Not Only Jesuits Need Apply for SLU's Top Post

By Townsend, Tim | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Not Only Jesuits Need Apply for SLU's Top Post


Townsend, Tim, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


For 25 years, St. Louis University has been led by the Rev. Lawrence Biondi. And for nearly two centuries, it has been led by Biondi's Roman Catholic order the Jesuits.

Soon, it may be led by neither.

Biondi announced over the weekend that he intends to retire, and university officials are saying little about the specifics surrounding his departure. But one thing its board of 50-plus trustees will have to consider is whether to replace Biondi with a Jesuit priest.

SLU does not make its bylaws public. But the most recent version obtained and published online by the university's faculty senate makes it clear that the next president can come from outside the order that founded the school.

The bylaws were amended either in 2006 or 2010 to eliminate the first sentence in Article III, Section 3: "The President shall be a member of the Society of Jesus."

Striking that requirement likely has a lot to do with simple math.

The 1960s saw the peak of Jesuit membership in the U.S., with about 7,000 priests. By 1982, that number had diminished to 5,500. Today there are about 2,500 American Jesuits.

The "biggest challenge" for a Jesuit institution selecting a new president is that the pool of Jesuits with the right rsum 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."

According to an article in SLU's University News at the time, Biondi had been asked to apply for the Georgetown opening but turned it down.

Biondi's assistant told the student newspaper that the president "believes [Georgetown] found an excellent layman to fill the position," and that he "thinks the appointment shows the need to orient and foster a commitment to the Jesuit tradition in all laypersons working throughout Jesuit universities."

A month after DeGioia's selection at Georgetown, Marymount University in Arlington, Va., hired a lay president, James Bundschuh, a SLU grad who was later dean of SLU's College of Arts and Sciences. The four presidents preceding Bundschuh (who left Marymount in 2011) had been nuns.

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.

After July 1, seven of the 28 members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities will have lay presidents.

Even with those daunting statistics, Jesuit universities are finding men of their own order to run them. Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia has had a lay president in recent years but will revert back to a Jesuit leader in July. The school did not conduct a search but promoted a member from its own board.

SLU's board includes only seven Jesuits, according to the school's website. …

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