“The first time I met [Pilarz] was through student government,” said Will Grogan, a senior and senator on the student government at Scranton. “I remember seeing this big, epic person. And then to hear the way he can come down to earth and was very interested in what we had to say, in that case, to the student government, was really comforting that he’s on board. I mean, he lives in the dorms. He’s very much gonna want to be part of your community.”
He was elected to Marquette’s Board of Trustees in September 2009. In March, he came to Marquette to help the board along with 300 faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and members of the Jesuit community to discuss characteristics of an ideal president. In its May meeting, the board developed a Presidential Profile describing the ideal candidate.
Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., the president of the University of Scranton since 2003, fit the mold.
On Tuesday, Aug. 31, he was named 23rd president of Marquette University, succeeding Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., Marquette’s president for the last 15 years.
Moving up from leading about 5,500 undergraduate and graduate students at Scranton to about 11,000 at Marquette, Pilarz must use his presidential, teaching and Jesuit experience to lead this institution at a new level.
Pilarz, 51, started his scholastic career at Georgetown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English. He then went on to Fordham University and earned a master’s degree in philosophy. From there he went to the Weston School Theology, Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a master’s degrees in divinity and theology.
He earned a Ph.D. in English at the City University of New York, where his dissertation, Sacerdotal Self-Fashioning: Priesthood in the Poetry of Robert Southwell, S.J., and John Donne, won the 1997 CUNY Alumni Achievement Prize for Dissertation Excellence.
Pilarz became a lecturer in the English department of St. Joseph’s University in 1994, and in 1996, he joined the Georgetown faculty as an assistant professor of English, where he taught for six years. He was appointed interim University Chaplain in 2002.
The graduating class of 1999 chose to award him with the Edward B. Bunn, S.J., Award for Faculty Excellence.
Since his becoming 24th president of Scranton in 2003, Pilarz, a scholar in medieval and Renaissance literature, has taught one class each semester.
Grogan, who was in his class called “Playing God: Theatrical Expressions of Divinity, a course that added a Jesuit perspective to theater, said Pilarz taught by prompting questions to stimulate “free-flowing conversation.”
“There was a lot of different people [in class]… because people just wanted to have him. He has an excellent reputation around [Scranton] for teaching, and he was just very excited to be there,” Grogan said.
Pilarz also taught a class called “Renaissance Poetry and Prose.”
Pilarz’ interest in the Jesuit teaching and ideology began in an introductory theology class at Georgetown University where he met and befriended “his first Jesuit,” Rev. Otto Hentz.
His parents once thought he might become a veterinarian or enter law school, but Pilarz had other ideas. He kept his thoughts of entering the priesthood to himself for a while because he was afraid of what his friends would think, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Rev. Pilarz took a leap of faith when he joined the Society of Jesus in 1982.
“It was kind of an impulse thing at the time,” he said. “I thought I’d give this a shot and I did… And it felt right all the way along.”
One night, on the back patio at his family’s home in Voorhees, N.J., Pilarz told his father, “‘Dad, I want to enter the Jesuits.’” His father supported him and the rest is history.
Along his journey as a Jesuit priest, Pilarz’ faith has helped him lead Scranton through some semi-tumultuous times of conflict.
One instance specifically dealt with the diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, who engaged Pilarz in a dialogue regarding an event hosted by the university’s Inclusion Initiative, according to Scranton’s Times Leader.
Pilarz established the Inclusion Initiative in May to provide “a more inclusive environment and a better understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to its stated goals.
In a statement regarding the initiative, Pilarz wrote: “…our community has no place for discrimination or harassment on the basis of ethnicity, gender, race, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation… Both the steering committee and student group will undertake their respective missions in ways that are consistent with Catholic teaching.”
The hosted speaker, Sara Bendoraitis, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at American University, “obviously supports positions that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” the Times Leader stated.
Despite Bambera’s voiced concern, Pilarz stood his ground, continued to support all students in the Scranton community and worked out disagreements with the bishop.
In a statement of congratulations to Pilarz for his appointment as Marquette’s next president, Bambera recognized that he “has led the University of Scranton well and overseen not only a tremendous expansion of the institution, but most importantly from [his] perspective, has done a great deal to anchor the university community solidly in Jesuit values.”
Regarding the controversy with the bishop, Jones DeRitter, chair and professor for the English department at Scranton, said: “We [Scranton] were glad to have Father Pilarz there because he managed to find that balance point between being Catholic and being a university. And I think that’s an important thing for someone in his position to be able to do. He’s well-spoken enough to be able to manage that kind of negotiation.”
