The Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, a hub of campus activity on any given day, lit up with excitement, anticipation, and a standing ovation on Tuesday, March 29, as Catholic University welcomed the University’s 16th President.
Peter Kilpatrick, Ph.D., an experienced higher education leader, administrator, and scholar, will take the reins on July 1, 2022. Since 2018, he has been provost and vice president for academic affairs at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He served as professor and McCloskey Dean of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame from 2008 to 2018. He started his 24-year career at North Carolina State University as a chemical engineering professor.
At Illinois Tech, Kilpatrick developed the university’s five-year strategic plan, put in place new leadership, and drove development of an online master of applied science. He is widely published and holds or shares 12 patents in chemical engineering.
“The future of the higher education landscape is changing rapidly. In many ways, I fear universities have lost their way or are in danger of doing so,” said Kilpatrick in his remarks at the welcome event. “The Catholic University of America has so much to say to the world of higher education."
In sharing his hopes and dreams for the University, he said, “I believe the way forward for higher education in general and for Catholic universities specifically is to be an example for the world of an institution that places its emphasis on the human person as the supreme value in our society.
“We must also be an example of a place in which faith and reason, as Pope St. John Paul the Great said, are two wings upon which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. We all have faith in someone or something, and faith should never be divorced from life of the mind nor from our activities in our daily lives. They must be integrated."
University President John Garvey officially welcomed Kilpatrick and his wife, Nancy, to the University. He recalled his own start at the University 12 years ago. “Apart from my family, leading this University has been both the greatest joy and the biggest undertaking of my life.”
Garvey said, “One of the unique assignments that falls to the presidents is the work of building up the Board of Trustees. … Choosing a new chief executive is the most important thing a Board does. I wasn’t involved in the process, but I was involved in choosing the people in whose hands the ultimate decision rested, and I was confident that they would choose well.”
Referencing the University motto, Deus Lux Mea Est — God is my light — Garvey said “If we keep God as our light, we cannot fail to reach the promised land. I am confident that the Board has found the right person to lead us there.”
Through video remarks, the Kilpatricks were also welcomed by Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of the University, and by Victor Smith, J.D. 1996, chairman of the Search Advisory Committee and chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees. He said, “We could not have asked for a better candidate to lead Catholic University.”
Abby Anger, a double major in politics and psychology and president of the Student Government Association, spoke on behalf of students. “The Catholic University of America has always been [a] point of encounter for our student body — the place that gives life a new horizon and decisive direction. Dr. Kilpatrick, I welcome you to join us in this mission of encounter and truly get to know our student body — you will be amazed by their scholarship, kindness, and faith.”
Representing the Board of Trustees was its vice chairman, Bill Conway. “There is nothing like Catholic University. I have found that to be true in my several years of involvement with this institution,” said Conway to the next president. “The best of our faith is on display every day, from our professors in and out of their classrooms, to our dedicated staff and administrators, and our really exceptional students. I know you are eager to get to know them, to serve them — and to lead them to still greater things.”
After receiving a standing ovation, Kilpatrick stood on a seemingly endless receiving line taking time to meet faculty, staff, alumni, and students.
“As a physics major, I was excited to hear we had a new president that comes with a STEM background,” said senior Anthony Grieco. “I was glad to meet him. He asked about my plans after graduation. And when I told him I would be working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, he was genuinely interested and excited for me.”
“I think he’s the right choice for this time in the University’s history,” said Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017, Alumni Association president. “The University needs someone who can bring administrative, academic, and research experience to the position, with an understanding of the role of faith in what we do. Peter can take us to the next level, all the while with an understanding that faith and reason work together."