Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y. exemplified the changing role of laywomen in the Catholic church with its historical appointment of Linda LeMura Ph.D. as university president Thursday.
LeMura is the first female layperson in the world to hold this position in a Jesuit institution, Jesuit.org reports.
LeMura has served Le Moyne since 2003, when she became the dean of the college of arts and sciences. She became provost and vice president for academic affairs in 2007. Before moving to Le Moyne, she worked at Bloomsburg University, Central Bloomsburg Business Journal reports.
John J. Gregoria, Ph.D., became the first layperson in the presidential position when he became president of Georgetown University in 2001. Two religious women have preceded LeMura. Dominican Sister Maureen Fay served as president of the University of Detroit Mercy for 14 years, and Ursuline Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill was interim president at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.
Today’s Central New York Woman reports that LeMura has long suspected laywomen would soon break into similar positions and other areas of authority among the Jesuits.
“The [church] hierarchy is predominantly male,” LeMura said in Today’s Central New York Woman in September. “The Jesuits, however, tend to be a little bit more progressive in their approach in terms of education and in leadership roles. I think if anyone is going to break the ceiling in terms of the Catholic hierarchy, I suspect that a Jesuit institution will be stepping up to the plate very soon.”
LeMura has a background in science, according to Central New York Business Journal. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology and education at Niagara University, and went on to obtain her master’s and dcotrate degrees in applied physiology from Syracuse University. Le Moyne said Lemura focuses on pediatric obesity, pediatric applied physiology and lipid energy metabolism, and has taught applied physiology, anatomy and physiology, bioethics and the biology of aging.
As president, LeMura plans to focus on globalization as well as working with other Jesuit institutions, according to Jesuit.org. Her superiors have expressed excitement for the future.
“She possesses superb leadership skills, a deep understanding of Jesuit ideals, and an appreciation for the many challenges facing higher education today. Her commitment to students and faculty will continue to be the foundation of her work,” Le Moyne Board of College Trustees chair Sharon Kinsman Salmon said in a statement.
According to Huffington Post, Rev. Michael Sheeran, S.J., who is president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, agrees with this sentiment about LeMura.
“The really central thing is [LeMura] is an excellent administrator who knows that school well and that she is very knowledgeable about and committed to the Jesuit system and the Jesuit spiritual tradition,” Sheeran said.
The increasing acceptance of laypeople in authority at Jesuit institutions may be related to The Society of Jesus’ declining numbers. The number of Jesuits in the U.S. has dropped to only 2,547 as of 2013. Additionally, Pope Francis discussed women’s roles in the church earlier in the year.
This event marks the second time Le Moyne has made history in regards to women’s participation in the Catholic church and education. The first occurred when it became the first Jesuit university to accept women in 1946.
Current president Fred Pestello, Ph.D., will leave June 30, and LeMura will begin her term July 1.
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