Father Lucey Takes the Helm

New AJCU president talks about what’s ahead for the network, his 10 years at SU and more

Story by: Mike Thee
Published: 2011-07-19

This month Greg Lucey, S.J., took over as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, a network of the nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions. While the role may be new, Father Lucey is no stranger to Jesuit higher education. He most recently served as president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., from 1997-2009. Previously, he held a number of other key leadership posts, including rector at Marquette University and president of the Jesuit Conference USA. As our more veteran colleagues know very well, Father Lucey also served as vice president for development here at Seattle University from 1978-88. In this role, he spearheaded the first major fundraising campaign in the university’s history, which raised $26 million, surpassing the $20 million goal, to fund the construction of the Bannan Engineering and Casey buildings, the creation of our Quad and other projects and initiatives. 

Father Lucey was recently on SU’s campus to attend the Jesuit Advancement Administrators Conference, a gathering of advancement and marketing professionals that the university hosted. While here, he also met with President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., who as the new chair of the AJCU board, will be working closely with Father Lucey to move the association forward. 

The Commons had an opportunity to visit with Father Lucey and ask him about the future direction of AJCU, what he values most about his time at SU and much, much more. 

Then and Now: Greg Lucey, S.J., left, during his stint as Seattle University's vice president for development in the late 1970s and 80s; and this month, right, during a visit to campus shortly after starting as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. 
 The Commons: So what were you up to between retiring as president of Spring Hill in May 2009 and taking on your new role as president of AJCU this month? 

Father Lucey:  I spent a couple months back in (my native) Wisconsin at Marquette, just hanging out. I was able to have some really nice down time with my brother (Patrick Lucey, former governor of Wisconsin) as well as my sister in Green Bay and friends from my days there at Marquette. And then I did a sabbatical out at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. It was just an excellent, excellent four-month wholistic program for updating for renewing.  

After that, I did an immersion experience in Belize. I had never ministered outside the United States, so I wanted to go to the most remote part of the country. I was down in Punta Gorda—that’s in the most southern district, bordered by Guatemala—and for three months I was just a helping priest. So, Sunday morning, I was heading out in a pickup truck on dirt roads. I’d have a Mass at one village at 7, the next village at 9 and the next village at 11. They would only have a priest every five or six weeks. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience to live in another country for three months.  

I also made the Spiritual Exercises, in full, up in Canada—so 40 days of retreat. It was a terrific sabbatical. 

The Commons: Why did you agree to take on this new role as president of AJCU? 

Father Lucey: I’m 78, so taking a full-time, national job—I mean, I had never thought about it. But I got an e-mail asking me to consider it. And then I talked to my provincial and he said he thought I was a great possibility. So there was a process of discernment.  

I am very, very, very interested in the Jesuit, Catholic identity of our schools. I’ve worked on that since I did my dissertation back in 1978, looking at Marquette as a Catholic school. It’s been kind of my focus, and so now to be in a position to encourage and foster the Jesuit, Catholic identity of our colleges and universities—it’s just kind of ideal.  

 The Commons:  How would you assess the state of Jesuit higher education in America today? 

Father Lucey:  We’re in a good place in terms of appreciating our mission and our identity as Catholic and Jesuit. I think we’ve made tremendous progress. I was talking with Steve Sundborg and was quoting someone else saying, "You know, we’ve moved through a period of apology or lack of comfort with our religious affiliation. I think it’s like kids growing up. They go through a certain rebellious period in which they really don’t accept their family values. And then they say: 'This is who I am! This is what gives life and strength and vitality to everything I do, so why am I not just realizing this to the fullest?'" I think that’s what our institutions are doing right now. 

I visited nearly all of the 28 Jesuit schools between February and May. Some of them I hadn’t been to in 20 years. I mean, look at this place (Seattle University). I came here in 1978 and our faculty were in an old apartment building with tar paper siding, and now they’re in Casey, for instance. I left here in ’88, and look at what they’ve done in the last 25 years. And it’s duplicated on almost every Jesuit campus. Incredible! And I think the physical is symbolic of what the schools have done in terms of the quality of their programs, their size. They’re serving a different clientele. They’re in good shape.  

The Commons: What are some of the key priorities or challenges you see for AJCU in the years ahead? 

Father Lucey:  AJCU has a nice, open mission statement: to serve its member institutions. One of the priorities I see going forward is formation (in the Ignatian tradition). I’d like to see AJCU make that a more dominant mode of the service it provides to the network’s institutions. 

The other challenge has to do with our structure. Within AJCU, there are 37 affinity groups (for deans, facilities, advancement and marketing, human resources, public safety, IT, etc.). So I’ve gone around asking people what they think of the affinity groups, and they say, "This is the best group of professionals that I could hope for, they all come out of the same mission."  

So you have that, and it’s wonderful. On the other hand, you have 37 silos. And then you have a board that has unbelievably full plates as individual presidents. You have tremendous firepower, but there’s not a structure for taking the whole network forward, either in being more collaborative in its functioning or in identifying what are the major national or international issues that this network of 28 schools could say, "You know, this is a priority. Sustainability, for instance, is a priority for us. Reform of immigration in the United States is a priority for us."  

So I’m working on a redesign of our structure so that these kinds of conversations can happen and we can identify, say, five issues that Jesuit higher education in the United States sees as priorities. This is just one example, and I think there’s many opportunities for the schools of our network to move beyond competition to collaboration. 

Another hat I wear is to help ensure we have a presence on the Hill. At AJCU, we have a full-time lobbyist, and I’m also involved with that work.  

So those are the three areas I’ll be focusing on: formation, restructuring and federal legislation as it pertains to our member institutions. 

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I remember Fr. Bill Sullivan telling me that Fr. Greg Lucey was the one who taught him to come right out and ask for the money, and never to underestimate what someone might give. Fr. Bill said that it wasn't easy at first, but that it worked, and it really opened his eyes. Fr. Greg has been gone from here a long time, but we surely should honor his help to us.
(7/20/2011 2:05:23 PM, Arthur Fisher )