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Conneely named first male president at Notre Dame

The president-elect of the Notre Dame of Maryland University said he plans to work in partnership with the business community to advance the mission of the university.

Dr. James F. Conneely

Dr. James F. Conneely said students need opportunities to apply their skills and instruction in real-world settings.

“That’s where those internships and those co-ops and other types of experiences elevate their education,” he said.

Notre Dame on Thursday named Conneely as the first male president in the history of the institution.

Conneely, who will succeed retiring President Mary Pat Seurkamp in July, will be the institution’s 12th president and second layperson to serve in the position.

Praising his commitment to women’s issues and inspirational leadership style, the university’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Conneely as Seurkamp’s successor.

Though the university was open to a male president, “probably none of us was expecting that we would select a man as Notre Dame’s next leader,” said Patricia Mitchell, chair of the Board of Trustees.

The 15-person search committee presented the board with its three top candidates, all of whom visited the campus in early February.

“What separated Dr. Conneely was that he was also an inspirational leader,” Mitchell said. “He captured the heart of the community when he was on campus.”

Conneely, 55, is associate provost and vice president of student affairs at Eastern Kentucky University. He joined the university’s administration in 2003 and has 29 years of experience in higher education administration, teaching and research.

He earned his Ph.D. in higher education from Georgia State University and has served on the boards of two Catholic schools in the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., and local chapters of the chamber of commerce.

In his new position, Conneely said he will have the “chance to live my faith through my vocation.”

Notre Dame’s board, which made its decision on Feb. 16, offered Conneely the position on Monday. He accepted the following day.

Seurkamp and her husband led the processional into the Knott Science Center’s packed auditorium, followed by Conneely and his family, and then members of the selection committee and Board of Trustees.

Upon seeing him, the crowd erupted in applause.

“It was a great moment of excitement for the community and such a welcoming moment for Dr. Conneely and his family,” said Seurkamp, who has served in her position for 15 years.

Among other accomplishments, Seurkamp oversaw the university’s largest capital campaign, the opening of the School of Pharmacy and the renaming of the college in September. She was the first layperson to serve as the school’s president.

Joseph DiRienzi, a professor of mathematics and physics who was one of three faculty representatives on the search committee, said the committee surveyed the school after the three top candidates visited.

Conneely was “overwhelmingly the choice of the community. It wasn’t even close,” DiRienzi said.

Rachel Jones, a junior English major and only student on the search committee, said she was impressed by Conneely’s commitment to women’s rights and dedication to coming to a Catholic university.

“What mattered is who the person was, not their gender,” she said.

Conneely, who will relocate to Baltimore this summer with his family, said he plans to “pick [Seurkamp’s] brain” as he transitions into his new position. As far as concrete plans for the university, Conneely only has one so far: “I need to come in and listen,” he said.

The university was founded as a Catholic liberal arts college for women by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1895. Today it  has an enrollment of about 3,000 women and men and encompasses a Women’s College, College of Adult Undergraduate Studies, and several schools of graduate study.

Conneely is married to Becky Conneely and has two daughters, Jessica, a freshman at Converse College in South Carolina, and Caitlin, a student at Lexington Catholic High School in Kentucky.