Saint Leo University’s 10th president in its 130-year history was inaugurated today (October 11) in a ceremony in the Marion Bowman Activities Center that incorporated the university’s Catholic heritage and its commitment to student-centered education.
In a Mass celebrated by Abbot Isaac Camacho, OSB, and a formal investiture ceremony, Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese officially became the university’s 10th president.
The ceremony included the Green Line of alumni, who represented graduates dating back to the Class of 1947 when Saint Leo operated as a college preparatory school, and the Gold Line of students, which was comprised of Saint Leo students from the university’s education centers in seven states, online programs, graduate programs, and University Campus. Delegates from other colleges and universities as well as Saint Leo faculty and administration also were featured in the processional.
Senese made the Oath of Fidelity using the Douay-Rheims Haydock Bible, published in 1893, establishing a new tradition at Saint Leo University, in which future university presidents will take the oath using the same Bible. Another Douay-Rheims Haydock Bible has an important role in American history, having been the Bible used in the inauguration of the first Catholic president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
Saint Leo University Board of Trustees Chair D. Dewey Mitchell presented Senese with the symbols of the office, including the presidential medallion. At its center, the gold medal bears the university seal while the chains feature engraved plaques containing the university’s core values — community, excellence, integrity, personal development, respect, and responsible stewardship.
“We at Saint Leo have been a bold leader in the history of higher education,” Senese said. He said the university educated military students early on and at a time when it was not popular. Today, nearly 5,000 military-affiliated students attend Saint Leo. The university also began offering online education prior to other universities and before it became common. Now, the university offers classes online and in blended formats to meet the needs of students wherever they may be and at the times they need them.
The newly inaugurated president looked to the future of Saint Leo—the promise of growth in the number of students served, the addition of new programs, the expansion of physical locations, and the creation of partnerships among universities. And through the future, the university will remain dedicated to its core values, Senese said.
“Teaching and learning will always be the core mission of Saint Leo University,” Senese said. “It is and will be a university boldly audacious in its actions and humble in its spirit, as well as enthusiastic in its commitments.”
Senese was welcomed by representatives of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, professor of social work; Susan Martin, executive director of Human Resources; Celine-Deon Palmer, Student Government Union president; and John Holladay, president of the alumni association board, represented their peers.
Prior to being named president by Saint Leo University’s Board of Trustees, Senese became the university’s first provost in 2018. He came to Saint Leo from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI, where he served as provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. He held similar academic positions throughout his career, including the following: vice provost, vice president of Academic Affairs, and professor at Johnson & Wales University (Providence, RI); vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of faculty, and professor at Philadelphia University (PA); vice president of Academic Affairs and professor at Mount Ida College (Newton Centre, MA); chief academic officer and director of academic affairs at Penn State Wilkes-Barre; and other faculty positions.
Senese earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Pennsylvania State University; a master’s degree in criminology from Indiana State University; and a PhD in criminal justice/research methods/statistics from Michigan State University.
As Saint Leo University’s 10th president, Senese has implemented a foundational three-year strategic plan to grow the university, strengthen its culture, and transform the educational experience to better serve the needs of students.
There were many events throughout the week preceding the inauguration including a business-industry council meeting; a criminal justice panel discussion; the fall student concert; students vs. staff kickball game; and scholarship fundraisers. The inauguration weekend continues with Saint Leo’s Fall Family Festival, today through Sunday; the men’s soccer game vs. Barry University at 6:45 p.m., Saturday, October 12, with fireworks at about 7:50 p.m.; and Mass at the Abbey Church at 10 a.m., Sunday, October 13.