Pilarz began a journey of service in the Jesuit tradition when he was ordained a priest in 1992.
Jesuits try to follow the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in accordance with the Catholic teaching. These corporal works are all forms of physical service, instructing followers to “give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit and ransom captives, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead.”
Pilarz has worked to serve university communities with this Catholic identity in mind.
Three years ago, he helped Debra Pellegrino, dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies at Scranton, open a health clinic for uninsured Scranton residents. Starting as a weekly operation, the clinic has grown to provide care for students every day of the week.
“When a university student dies or is involved in a family tragedy, Pilarz shows up at the student’s home, offering support and comfort,” stated the Journal Sentinel.
During his time at Georgetown University, Pilarz organized numerous retreats, served on Georgetown University’s Service Committee in the Jesuit Community and discussed Jesuit education along the East Coast and Midwest through seminars, conference papers and presentations.
In 2002, the Georgetown Alumni Association awarded him with the William Gaston Award for Outstanding Service. In 2008, the Lackawanna Bar Association awarded him with the Chief Justice Michael J. Eagan Award for Dedicated Service.
During Pilarz’s presidency, Scranton achieved record admissions and undertook the largest construction project ever: a $83 million 200,000-square-foot science center expected to be completed in the fall of 2011 under the 2005-2010 Strategic Plan – Pride, Passion, Promise: Shaping Our Jesuit Tradition.
The campaign raised more than $100 million. In response to its success, its goal was raised to $125 million. This money funded the construction of a new campus center, sophomore residence hall and campus green space.
“At this point I think the class before us and our class at the very least will not have gone a year without a major construction project happening somewhere on campus,” said Grogan, “but it’s also really exciting and I know it’s been a lot for [Pilarz] to juggle.”
Despite the major growth in building infrastructure, Rita Dileo, president of Scranton’s student government, said Pilarz has had an even greater influence on building Scranton’s community.
“Everything he’s done has been directed toward students and their greatest needs,” Dileo said.
Scranton sad to let Pilarz go
Scranton students and faculty expressed surprise and sadness at the news of Pilarz leaving.
“I definitely think that there’s a sense of comfort, especially for the class of 2011, that he’s at least here for the rest of our year here,” Grogan reflected. “It’s kind of like he’s graduating with us in a sense, part of our class.”
DeRitter voiced his thoughts: “I think he’s been a successful administrator here, and we’re sad to see him go… I think we would’ve been surprised if he was still here ten years after he got here, but I think that’s just because that’s our understanding of how the Jesuits move their administrators around.”
In reaction to hearing the news, Dileo said she was a little surprised. “I’m excited for him because I know this is a big move, and I know that he’s excited… We’re very legitimately happy for him, but I’m going to miss him. So it’s hard too. It’s bittersweet.”
Pilarz to bring Scranton legacy to Marquette
Rev. Robert A. Wild has had a successful run at Marquette, mobilizing campus renovations and construction of the new Eckstein, Zilber and McCabe halls. Pilarz has some big shoes to fill.
Marquette’s tuition increased $1,360 from last year, while nearly 90 percent of Marquette freshmen are receiving some form of financial aid.
According to the Marquette Tribune, “Pilarz said he wants to build Marquette’s academic reputation while also focusing on affordability and access.”
He must prioritize in further strengthening alumni relationships to help fund Marquette students’ educations with scholarships and grants.
At Scranton, Pilarz helped organize “Shamrockin’ Eve,” a big celebration the night before the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “It brings back young alumni,” Grogan said. “[Pilarz] is very intimate making sure people are still connected to the campus even after they leave. And that’s a huge initiative that was going on right now with him in the alumni office.”
Hopefully Pilarz can bring his creative fundraising ideas to Marquette and channel his enthusiasm to better our Marquette community in ways consistent with the Jesuit mission.
“I want in part for my legacy to have a lot to do with preserving and enhancing the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Marquette,” Pilarz said.
The day after he was named the next president, Pilarz reflected upon Marquette’s future in a brief interview at Raynor Memorial Library.
“I’m stepping into an incredibly vibrant Catholic Jesuit university with incredible potential for the future, especially around the issues of access and academic excellence,” Pilarz said.
“How do we promote what Marquette is already doing so well, in terms of academic excellence?” he said. “How do we sustain that?
Pilarz must contemplate these questions as he spends the next year learning as much as he can about Marquette.
With a reputation for building strong relationships among students, faculty and staff at Scranton, we think Pilarz will be an asset to our Marquette community and look forward to seeing him and his English bulldog, Jack, on campus.
by Melanie Pawlyszyn