Bellarmine University appoints first female president

Dr. Susan Donovan

Dr. Susan Donovan

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Dr. Susan M. Donovan — the first woman to be appointed president of Bellarmine University — told students, faculty and staff during a welcoming reception Feb. 22 that she felt “called to lead” the Catholic school.

Donovan will take the helm at Bellarmine on July 1. Until then she will continue as executive vice president of Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, where she has served in various roles for 32 years.

Donovan told those who packed Frazier Hall on the school’s campus, that her appointment at Bellarmine felt like a “homecoming.”
“When I read the university’s mission statement and the presidential profile, it spoke to the core of who I am as a person,” she said. “I’m honored and humbled to serve as the fourth president.”

She told those present that she stands “on the shoulders” of Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, Bellarmine’s longest serving president who died last March. “I’m awestruck by his vision and consider it a privilege to build on that vision,” she said, drawing applause.

Donovan went on to say that the university was “radical and revolutionary” in its beginning, opening its doors in 1950 to all races.
The leaders of the school saw differences not as “threats, but virtues that shaped the institution.”

“I understand that Bellarmine students continue to speak out against injustices. I applaud them,” she said. “You are the reason Bellarmine exists. You’ve embraced our mission and we hope it inspires you throughout your lifetime. We are committed to your success and inspired by your good works”

Donovan promised to keep leading the school in that same spirit. “We will not back away from our responsibility to the community,” she said. “This university on the hill will continue to serve.”

In meeting with news media prior to her speech to the school, Donovan said that Catholic social teaching is the “foundation” of the university. She believes, she said, that “a few people committed to a purpose can change the world.”

“The mission of Bellarmine beckons us to unite to solve problems, rectify injustices, to advocate for and learn from the needy in our midst and to provide access to education that transforms lives in the city of Louisville, the region and in society at large.”

During her welcoming reception, Donovan also addressed Bellarmine’s staff and faculty, expressing her gratitude and admiration for their work.
“You’ve chosen to commit your life’s work to Bellarmine and its students. You create a sense of home and a safe environment,” she said to the staff.

To faculty members, she said, “I recognize the significance of your work and the distinction you bring to Bellarmine.” The school’s “academic reputation is a credit to your life’s work.”

In her approach to leadership in higher education, Donovan said she’s collaborative. She believes, she said, that the individuals running the school’s programs know best how to do so. As a result, she believes in “empowering people to do the job they were called to do.”

She also said she plans to be “very accessible and visible” in her new role as president.

“I’m student-centered,” she noted, adding that she appreciates student leadership. Students who are “most engaged” are also “most successful” after school, she said.

Donovan holds a doctoral degree in higher education from St. Louis University and a master’s degree in higher education from Florida State University. She also attended Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management.

Donovan’s husband, Dr. Bill Donovan, was in the audience as she addressed the school Feb. 22. He is currently an associate professor of Latin American history at Loyola. The couple have twin daughters who are college sophomores.

The newly appointed president noted that faith is an important part of their life and that she and her husband attend Mass on campus regularly. She enjoys walking her dog and she and her husband enjoy attending college athletic events, the theater and concerts.

She likes what she’s seen of the city so far and has even “checked out” some of the eateries, she told reporters during the press conference.

Among the dozens who welcomed Donovan were several Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, including Sister Janet Marie Peterworth, president of the Ursuline Sisters; Sister Jo An Jansing and Sister Paula Kleine-Kracht.

Sister Peterworth said they are “thrilled to have a new president and the first woman.” She said the sisters would like for Donovan to visit the Ursuline campus, noting that in 1968 Bellarmine and Ursuline College for women merged and went by the name Bellarmine-Ursuline College for three years.

Sister Peterworth said she was “very impressed” that Donovan mentioned the need to help the poor in her first address to the school.
“It’s one of the things Bellarmine has done very well and I’m thrilled she will carry that on,” Sister Peterworth said.

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