Africa offers Father Charles Beirne, SJ, new challenges
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer
The life of Jesuit Father Charles Beirne will take another twist this summer as he embarks on another adventure, this time to Africa.
“It’s going to be quite a challenge,” said Father Beirne, who will resign from his administrative duties as president of Le Moyne College following May 20 commencement.
Although the Jesuits have sustained a presence in Africa for centuries, the order, which is also the first Catholic teaching order, has never established a university. The Society of Jesus is responsible for roughly 250 universities and colleges worldwide. Twenty-eight such institutions are in the U.S.
The Superior General of the Society of Jesus Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach recently asked Father Beirne to help the order guide its strategy for creating a presence as an educational body.
Father Beirne noted that the plan is still very much in its germinal phase. As of yet, the order was uncertain what kind of institution Africa requires. The two prominent models are, first, a single university with other campuses in association with it, or, two, a network of autonomous, independent institutions. The latter is the model used in the U.S.
“I’m going to help with the process, to help the Jesuits find out where the university will be, how many they want,” Father Beirne said, noting that the Jesuits are “still weighing the strengths and weaknesses of both models.”
As a consultant, Father Beirne will help with “clarifying what they want to do.”
Father Beirne indicated that he has been part of the process for the last two years “behind the scenes.”
Last summer, Father Beirne attended a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in which the Jesuits discussed the future of their presence in Africa. At the time he was celebrating his 67th birthday. Since Jesuits number their years in the order from the time they enter the seminary, Father Beirne was celebrating his 50th Jubilee.
He said he considered the meeting of dates somewhat “providential.”
In addition to having several personal connections to the superior general and to Jesuits working with Africa, Father Beirne was also brought on board because of his experiences in a variety of environments.
Before arriving at Le Moyne in 2000, Father Beirne served as the principal of Colegio San Ignacio in Puerto Rico from 1972 to 1977, as headmaster at Regis High School in New York City from 1978 to 1983, associate dean at the Georgetown University Business School from 1984 to 1987, as academic vice president at Santa Clara University in California from 1987 to 1990 and as academic vice president at Universidad Centroamerica in San Salvador from 1990 to 1993. Father Beirne’s immediate position before arriving at Le Moyne was as the academic vice president and professor of education at Universidad Rafael Landivar in Guatemala.
Father Beirne also had three books published, including a volume entitled Education and Social Change in El Salvador, which was based on his experiences in the embattled Central American nation.
Several chapters in the book discuss the the school’s central role as a model for social change.
While the experiences of the Jesuit insitution were conditioned by El Salvador’s particular environment, Father Beirne said that some of the lessons regarding social change could be translated to apply to the unique situations of particular African countries.
John Smarelli, Jr., will replace Father Beirne on an interim basis. Smarelli is currently Le Moyne’s provost and vice president of academic affairs. While Smarelli is acting as president, the college will conduct a nationwide search to fill the position.
Father Beirne said that he will be available to Le Moyne for anything it needs. During the course of his administration, Father Beirne has helped ignite the school’s ambitious $50,000,000 capital campaign as well as its facilities master plan.
The capital campaign is halfway to reaching its goal, while the facilities master plan is still in its early stages.
Upon the request of Father Kolvenbach, Father Beirne issued an email to the school’s faculty, administrators, staff, students and their parents and alumni, along with Le Moyne’s Board of Trustees, Board of Regents and Alumni Association Board.
“I want to thank the Le Moyne Board of Trustees, the Society of Jesus and the whole Le Moyne and Syracuse communities for helping me to be president of the college for these past seven years. It has been a grand experience for me. In my new challenge I will gladly continue to help Le Moyne in any way the college sees fit,” he said in the letter.