Next SLU president may not be a Jesuit

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Saint Louis University is looking for a new president for the first time in a quarter of a century, and applicants might not need to be part of the Jesuit order that founded the school.

Officials have said the search process for a replacement for the Rev. Lawrence Biondi will begin in the fall but have released no other details. Biondi announced Saturday that he is retiring following months of campus strife that included no-confidence votes by faculty and students.

University bylaws used to state the president of the school must be a member of the Society of Jesus, but that sentence was recently removed because of the shrinking number of American Jesuit priests, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. There were around 7,000 in the 1960s but there are now about 2,500.

The “biggest challenge” for a Jesuit institution selecting a new president is that the pool of Jesuits with the right risumi is rapidly shrinking, said the Rev. Thomas Gaunt, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (and a SLU alumnus).

“You’re looking at a pretty tiny group of guys,” he said. “And the right one might not be available.”

John DeGioia became the first lay person to lead any of the country’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities when trustees at Georgetown University — the country’s oldest Roman Catholic university — selected him in 2001. After July 1, seven of those 28 schools will have lay presidents.

The change is happening outside the Jesuit order as well. Among the 194 U.S. Catholic colleges that belong to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, 63 percent are led by laypeople. That number is up from about 50 percent in 2001, and 30 percent in 1991.

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