Celebrating Ten Years: President John Garvey Reflects on the Past and Looks to the Future

Image Courtesy of the Washington Times

By Anna Harvey

On Tuesday, January 25, The Catholic University of America celebrated John Garvey’s 10th anniversary as university president. 

This week, President Garvey explained his story: how he became the president of Catholic University and the defining characteristics of his administration. 

Before Garvey was offered the position of president of Catholic University, he had been dean of Boston College Law School. The day that he was asked to become president of Catholic University, he and his wife Jeannie were visiting their daughter in London. 

“The phone rang, and it was Archbishop Vigneron, the Archbishop of Detroit [who] was the chairman of the board at the time, and he asked would I be willing to talk with him about being president of Catholic University,” Garvey said. 

Garvey had previously given talks at the university’s law school. He initially had some trepidation about leaving Boston College, but after spending time with Catholic University’s search committee, he was eager to pursue the role as president.

“Late in the spring, they offered me the job, and I took it right away; I would have been very disappointed by that time if they had chosen someone else,” Garvey said. 

Since the time of his installation, President Garvey has striven to further develop Catholic higher education, remarking on how he and his wife Jeannie chose to send their own children to Catholic colleges.

“I had become very interested in building the Catholic intellectual life, at least in law schools,” Garvey said. “So one thing that I very much focused on was the quality of faculty here and building up the intellectual life of the university.”

In addition to developing the university’s intellectual life and improving its plans of expanding facilities, Garvey attested to his love of fostering the education of undergraduate students.

“The life of the undergraduates here has become something that’s really important to me,” he said. “I taught undergraduates rather than law students. So I focus a lot on what Residence Life is like, on what Campus Ministry is like, on the quality of our athletics program, on dining and food services, on student organizations, and making the place a more fun and livable environment for our students”.

Currently, Garvey teaches a class on virtues, which is designed for undergraduate freshmen enrolled in the Honors program. He recalled that at the beginning of his presidency, he taught Constitutional Law within the politics department. After recognizing that most of his students were seniors who then immediately graduated from the university, Garvey said that he decided to teach freshmen, so he could get to know them over the course of their college career. While reflecting upon what course to teach freshmen, Garvey hearkened back to the importance of Catholic education.

“In the inaugural address that I gave when I took the job in 2011, it was called ‘Intellect and Virtue’, and it was about how our responsibility to this university is to educate our students: not just in Chinese or mechanical engineering or flute, but also to grow in virtue during their time here as well,” said President Garvey.  “So I thought, ‘Well, this would be a fun thing to spend some time studying.’ So I did that, and the Honors program was good enough to give me a slot.”

Throughout his presidency at Catholic University, Garvey has cherished his position of interacting with and living so close to the students. In particular, Garvey recalled fondly how students recently came and sled behind his house and played with his dog, Gus Garvey. 

“The most enjoyable part [of being president] is living on campus with the students, in a place where our faculty and staff are all the time,” Garvey said.  “It was so nice to see students around again; it’s lonesome when they’re not here.”

When asked about the most difficult role of his job, Garvey stated that the financial situation of the university, particularly in the light of COVID-19, has been an obstacle in his administration.

“The most challenging part has been the responsibility for financial and the welfare of the university,” he said. “…. The responsibility of it weighs heavy on my mind every day.”

Reflecting on the effects of COVID-19 on university life over the past year, Garvey remarked on how hoped the university could change for the better over the next ten years of his presidency. 

“I hope we can get past this and can get back to living life more as we have done before, because there is a lot of growing that we have in mind,” Garvey said.

Looking to the next ten years of his presidency, he spoke of his hopes to expand the facilities of the Conway School of Nursing and the Architecture and Sciences Program, in order to continue marketing the university. With the Conway School of Nursing recognized as one of the best online schools and two donations of $20 million to expand facilities, Garvey hopes to increase the school’s number of students within the next decade.

“Getting the world to understand the quality of our academics here is a challenge… So that’s what we want to focus on,” he said.

He also spoke hopefully of better things to come after the stumbling blocks of COVID-19 have passed.  

“I can’t wait for our athletics to open up again! I’ve really missed going to games… It will be a real treat for things to open up again,” Garvey said.

Over the past decade, President John Garvey has experienced both successes and difficulties in his administration . Looking to the next ten years, however, he continues to seek solutions to impart a college education founded in both virtue and faith.

Editor’s Note: Please note that a correction has been made to reflect the two donations of $20 million. The language has been edited to clarify the statement.

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