For the first time in its 150-year history, Saint Mary's College has reached beyond the ranks of the Christian Brothers for a president.
After an international search, the new president was found just over the hill.
James Donohue, who has led the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley for the past dozen years, will become president of the Moraga campus in July.
"It is an absolute honor for me to be named the 29th president of Saint Mary's College," Donahue told the crowd of Christian brothers, faculty, administrators, alumni, friends and students gathered on the lawn in front of Saint Mary's Chapel for the March 26 announcement.
"I promise that I will dedicate myself and all that I have to make Saint Mary's College the finest academic institution it possibly can be," Donahue said.
Donahue's experience with the Christian Brothers is also personal. He said one of his two sons is a 2008 graduate of Saint Mary's College High School in Berkeley.
"His time there was truly a formative and stunning experience for him and for our family," he said.
Past presidents of the college have lived on campus. Donahue said he and his wife will keep their home in El Cerrito, but an apartment on campus will be their home for at least part of the week. Their sons, both graduates of Georgetown University, live in Washington. DC.
"What Saint Mary's College offers today is what the world desperately needs and desperately wants," Donahue said. "Our mission is clear: to probe the fundamental questions of human existence in the context of Catholic and Lasallian tradition; to develop an understanding of the human person in all of our complexities, animated and informed by the Catholic and Lasallian tradition; a commitment of service to others; and to creating a community that is inclusive, diverse and respectful of everyone in this community."
Prior to his presidency at the GTU, Donahue served for 15 years at Georgetown University, as professor of theology and ethics, dean of students and vice president for student affairs. He has also held faculty and administrative positions at Boston College and Santa Clara University.
The Saint Mary's community was warmly receiving the new president. "This is an extraordinarily good moment," said Father Michael Russo, professor of communications studies at the college. "Dr. Donahue — Jim — is so talented. He's inspiring. We are lucky to have a national leader here at Saint Mary's take on the role of president. He has a background strong in the Jesuit tradition, and now he learns the Christian Brothers' tradition. And that's a good thing."
Donahue posed for photos with two of his predecessors. When asked if he had any words of wisdom for the new president, Brother Mel Anderson, who served as president from 1969 to 1997, said, "Keep smiling, keep out of debt and keep the faculty happy."
Donahue succeeds Brother Ronald Gallagher, who became president in 2005. "Keep a sense of humor, you need it in this job," Brother Gallagher said.
Brother Gallagher, who said he has known Donahue for several years, said, "I think he'll be able to make a smooth transition and pick up on all the momentum we have in so many areas."
A new point of view was seen as positive by some students who were spending their spring break on campus. "There are a lot of things changing in the United States," observed Rachel Alvarez, a junior who was sitting with some of her crewmates on the college rowing team. "Saint Mary's is embracing change."
At the GTU, when Donahue recently presided at 50th anniversary events, the Saint Mary's news was "bittersweet," according to a press release from Harold T. Leach Jr., chair of the board of trustees.
The Most Rev. John S. Cummins, the bishop emeritus of Oakland, said that Donahue, who graduated with his doctoral degree from the GTU, is "really very much in the Catholic tradition."
As president of GTU, Donahue "brought his Catholic background and administrative talents," Bishop Cummins said. He noted Saint Mary's commitment to its Catholic and Lasallian values, such as in service to the poor, and its value on liberal arts education. "He'll understand that role very well."
"Saint Mary's gives him a lot more freedom," said Bishop Cummins, compared to the structure at GTU. "I think this will be a clear role, and he's prepared."
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