Sunday, June 30, 2002

UD gets new leader Monday

For 1st time in 152 years, layman to take charge

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DAYTON — Monday marks a historic changing of the guard at the University of Dayton. The Marianist who has kept watch over the institution for nearly 23 years, Brother Ray Fitz, will hand over the reins to the first lay president in the private, Catholic school's 152-year history.

        An afternoon Mass and an ice cream social are scheduled on campus. Administrators hope the day will offer students and educators time to reflect on the institution that has stood firmly on Marianist values.

        And it will be a time to discuss how far-reaching the school's reputation might become.

        “University of Dayton is a model of what our faith is all about,” said incoming president Daniel J. Curran, 51, who spent more than 20 years at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. “Everyone is really realizing this is a hidden treasure.”

        Founded in 1850 by the Society of Mary, a Roman Catholic teaching order of priests and brothers, UD has undergone dramatic change over the years.

        The once all-male local college about 45 miles north of Cincinnati became the first Catholic coed institution in the United States in 1937. Since then it has transformed itself into a school with a national reputation for its use of technology and ranks among the top 20 wired universities in the country.

        Beyond the expansion and continual remaking of itself, UD has maintained a commitment to link scholarship and learning with leadership and service.

        “I've loved every minute I've been here,” said Kelly Biscopink, 19, a junior English and theater major from Loveland. “This is really a community here. People are incredibly open and friendly.”

        Marianists say they live their Christian lives simply — as Mary, the mother of Jesus, did. In the tradition of the Rev. William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Society of Mary, they dedicate their lives to service and work for social justice.

        Brother Fitz, 60, who at 38 became the youngest president to lead UD when he started in 1979, has been a testament to that tradition, colleagues say. And his legacy will be one of quiet but profound change on the campus of 10,253 students.

        Those changes have been demonstrative of the quiet, unassuming leader's commitment to UD, his faith, the community and to service.

        “What he has managed to do over that time is to stimulate and oversee growth in every area of the institution,” said Fred Pestello, senior vice president for educational affairs.

        “He pushed very hard to develop a vision. ... Dan Curran is coming into an institution that is really poised to go to the next level.”

        Under Brother Fitz's leadership, UD garnered a reputation locally for social justice and service for its work in rebuilding neighborhoods and reforming urban education.

        He was instrumental in building alumni relationships that helped increase the endowment from just under $8 million to $275 million dur ing his tenure. UD now claims about a 26 percent alumni giving rate.

        Brother Fitz's push to recruit more minority students in Marianist high schools will this fall bring in one of the largest first-year classes of African-Americans in decades. Tuition deposits have been paid for 101 African-American students, which is almost double the number in Fall 2001.

        “After being in a position like this for 23 years, you need to find a way to change gears,” Brother Fitz said, “slow down and move at a different pace.”

        He will leave on a six-month spiritual renewal sabbatical and return to campus to teach in January.

        What was formed under Brother Fitz will be fashioned under Dr. Curran — a strategic plan to position the university as a national leader in Catholic higher education.

        Since the university will conclude its six-year, $155.7 million fund-raising campaign today, Dr. Curran said he will focus on building relationships both on campus and with industry.

        He will soon begin to ask the question: How far do we want our global reach to be?

        “That's where you can surface the issues of justice,” he said. “And that's very important.”

        Dr. Curran wants to project the school's reputation more nationally.

        He must balance the Marianist tradition of humility with spreading the word about the value of UD.

        It is important to be personally humble, he said, “but at the same time, for the good of the institution, we have to promote it.”


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