Le Moyne introduces first lay president, maintains Jesuit identity
by luke eggleston
SUN staff writer
For 62 years, a member of the Society of Jesus has piloted Le Moyne College. Until now.
Last week, on Tuesday, April 1, the Jesuit college introduced its first lay president in school history, Fred Pestello.
Pestello replaced John Smarelli Jr., who served as interim president after Father Charles Beirne, SJ, who left Le Moyne following the commencement ceremony May 20, 2007.
Pestello arrived at Le Moyne via the University of Dayton, where he most recently served as provost and senior vice president for educational affairs.
During the April 1 press conference, Smarelli presented Pestello with a tie saying, “He needs to shed the Dayton red and get the green and gold.” He also presented Pestello’s wife, Fran Pestello, with a Dolphin pin (the Dolphin is Le Moyne’s mascot) and then their children, Vitina and Ferdinando Pestello, with hats and t-shirts celebrating Le Moyne’s NCAA Division II national championship in lacrosse.
Mary Cotter, the chair of Le Moyne’s Board of Trustees, also helped introduce Pestello.
“I have no doubt that under Fred’s leadership, Le Moyne College will continue its legacy of learning and service, which has sent the college transforming from rather humble beginnings in 1946 to what it is today,” she said. “As you know, for the first time, Le Moyne will be led by a president who is not a Jesuit. Well this certainly represents a change, I know that the Jesuit tradition that Le Moyne was founded on will continue to thrive and grow because as we all know, it’s not just the people but the Jesuit spirit that truly define what Le Moyne is all about.”
Although Pestello is a layperson, the rector of the Jesuit community at Le Moyne, Father William Dolan, SJ, emphasized the importance of the new president’s Catholic faith in his selection.
“He comes with outstanding credentials as a faith filled Catholic gentleman,” Father Dolan said.
Msgr. Robert Yeazel was the chairperson of the search committee. Previously, Msgr. Yeazel, the pastor at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, had served on Le Moyne’s board of directors for nine years. He echoed Father Dolan’s comments regarding Pes tello.
“He was really imbued with the Catholic church and its tradition,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “He’s an outstanding man. He’s organized, forward thinking; he a man that gets the job done.”
While UD is an institute in the Marianist tradition, Pestello pursued his undergraduate degree at John Carroll University, a Jesuit school in Cleveland.
“First and foremost, [I was attracted to Le Moyne] because it’s a Jesuit college,” Pestello said.
While at John Carroll, Pestello was impressed by the extent to which the Jesuits are “committed to a rigorous education.”
Le Moyne more and more intrigued Pestello during the course of the interview process.
“First, as I went through the interview process, I saw that the leaders in the Syracuse community are committed to improving the area and they see Le Moyne as a critical part of that process,” Pestello said. “Second, the people in the Le Moyne community care deeply about the college and I am honored to be working with them. Finally, the vision. The leaders at Le Moyne aspire to make the school a premier Jesuit institution.”
Moreover, Pestello offers solid professional credentials.
“His academic and administrative credentials were top notch,” Father Dolan said.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from John Carroll, Pestello earned his master’s degree at the University of Akron and then his doctorate. from the University of Akron-Kent State. All three of his degrees are in the field of sociology.
Pestello spent 24 years at UD, where he began as a sociology professor. He served as the chair of the department of sociology, anthropology and social work from 1993 to 1997. From 1997 to 2000, he was the associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences until he was appointed to the positions of provost and senior vice president for educational affairs in 2001.
“To tell you the truth, the best college presidents tend to have experience as provosts and academic vice presidents,” Father Dolan said.
Father Dolan said the search committee was impressed not only with Pestello’s background and expertise, but also with the manner in which he engaged the interview process.
“The people were very impressed with passion for his work and that he asked good questions. So he was looking for us,” Father Dolan said. “He has a very commanding presence but we found him easy to talk to.”
Father Dolan said that while several Jesuits were among the candidates early in the search, there simply weren’t any who were at an appropriate stage in their vocation.
“Though there were Jesuit nominees, the reality is there were none who were ready to let their name stand as a candidate,” Father Dolan said. “They wanted one more year in administration. [The Jesuits] themselves realized they wanted some more years of experience as administrators.”
In addition, according to Father Dolan, many of the Jesuits who might have been appropriate for the position were committed to other ministries.
But Father Dolan also pointed out that while some may believe that only a Jesuit should be considered for the position of president at an institution maintained by the order, it is important to note that many lay people approach their profession as a vocation.
“Baptism counts for something,” Father Dolan said. “And by something, I mean that it counts for a lot.”