document seeking to bring Catholic colleges and universities under tighter church control.
Priests and teachers across the country have worked with United States bishops to find a way to implement the papal document.
“I think Ex Corde strengthens Georgetown’s identity as a Catholic and Jesuit institution,” DeGioia said. “We have worked very carefully on the terms of implementation and we are very pleased with the way things are.”
A key piece of the document says that all theologians teaching Catholic theology must seek a mandatum, or approval from the local bishop, to teach. This stipulation has caused several Georgetown professors to fear that their academic freedom may be affected.
“I think the commitment of Georgetown to academic freedom has been made very clear throughout the process,” DeGioia said.
O’Donovan, who originally dealt with Ex Corde, will retire at the end of June and said he plans on living in New York next year.
“I have found the trust of leading this institution has been such a privilege,” he said. “It’s almost inestimable.”
Information technology, fundraising, the MedStar partnership and the ethical dilemmas presented by globalization are all areas he said DeGioia will have to focus on.
O’Donovan plans to work on a number of writing projects, including a journal of what it is like to become a university president, a book of homilies, a book of prayers and a collection of art criticism he has written.