The lobby of Norton Health Science Center was filled with lively activity and friendly chatter 90 minutes before to the presidential Inauguration Ceremony as 64 alumni from seven states, each representing a different class year, plus one Ursuline College alumna, gathered to don their academic robes in anticipation of being the first delegation to process into Knights Hall.
More than half the participants were former Student Government Association Presidents; the rest were former or current members of the Board of Trustees, Board of Overseers or Alumni Board. They walked as representatives of Bellarmine’s 24,000 living alumni.
“We’re extremely grateful to our 65 delegates for participating in such a special way and for being part of Bellarmine history,” said Stephanie Pieper Reilly, BU’s Director of Alumni Events and Programs and a member of the Inauguration Committee, who suggested the idea after learning about it during her research of how other universities had involved alumni in such an event.
Amanda Martin, who represented the Class of 2016, served two terms as SGA president and was the student representative on the search committee that selected Dr. Donovan. “It was an excellent group of individuals who are deeply founded and passionate in Bellarmine’s growth,” she said, “and it was a wonderfully organized and successful search.” She said she was pleased that Dr. Donovan “portrayed a culture in her character that is reflected in Bellarmine’s culture of care and community.”
Other young alums who marched in the delegation were also excited about the new president. “Dr. Donovan seems like a natural fit for the university, and she was a great choice,” said Eunice Salazar ’05. Winnie Spitza-Shouse ’10 said, “It’s exciting to have a woman as president—she will have a different perspective as a female. It will be difficult to succeed (the late) President McGowan, but she’ll create some new ideas of her own.” From the most recent Class of 2017, Dulce Solorio excitedly observed that Dr. Donovan’s selection “was awesome. She will be super-focused on student service.” Loren McGowan ’14, who traveled from Round Lake, Ill., to participate, observed, “She will bring something new to campus and will connect well as a role model for all the female students.”
Some of the older alumni talked about the Bellarmine’s three preceding presidents. Don Reiss ’69 described Msgr. Alfred Horrigan as “the founder, who left many legacies, but is remembered by all who knew him for his kindness, intelligence and eloquence.” Bellarmine’s second president, Dr. Eugene Petrik, he said, “energized the college, expanded it and built it into one of the region’s leading private colleges,” while “Dr. Jay McGowan, with his dynamic personality, led the transformation to university with its dramatic enrollment increase and incredible facility development.”
Gina Schmitt Priddy ’90, who is also the parent of a junior at BU, recalled that she was working in the campus print shop when Dr. McGowan was inaugurated. “I was proudly typesetting the Inauguration program, which he signed at the end of the day and which I still have. He left such a wonderful legacy, as did his predecessors.”
Joe Steier ’89 agreed that Dr. McGowan left an impressive legacy, but remarked, “I am blown away by Dr. Donovan’s humility and personality—she emphasizes the human touch.”
A member of the second graduating class, Matt Buechler ’55, said that while all the past presidents were excellent, he was particularly impressed by Dr. Petrik. “My wife and I were fortunate to become close friends with the Petriks—he was an all-time great.”
Bernie Block ’58 expressed support for Dr. Donovan, noting that “she has a background just like I had—she was the first-ever college student in her family.”
She is also the first female to occupy the presidential office in the school’s history. “It has been great to see that no one has questioned the idea of a woman president,” Amanda Martin said. “I believe that she will serve as a role model for students, particularly students who identify as female, by helping them develop their own confidence by seeing her in this role.”
Gina Priddy added, “I am incredibly excited about having a woman president at BU. She is very down-to-earth, very geared toward social justice and concerns.” A former Bellarmine official, Jim Stammerman ’61, remarked that choosing a woman was “No big deal—I trust that the selection committee identified the best possible available person—man or woman—for BU at this time.”
After the Inauguration ceremony, Dr. Fred Rhodes, former longtime vice president for Student Affairs and current professor and chair of the Ph.D. in Leadership in Higher Education Program, and his wife, Gale, invited the alumni delegation to their home for a reception. A veteran host of many student gatherings in the last 26 years, Dr. Rhodes said he jumped at the opportunity to have another Bellarmine party and to see many of our campus leaders again. “What an impressive group of local, state, regional and international citizens.”
As always, there are many challenges facing a new president. Don Reiss and Jim Stammerman agreed that the rising cost of higher education is the number one issue facing colleges, specifically Bellarmine. “We need dollars going directly into the hands of our students to help them pay for college,” Reiss said, “and there are discussions about making that our clear fundraising priority at this time.” Gerry Miller ’65 also thought that it will be important to control costs to compete with other schools on a national and even international basis.
Matt Buechler lamented the lack of “good leaders, statesmen and heroes in these troubled times.” He stated, “Good leadership must spring from good scholarship, and our educators must be able to use their skills to produce good leaders, and that requires the hierarchy of our educators to be top notch. I think that our new president will fill the bill.” Mike Cornwell ’72 said he would like to see the new president “bring the school along at a quality pace while, most importantly, keeping Bellarmine’s personality.”
“Bellarmine has been very blessed with having the right person at the right time to provide presidential leadership in changing times,” alumnus Stammerman observed. “All three of our previous ones were almost ideal for their times.”
Dr. Rhodes summed up the campus feeling for the day: “It is important to recognize our rich history and thank the talented group of alums, faculty and staff for their commitment and devotion to our beloved Bellarmine. It is the noble thing to do as a Knight!”
By Harry Rothgerber ’69
Photos by Jessica Ebelhar