New University President Jo Ann Rooney is introduced to the Loyola community
By Drew Sottardi | Senior writer
New Loyola University Chicago President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, the first lay leader in the University’s 146-year history, was introduced Monday to the Loyola community.
Dr. Rooney, who will start her new position on August 1, spoke to a full house at Mundelein Auditorium during a welcoming ceremony after being introduced by Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Parkinson. After seeing the standing ovation that Dr. Rooney received, Parkinson told the crowd: “I said (today would be) exciting and historic. I didn’t realize (it would be) that exciting and that historic.”
“She possesses a very impressive array of experiences that will enable her to build on the University’s tremendous success over the last decade,” Parkinson said. “But first and foremost, Jo Ann is an educator. ... This is a woman of tremendous character and integrity. She has very much of a results-oriented mentality and has a very strong will to achieve.”
In her remarks, Dr. Rooney talked about the importance of education, what attracted her to Loyola, and why—after more than five years away from academia—she decided to return to higher education.
“Education provides a foundation. It is the backbone behind vibrant, thriving communities, and frankly, an engaged society,” said Dr. Rooney, who served as president of Spalding University in Kentucky from 2002–2010 before briefly leading Mount Ida College in Massachusetts. “Education enables individuals to grow, to thrive, and to reach their greatest potential.”
Why Loyola? Why now?
After spending the past few years working for the Department of Defense and as a managing director of Huron Consulting, Dr. Rooney said people wondered why she wanted to become a college president again. Her conversations with Loyola’s search committee made it an easy decision, she said.
“To a person, I consistently heard about how (Loyola) is about more than just the work,” said Dr. Rooney, whose mother was an elementary school teacher. “It’s a passion; it’s a calling. It’s about making sure that this is a community that respects each other but that challenges each other to be the best possible people we can be, no matter what your role.”
“More than that, it was about reaching outside this University and being of service,” she said. “Every member of that committee articulated that.”
Dr. Rooney said her experience on the Board of Trustees at Regis University in Colorado also drove home the unique qualities of a Jesuit education.
“(That experience) opened my eyes and my heart in many different ways about how we can make education even more transforming,” she said while thanking the Jesuit community at Loyola.
Thanks all around
Dr. Rooney thanked several others during her speech, including Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., chancellor and past president, and John P. Pelissero, PhD, interim president.
“I had heard so much about you, and your presence in a good way is everywhere,” she said in her remarks to Father Garanzini. “I cannot tell you how honored I am to be able ... to find wonderful ways to build on the hard work and the heart and soul that you and so many of your team have put in to bring us where we are today.”
To Pelissero, who will return to his post as provost in August, she said: “Thank you for your past leadership, your current leadership, and I’m thrilled, your future leadership. I am looking so forward to forming quite a formidable team with you.”
Garanzini, who led the University for 14 years before stepping down and assuming the chancellor role in July 2015, spoke highly of his full-time successor.
“I am very impressed by Dr. Rooney’s extensive experience, her impressive capabilities, and her warm demeanor,” Garanzini said. “She is ready to take the reins of this institution at a time when higher education is facing significant challenges.”
A sign from above
In her speech, Dr. Rooney talked about visiting Loyola during her interview process. She told the crowd that when she came to campus, she prayed in Madonna della Strada Chapel, asking for a sign that she should take the job. After spending some time in the chapel, she said she felt a surge of excitement and peace come over her.
“I thought, ‘OK, we’re good, this is great. I’m where I need to be,’ ” she said. To celebrate, she walked through the chapel’s double doors to take in the beautiful lakefront scenery.
“I opened those doors and I was hit with a blast of cold air, the likes of which all of you know,” she said, prompting laughter and applause from the crowd. “I kind of looked back inside and thought, ‘Do I need to go back in there and continue this conversation?’ ”
Clearly, she didn’t. But she did leave that day with some valuable insight about living in Chicago.
“What I realized is never leave home without a fleece jacket.”