Under a cloudless sky on Oct. 20, 2017, representatives from universities around the country joined Fairfield faculty and members of the community in celebrating the investiture ceremony
Calling on Fairfield to “remain relevant” to the demands of the modern world and to embrace the “opportunity to be a model for 21st century higher education,” Mark R. Nemec, PhD, was formally installed on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, as the ninth President of Fairfield University, under a cloudless October sky in a ceremony on the lawn of Bellarmine Hall.
In keeping with the formal traditions of the investiture of a university president, the event was attended by representatives of over 75 institutions of higher learning from around the world and the United States, including Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Fordham, Stanford, Princeton, Northwestern, and New York universities; the universities of Chicago and Notre Dame, Loyola University Maryland and Loyola University Chicago, as well as Dartmouth, Williams, Iona, and Trinity colleges, to name but a few.
Marching in the procession with the university representatives were members of the Fairfield University faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees.
The ceremony began with an Invocation by the Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, who said that the mission of Fairfield University was to “open young minds to the truths of our world,” and he asked for God’s blessing for the new President: “As he assumes this office, guide him and all those who will collaborate with him, to conduct the affairs of this University in the ways of righteousness and truth.”
Following a missioning from Rev. James Miracky, S.J., Provincial Assistant for Higher Education of the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, President Nemec was presented with a medal of St. Ignatius, blessed by Pope Francis, by Rev. Michael J.L. Sheeran, S.J., President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Rabbi James Prosnit of Congregation B’nai Israel then offered a blessing, saying, “I pray, that under the leadership of Dr. Nemec, Fairfield may continue to be a place that according to its mission statement celebrates the God-given dignity of every human person.”
Rev. Thomas Fitzpatrick, S.J., a spiritual director to the University faculty and staff, then offered a poem followed by a song from the Fairfield University Glee Club, “We Will Sing of a Dream,” which had been commissioned in honor of the University on the occasion of the Glee Club’s 70th anniversary in 2017.
Following more greetings from Michael Tetreau, First Selectman of the Town of Fairfield, and Kimberly M. Goff-Crews of Yale University representing Connecticut’s colleges and universities, President Nemec was greeted by representatives from the Fairfield Jesuit community, Fairfield Preparatory School, the University faculty and staff, and representatives from the alumni, graduate, and undergraduate communities.
On hand to bestow the symbols of office on President Nemec – the University mace and chain of office – were former University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., and former Interim President Lynn Babington, PhD. “This mace symbolizes the President’s authority and responsibility to support and encourage the seeking of knowledge by students and faculty,” Fr. von Arx said. “We present this Mace to you this day to emphasize this higher calling: as the Jesuit motto inscribed here states, the University exists, and the President leads… for ‘the greater glory of God.’”
Frank Carroll, lll ‘89, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, then presented President Nemec with the University Charter and Presidential Privileges and Responsibilities. “I and my fellow Board members are confident that our University will flourish under your guidance,” he said.
In his inaugural address, President Nemec said, “a tangible sense of awe and excitement might be true for any new president, but to be asked to lead this institution, at this time, is truly a privilege. Two thousand seventeen marks the 75th anniversary of Fairfield’s founding. While any diamond jubilee is an occasion to celebrate, I would politely suggest ours is particularly unique. For when we pause a moment to reflect on Fairfield’s founding date of 1942, we are struck by the audacity of our founders. Think about it. To establish an institution of learning in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, when both college age students and building materials would be in short supply speaks to a deep and unceasing faith in the dignifying power of education.”
He then said that institutions of higher education face significant challenges as the culture evolves, and called on a “deliberate evolution” that would allow Fairfield to address those challenges. “The world needs the work we do, but we must also… be committed to remain relevant. That commitment would require three specific characteristics: a commitment to lifelong learning, a commitment to holistic education, and a commitment to extensive and expansive partnership.”
Noting that there are more people over age 65 than under the age of 5 for the first time in history, President Nemec called for a new approach to continuing education. “It means we need to be continually growing and developing graduate and professional programs which serve students over the course of their lives.”
“Second, the modern Jesuit Catholic University must be committed to forming well-rounded men and women by educating through a commitment to cura personalis, caring for the mind, the body, and the soul…In recent years, we have reaffirmed Fairfield’s commitment to not just the mind, but also the body and spirit of our students and must continue to do so in the years ahead.”
“Thirdly, to be a model for 21st century higher education, we must be expansive in effort and extensive in outreach. Looking beyond our disciplines and our schools, we must continue to foster a multi-disciplinarity which is more than simple collaborations across faculty, but rather a mindset which encourages faculty and students to pursue knowledge through a systematic inquiry which purposely reaches for frameworks of analysis outside of one’s ‘home’ discipline and field.”
President Nemec then said that Fairfield would need to become national in scope if it wants to succeed: “Shifting demographics — a decline in the Northeast’s college age population —suggests we will not be able to maintain the quality of student or scale of enrollment we desire by simply focusing where we always have…Being national in approach is essential if we are to maintain and enhance inclusive excellence.”
He also called for a more international collaboration, and for a greater embrace of the educational potential of new technologies. “I have hypothesized and none of the Jesuit community here at Fairfield have disagreed, that if the Internet were available in St. Ignatius Loyola’s day, you know he would have used it.”
“As steward of this great University,” he concluded, “this is my one ask, my one prayer for all of us. That we as an institution, we as a community, we as a family continue to uphold our core values and commitments while embracing the challenge of being a model for the 21st century, so we may make the most of our blessings and so we may continue our rise, and that we do so for the greater glory of God.”