Campus Life

Celebrating a New President with a Global Vision

Fr. Fitzgerald talks about working in France, teaching at the frontiers, and learning from students

USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., has a long list of accomplishments that includes two PhDs, but perhaps what qualifies him most to lead the city’s oldest university is this: he’s a fast learner, and he’s intensely curious about the world.

At just 22, he parlayed a summer’s worth of experience as a chef’s apprentice at a train station restaurant in France into a sous chef position at the Hilton in Sunnyvale — cooking meals for 500 and supervising people with a decade of experience.

Stepping into the 'biggest' job

Thankfully, he had a little help from Julia Child. Her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was hidden in his locker at work and became a secret reference guide.

Now Fr. Fitzgerald is stepping into the biggest job on campus. His tenure officially began in August, and he’ll be inaugurated as USF’s 28th president on Nov. 1 in a ceremony featuring government and higher education leaders including University of California President Janet Napolitano and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Leading up to his installation, the university will host a series of events for faculty, staff, students, and the public.

Heading the city’s first university in educating an increasingly global workforce is a tall order, but Fr. Fitzgerald is ready. He brings a wealth of experience across three continents, including more than 20 years as an academic, administrator, and educator and, most importantly, a willingness to learn.

San Francisco homecoming

“Every part of my presidency, from beginning to end, will be a time of listening and learning,” he says.

Returning to San Francisco is a homecoming of sorts for Fr. Fitzgerald. He was raised in Los Gatos and harbors fond memories of visits to San Francisco and USF as a child. In fact, he was ordained at St. Ignatius Church.

He’s the middle of five children, and his father, a U.S. Navy veteran, owned a Baskin-Robbins and, later, a laundromat, to help pay Fr. Fitzgerald’s college tuition at Santa Clara University.

While he may be a local, Fr. Fitzgerald has ventured far from his roots. After Santa Clara, he went on to earn a doctorate in the sociology of religion from the Paris-Sorbonne University‚ and one in ecclesiology from the Institut Catholique de Paris. Later, he taught English to squatters living in the city dump in Guaymas, Mexico and spent a summer in China and a semester in Kenya, not to mention a short stint working at a grocery store in Switzerland. He picked up a number of languages along the way — French, German, and Spanish — and developed a global perspective that he brings to his passion for Jesuit education.

Education is a journey

“I love the way that Jesuit education allows students to make that deep journey in, so they can make that deep journey out and meet people from other backgrounds with awe, respect, and wonder,” he says. “The University of San Francisco is and wants to be a home for people who come from all kinds of traditions, a community where there’s diversity, but there’s also unity — unity in diversity.”

Fr. Fitzgerald comes to USF after five years as senior vice president for academic affairs at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he was responsible for recruiting faculty and developing curriculum. He’s created programs in Latin American studies; Arabic‚ Islamic‚ and Middle Eastern studies; and cinema studies.

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