Loyola University Chicago

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Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, officially takes over as 24th president of Loyola

2016 Mass and Feast of Saint Ignatius Faculty & Staff Picnic

• Click on the picture above to see images of Dr. Rooney and others at the annual Feast Day of Saint Ignatius Mass and picnic.
Watch a video of fellow Ramblers welcoming Dr. Rooney to Loyola. 

By Drew Sottardi  |  Senior Writer

Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, became Loyola University Chicago’s 24th president Monday, making her the first lay leader in the University’s 146-year history.

Dr. Rooney, who was elected by the Loyola Board of Trustees in May, brings a wealth of education and leadership experience to the position. Before joining the University, she served as president of two colleges, worked for the Department of Defense, and was a managing director of Huron Consulting.

Despite being away from academia for several years, Dr. Rooney said she’s eager to return to the world of higher education—and for good reason.

“Education provides a foundation,” she said when she was introduced to the Loyola community in May. “It is the backbone behind vibrant, thriving communities, and frankly, an engaged society. Education enables individuals to grow, to thrive, and to reach their greatest potential.”

A chance to come together

Before officially starting her new position, Dr. Rooney got a taste of life at Loyola at the annual Feast Day of Saint Ignatius picnic. She made her way around the tables set up on the West Quad and spoke with faculty members, current staffers, and retirees. 

“It was an absolutely great way for the community to come together,” she said. “I enjoyed walking around, meeting people, and getting to understand a little bit more about what they do, what their passions are, and how they see their roles focusing on our students.”

Karen Berg-Helfgot, a staff member in the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, was one of the many people who chatted with Dr. Rooney at the picnic. But she didn’t recognize the University’s new leader at first.

“She introduced herself and I said, ‘Oh, you look so familiar, I feel like I’ve met you before,’ ” Berg-Helfgot said with a laugh. “And it took me a few seconds to realize, ‘Of course I’ve seen her before—standing at the podium in Mundelein Auditorium when she was introduced as the new president.’ ”

The two shared a good chuckle over the exchange, and Berg-Helfgot said the light-hearted encounter left an impression on her.

“(Dr. Rooney) seems very warm and approachable,” she said.

Berg-Helfgot, who got her master’s degree from Loyola and has been working at the University for a little under a year, said she’s looking forward to Dr. Rooney’s tenure.  

“I’m very excited to see what new ideas she may have as the first female and lay president of the University,” Berg-Helfgot said. 

That sentiment was echoed by Mary Ann (Kelley) McDermott, professor emerita in the School of Nursing.

“I’m delighted that she’s the new president,” said McDermott, who got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Loyola in the 1960s. “It’s just wonderful. Between Germany, England, maybe the U.S.—and now to have a woman president at Loyola—it’s great to see women leaders like that.”

As someone who has been a Rambler for more than half a century, McDermott has seen her share of change around the University. (“I remember when this was a football field,” she said, gesturing toward the West Quad.) And, like many of her colleagues, she’s optimistic about Loyola’s future. 

“I think there are plenty of good things to come,” she said.

Embracing a new concept 

Also at the picnic was Father Thomas Regan, S.J., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He talked about his first meeting with Dr. Rooney in May—and how he was immediately impressed with her experience.

“The scope of her background is something we really need,” he said. “Loyola is a very complicated place and to have the experience she has in law and medicine will be very helpful. She’s also dealt with huge economies of scale at the Department of Defense, and that will give her a leg up as well.”

Father Regan, who has held various leadership positions throughout his academic career, said it was inevitable that Loyola would one day have a lay leader. After all, he said, it’s happened at several other Jesuit universities around the country.

“I’ve seen Jesuit schools with a lay leader, and once they embrace that concept, the leadership is better,” he said. “As I like to say, we need competence, not a collar.” 

See more photographs and read the story from the May 23 news conference when President Rooney was introduced to the Loyola community.
• Read her official Loyola biography