Fr. Lucey to Lead AJCU

New AJCU president talks about what’s ahead for the network

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by SU Archives
August 5, 2011
Recently Greg Lucey, S.J., took over as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), a network of the nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions. While the role may be new, Father Lucey is no stranger to Jesuit higher education. From 1997–2009 he served as president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. Previously, he held a number of other key leadership posts, including rector at Marquette University and president of the Jesuit Conference USA. He also has ties to Seattle University as he was vice president here for a decade, serving 1978–88. While here Fr. Lucey 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 the SU Quad and other projects and initiatives.

Fr. Lucey recently returned to campus to attend the Jesuit Advancement Administrators Conference (JAA), a gathering of advancement and marketing professionals 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 Fr. Lucey to move the association forward. Here’s a Q&A with Fr. Lucey on what’s ahead.

Q. 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 four-month holistic 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.

Q: 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 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.

Q: 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 the faculty was in an old apartment building with tarpaper 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.

Q. 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. 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.” 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.

Q. Looking back on the 10 years you spent at SU, what’s your biggest take-away?
Father Lucey: I learned so much about running a school. I mean, if you’re sitting in a cabinet with [Father] William Sullivan and John Eshelman and Virginia Parks, you cover a tremendous amount of crises and issues. You just learn a lot. Bill Sullivan was such a strong, quality president. I learned a lot from him and built a lot of relationships here.

Q. And yet your vocational journey from here wasn’t necessarily a direct line to becoming a president. You had that interlude of nearly a decade between being vice president here and taking the reins at Spring Hill.
Father Lucey: Yes. Here’s a good story. I was here in 1988, and I was kind of thinking, Well, if you’re going to be a president, this seems like a good time. So, I was a candidate at two schools. And in one weekend, I got two calls, saying, “Thank you for applying, but...” The next morning, my secretary—a sweet, dear lady—put a card on my desk, and I open it up and here’s a little teddy bear coming down in a parachute, and I open it up and it says “God has a Plan B.” So I left here in ’88 thinking that God doesn’t want me to be a president now, maybe ever. And after 10 years of raising money, I realized I wanted to be more pastoral, so I went to Weston (Jesuit School of Theology) and spent a year listening to theology professors. Then I became the rector at Marquette and started the Center for Ignatian Spirituality. And that was a wonderful experience, too.

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 most recently, during a visit to campus shortly after starting as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.