William Leahy, SJ, Named President

By Douglas Whiting
Director of Public Affairs

William P. Leahy, SJ, sat chatting - mostly listening and asking questions, really - with several staff and administrators in the quiet of Connolly House on the evening of Oct. 6.

In the next room, members of the Board of Trustees were making Boston College history, discussing the qualities of the individual who would succeed J. Donald Monan, SJ, as the University's next president.

Shortly before 9 p.m., applause broke out from the room containing the trustees, signaling, presumably, an affirmative vote. Fr. Leahy, though, barely acknowledged the commotion as he continued his conversation.

In minutes, however, he was escorted into the trustees' meeting room, where, greeted with a rousing standing ovation, he finally gave in, a wide smile creasing his face as he received the good wishes, handshakes and toasts of the men and women of the board. Offering "100,000 welcomes," former Trustee Chairman William Connell officially greeted Fr. Leahy - executive vice president at Marquette University - as the University's 25th president.

The action brought to a close the national search among members of the Society of Jesus for a new president that began when Fr. Monan announced his intention to resign in February 1994.

According to Geoffrey T. Boisi, chairman of the Board of Trustees and of the Executive Search Committee, "The appointment of Fr. Leahy marks the successful conclusion of a national search that began when Fr. Monan expressed his desire to make way for fresh leadership that would continue the extraordinary progress of the University. In Fr. Leahy - a history scholar, an experienced executive and a spiritual man committed to the highest values of Jesuit education - we have found that leadership."

Boisi also extended "profound thanks to Fr. Monan for his decades of leadership and accomplishment" and announced that Fr. Monan would assume the new post of chancellor when Fr. Leahy takes office on July 31, 1996.

Academics and Administration

An authority on American Catholic higher education, Fr. Leahy, 47, brings to Boston College a broad background in scholarship and administration at Marquette, a Jesuit co-educational institution in Milwaukee with a student enrollment of 10,651.

During his four-year tenure as Marquette's chief operating officer, Fr. Leahy has devoted considerable energy to the strengthening of the university's undergraduate liberal arts programs, to integrating intellectual excellence, religious commitment and service, and to helping to identify and strengthen graduate level programs targeted by the university for distinction. He has served as chair of the Marquette Board of Trustees Committee on Jesuit Identity and Religious Affairs. Marquette consists of five colleges; schools of dentistry, education and law; a graduate school; and several specialized programs. It has a wide range of athletic programs, including Division I basketball.

While serving in a key role in the university's strategic planning initiatives, he also has worked closely with other top Marquette administrators and faculty to develop bridges for students between their academic endeavors and extracurricular and residential life. In addition, Fr. Leahy has been a central figure in Marquette's acclaimed Campus Circle initiative, an urban revitalization program which has renovated housing and attracted commercial business to neighborhoods bordering the urban campus.

Of his appointment, Fr. Leahy said, "Boston College is a dynamic, highly regarded Catholic university. It has immense support and this is a wonderful opportunity for anyone desiring to serve in higher education."

Before meeting with trustees on Oct. 6, Fr. Leahy was introduced to members of the Advisory Committee assisting the presidential search, as well as the University's vice presidents. On Saturday, he sandwiched the Boston College-Pittsburgh football game between meetings with representatives of the Boston media and receptions with University deans and the Jesuit Community.

Enthusiastic reaction

Reaction from various segments of the University community to Fr. Leahy's appointment was enthusiastic.

"This has been an amazing journey, but one well worth taking," said Trustee Judith B. Krauss, dean of the Yale University School of Nursing and member of the Executive Search Committee. "We have found absolutely the right man to be the president of Boston College. He is truly the candidate who will bring to Boston College academic integrity, a vision about Catholic higher education, leadership and, above all, simply the will to lead and to serve BC."

Fellow Executive Search Committee member Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, rector of the Boston College Jesuit Community and a trustee said, "Fr. Leahy brings a dimension to the job that few other candidates would because of the scholarly understanding he has of Catholic higher education in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. His book and writings present the way in which Catholics have integrated into American society and this involves issues which we continue to face today."

"We were going out looking for the best athlete available, and we got the star quarterback," said Trustee Richard T. Horan, a member of the Advisory Committee.

From the faculty ranks, Advisory Committee member T. Ross Kelly, the Vanderslice professor of chemistry, said, "He's real bright, he listens and he appreciates the value of undergraduate and graduate programs. He said that the prestige of graduate programs enhances the prestige of the undergraduate programs, and I agree with that.

"He's filling awfully big shoes, but I'm confident of his ability to do so."

Prof. Mary Brabeck (SOE), an Advisory Committee member, added, "I believe Boston College owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Geoff Boisi for his extensive consultation with every facet of the University. This long process has yielded an excellent result.

"Fr. Leahy is an excellent choice," she continued. "He shares our commitment to enhancing Boston College's strong undergraduate programs and he has a vision for excellence in graduate and professional education that will lead Boston College into the 21st century as the premier Catholic university in the country."

Alumni Association President John P. Connor pledged the association's support "to doing all we can to make Fr. Leahy's entrance to Boston College as smooth as possible. This is a very exciting time for BC and we are particularly thrilled with the fact that our next president is a Jesuit. He is an academic, an administrator and a man of the people - all important to us as an alumni association."

Fr. Monan's legacy

Fr. Leahy will assume the presidency of an institution that under the leadership of Fr. Monan has come to be regarded as among the nation's educational leaders. He also will take the helm from a man who has been the longest-serving president in the University's history - a tenure that has been marked by the evolution of Boston College into one of the most highly selective, academically distinguished and financially sound in the country.

As Fr. Monan entered this, his 24th year as Boston College's president, the University's undergraduate and graduate programs have been recognized by several independent rankings as among the top 40 nationally.

Fr. Leahy will join an institution that draws students from all 50 states and 91 foreign countries, has annual operating revenues of $350 million, assets of more than $1 billion and an endowment of more than $500 million, among the largest of any college or university in the nation.

Academic background

Born in 1948 in Imogene, Iowa, and a member of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus since 1967, Fr. Leahy earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in US history at St. Louis University in 1972 and 1975, respectively. He then began studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., where he earned degrees in theology (1978) and historical theology (1980). He received a doctoral degree in US history from Stanford University in 1986.

He began his academic career as a teacher at Campion Jesuit High School in Wisconsin from 1973-1975. He served as a teaching assistant at Stanford University in 1981, before joining the Marquette faculty as an instructor of history in 1985. He became an associate professor with tenure in 1991, the same year he was tapped for the executive vice president's post.

Fr. Leahy's publications include Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Georgetown University Press, 1991). He also has written a number of articles on Catholic higher education in the United States, including "The Rise of Laity in American Catholic Higher Education," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society (1991); and "Academic Professionalism and American Catholic Higher Education," Assembly 1989: Jesuit Ministry in Higher Education (1990), among others, as well as numerous articles in the Dictionary of Christianity in America and book reviews in History , Journal of American History and History of Education Quarterly .

His memberships include the American Catholic Historical Association, the American Historical Association, the History of Education Society and the Organization of American Historians.

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