(Photo: Emily Schneider)
By: Samantha Jewell, Humans Editor
What brought you to Regis University?
Well as you know there are a number of Jesuit Universities in the country, 28 and around 200 in the world. So I always thought I would be a professor and I was for a time, but, the Jesuits in my home province asked me to be Novice Director for a while. I was doing some administration, a lot of teaching and they asked me to be Novice Director; which is the person who forms young Jesuits in their first two years before they take vows. It was a good and an important job and I really liked it but I knew I wanted to go back and do academics when I was done. I got a sabbatical at the University of San Francisco and my mentor and boss there was the President of the University and after sometime he said, “I think you would make a really great President do you want to learn?”, I said, “well, let me think about it”. When my sabbatical was about halfway up I was interviewing at a number of Jesuit Institutions and I received a couple pretty nice jobs offers and they tended towards administration to my surprise, so my boss Father Stephen Privett, said, “I know you are getting some job offers, I’ll make you a job offer, I will teach you how to be president, I will make you Dean and ask you to be a Vice President and this doesn’t mean you are going to do it but I will teach you how.” I said, well there is no downside to this, I loved it, I didn’t think that I would but I really loved it. I went from the University of San Francisco back to Marquette to be a Associate Provost for Faculty. When I was done with that I had several offers to apply for Presidency so I did and they chose me here at Regis.
When were you first called to the Priesthood?
I find that question wonderful, so tender and I am grateful. I always wanted to be married and have children. My father was a physician and my mother was an artist. I thought I would like to be a physician; I was in a Christian life community. In the 70’s we called the Sodalities. It was a prayer group and a surface group and there was a Jesuit and a Sister who ran it. They were very inspirational there were no questions that would not be answered, we talked about dating, man and women, talked about sex, talked about how do you love a person with great respect, what does that mean? We talked about academics, what are your plans and every meeting, we met once a week, we would end with mass. I thought, “it was sneaky”. It got to me without me kind of knowing about it and I remember waking up (this is the truth) I was studying for my advanced biology exam, it was in the middle of the year. I was doing well in it. I was up til like 2 in the morning, studying and reviewing, went to bed. I remember I was only asleep for like an hour and I just bolted right up and I just said, “Okay!” I was kind of mad, and I thought, “what did I just say okay to? And Why am I mad?” What is that about? I kind of just examined it, I remember rolling it over and thinking about it. It was 3 in the morning and I had an exam the next day! I just played with it and then I got to some peace. I said, “I do want to be a physician, but I want to be a physician of the soul I want to help people with their interior more than their physical reality”. I came to some peace with the idea and here I am today.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
I would there have been several, most profoundly foundationally, my father. I used to go with him to the hospital and he was a pathologist and a professor of medicine. I would go to the hospital with him and take notes as he did autopsies. I did not just learn anatomy I learned the reverence he had for a human body. The person that died there was an enormous reverence that he had for what it means to be human and what a corpse is and what it is not. I would say certainly your parents have a great deal of influence but I had not just love but I admired my father so that was a big thing.
I also would say a huge influence for me was Father Stephen Privett who was the President of The University of San Francisco. He was my mentor and he really did teach me how to be a University President. I will never forget that. There are certain people in your life that really have enormous influence. They are trying to have influence though, that is just who they are. He was remarkable. When I agreed to work for him he took me out to his assistant and he said, “Would you show John my calendar? Everything here you can go to, just show up. I want you to be quiet, I want you to be very respectful. But, I want you to learn. Don’t enter into the conversation unless I ask you”. For two years he never told me not to go to a meeting. Some of these meetings were really difficult, really hard meetings. Very very talented, very bright people who had issues or we really had a conundrum that we had to work through or there was a financial thing. There was a gift in the offering that we had to work through that. I just learned and he never told me not to go to one of those meetings. That was really how I learned.
What has been your proudest moment in your personal and or professional life?
I would say there are a lot of candidates for that. I loved being ordained a Catholic Priest, that happened in 1985. It is a very long training, a 12 year formation. I was ordained in ’85 and then I went to Doctoral Studies and did a PhD in English. My parents and most of my siblings, I have 9, came to my graduation. At the after party, my mother who is just a lovely (I think she is part Druid) she came up to me in this staged whisper and she just said, “Well John, you are 38, you have finished your PhD, you are ordained now, there is no shame on the family, you have a job before you are 40, its terrific!” It was just very funny, but it was her way of teasing me and saying, “we are very proud of you!”
I think something that I take great pride in that when I taught, I think I was a very good teacher. Now I don’t say that out of pride in a negative sense It was very important to me when I could see the light go off for someone when teaching literature. I was a part of something really important.
Who is your patron Saint? Why?
I really have three and I really love reading the lives of the Saints. The saints are more present than we think, people really are Saints. My favorite Saints are Saint John the Evangelist (I know you are shaking your head you’re shocked). Saint Patrick of Ireland, my middle name is Patrick and we are a very Irish Family. And Saint Francis Xavier who is a very early Jesuit who was enormously intelligent but left everything when Saint Ignatius sent him to what we call the far East to India and Japan and China. He was a remarkably brave man and did most of his work kind of all alone. So those are heroes to me. They lived holy lives without being in a plaster of Paris sense they were real human beings and I really like that.
What is your favorite Jesuit Value? Why?
Can I do a riff? You know the term Cura Personalis? Well I think that is enormously important but I think the part that is kind of left off of that often is Cura Apostolica. The two go hand and hand and actually mean the same thing: Cura Personalis means care for the whole person well Cura Apostolica means care for the whole community. They have to go together. You can’t have Cura Personalis you can’t care for that whole person unless you take into account what the context is, where do they fit in and where do they not fit into the community and how can we make that better? So if you take care of the community it gets kind of granular. WE have a saying in Jesuit Higher Ed, no margin, no mission. We are a not for profit, so unless a not for profit is making money to invest in the community you won’t be a community very long, you won’t be in business. So it sounds kind crass, but it is not actually. Cura Apostolica a care for the institution, a care for the community, is crucial and is the condition for the possibility of Cura Apostolica, so they go together, you can’t really separate them, though you make the distinction. You have to do both at the same time. Cura Personalis is my favorite but you have to draw a dotted line to Cura Apostolica because that is just as important. One makes the other meaningful.
If there anything else you would like share with the Regis community?
I think with all my heart that we have a wonderful community. I think there are people that are really left out, there is racism in our community. Not because we are particularly different from other communities, it’s in our country, it’s in our world, it is every, it is in our state. How could our community not reflect some of that? We do. I think there is some anxiety and exclusions rather than inclusion. I think that we need to learn as a community, as individuals how to take care of each other better, how to listen to each other better. I think we are, I think there are ups and downs. There are more ups than downs and I am not a Pollyanna or in a silly way optimistic, I am a hopeful person not some much am optimistic person, a hopeful person. I think our community is learning and we will continue to learn. I am inspired by our students. This might sound funny but if the students, its true of any human being, if people really knew how much other people cared there would be a lot less hurt and a lot less anger, but the only way we human beings know how to learn this is the hard way. WE have to keep asking hard questions and keep engaging in hard issues and be patient with each other and I am proud of how we are doing that. I look at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and I think, “I am really proud of that office, I think it’s a really marvelous way. It is a place and a symbol for what we can do to make these topics relevant and present.