New Regis University president, Father John Fitzgibbons, aims to make it the ‘go-to’ school
By Roxanne King
His parents were the first in their families to go to college. His father became a doctor and his mother an artist.
On Sept. 25, Jesuit Father John Fitzgibbons made them proud as he was installed president of Regis University in northwest Denver.
A native of Omaha, Neb., Father Fitzgibbons began his term on his 57th birthday, June 1, when former president Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran retired after 19 years in the position. The official inauguration took place Tuesday on the university’s 125-year-old Regis Boulevard and Lowell Street campus and included a Mass, a colorful 300-person procession to the outdoor inauguration, a reception and dinner.
Last week, Father Fitzgibbons spoke to the Denver Catholic Register about his presidency, saying he was delighted and a bit daunted by his new job and the then-upcoming festivities.
“I’m so thrilled to be in Denver, to be a part of the Church here (and) to work for the people of God here,” he said. “I want to make Regis University their home, their go-to place—a place that serves them very, very well.”
Although he moved to Denver in May from Milwaukee, where he was serving as associate provost for faculty development at Marquette University, Father Fitzgibbons said he has been “in and out” of the city for the past year, exploring Regis. He said he expected to find “an excellent Jesuit Catholic university” engaged with a student population of all ages and backgrounds.
“That’s what I expected and what I found,” he asserted. “What surprised me … is how intimately the faculty and staff work with students even in off times. That’s part of the Jesuit DNA—its cura personalis (care for the entire person), the real engagement with students where they are. But the universal experience of students, faculty and staff working together on projects outside the normal times was extraordinary.”
His goal for the university?
“That Regis be seen as the go-to university in the Denver and Colorado Rocky Mountain region,” he reiterated. “That when hospitals or health-care agencies are looking to hire a nurse or a pharmacist, or a business person or a teacher, they say ‘I want a Regis person. Our experience is so good with Regis University that I want a Regis grad.’”
What sets the school’s graduates apart is the mission they absorb at Regis, Father Fitzgibbons said.
“There are a number of ways to phrase this, but one very common way comes right from St. Ignatius Loyola, and that is, to do the magis (the more). That doesn’t mean ‘the more’ in a quantitative sense, it means to do more in a qualitative sense—that the more universal, the greater good happens in my serving men and women in the world. That my education isn’t just for me, my education is for the people of God.”
Father Fitzgibbons joined the Jesuits in 1973 and was ordained a priest in 1985. He has served as a trustee for San Francisco (USF) and Gonzaga universities and as vice president for administration and interim dean of USF’s College of Professional Studies.
He served five years as superior and director of novices at the North American Martyrs novitiate in St. Paul, Minn., and has taught English at Marquette and Creighton universities. While at Creighton, he was director of the Jesuit Humanities program and served on the executive council of the College of Arts and Sciences.
He holds a doctorate in English from Loyola University Chicago; a sacred theology master’s in moral theology from Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley; a divinity master’s from Weston Jesuit School of Theology; a master’s in English from University of Chicago; and a bachelor’s in philosophy and English from St. Louis University.
“I love to read, “he said. “What I love is the interface between literature and faith and the theological reflection on how that works. So authors like Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great 19th-century poet, and Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. Literature has a way of getting into language and ambiguity and the gray but really interesting parts of being human where conversion takes place.”
He also enjoys hiking, fly fishing, and playing and watching sports. He’s a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, who he grew up cheering for at Sportsman’s Park with his dad.
“But I’m becoming a Colorado Rockies fan,” he declared. “I’m growing, expanding!”
Turning his attention to his presidency, he grew thoughtful.
“We (at Regis) want to do all we can do for the people of the archdiocese,” he said. “With my whole heart I pledge that we will do all we can do.”