Published on February 4th, 2013 | by Anthony Lyen0
Br. James: 25 years of growth and prosperity
Anthony Lyen, Tempo Editor
Photo courtesy of lewsiu.edu: Br. James Gaffney, FSC, congratulates Lewis students at the Spring 2012 Commencement Ceremony.
A popular and beloved member of the Lewis University community, President Br. James Gaffney, FSC, is always hard at work, attending countless meetings and events throughout the school. But even though he’s running the ninth largest private, not-for-profit college in Illinois, Br. James knows where his heart lies.
“It’s all about the students and their success,” Br. James said.
The 2012-2013 academic year is a special one for Lewis. This year marks his 25th year as Lewis’ president. And while most — if not all — students know Br. James, few are familiar with the path that lead him to Lewis.
Br. James grew up on the west side of Chicago, attending St. Mel High School, an all-boy school, now known as Providence St. Mel High School. He was quite involved and showed his leadership even at a young age, which included acting as President of the National Honor Society and Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook. Br. James’ outreach and service trips allowed him to get to know the Christian Brothers quite well, which led to sensing his calling as a Christian brother.
“I saw the individual attention [the Christian Brothers] gave,” Br. James said. “I saw they were authentic and really genuine. They taught from the center of who they were, and I heard the call through them.”
After joining the Christian Brothers, Br. James had several years of religious formation and studies at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota, a LaSallian Christian Brother’s school. After receiving his B.A. and a M.ED in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Br. James began teaching at a secondary education level at a Christian Brothers high school in St. Joseph, Mo.
“It was a great experience,” said Br. James. “I really loved it. It confirmed my calling, and I knew that’s really where the Lord wanted me to be.”
Br. James went on to help be a founder for a new school called Driscoll Catholic High School, located in Addison, Ill. Afterward, he would complete a second degree in theology at Manhattan College and a doctoral degree at Northwestern University. Then, he received an invitation to teach a couple classes at what is now Lewis.
Eventually, he would be asked by the Christian Brothers to be head of the Christian Brothers for the Midwest/Chicago region, known as the Provincial. He was the youngest in the world, at 32 years old.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” recalled Br. James.
For 11 years, Br. James was the Provincial and Chairman of the Board at Lewis. He still managed to teach theology, however, and get involved with students, which Br. James said was the reason he became a Christian Brother in the first place.
But in October of 1987, then-President Br. David Delahanty died of cancer. The loss left a huge hole throughout the Lewis community.
“He was very competent and intelligent,” Br. James said. “He was incredibly cultured. He would work out a lot and was very fitness oriented. But he was also very gracious. There was a real class to him.”
Br. James was then asked to become the president of Lewis, but in response, he asked that a search to find a qualified Christian Brother take place, and if he was still seen as the most qualified candidate by the end of the search, he would gladly accept.
In the end, the offer still stood, and on June 1, 1988, Br. James began his role as president of Lewis University.
Over the past 25 years, Lewis has truly transformed, including countless renovations, an increase in enrollment and the growth of educational programs, such as aviation and nursing. Br. James has been truly grateful with Lewis’ consistent growth and development over the years.
“I think probably my proudest moment is the fact we discovered, articulated and made real the mission of the university, which is very impactful today,” Br. James said. “[Lewis] is not just another place. It’s not just another Catholic university. It’s a place where people really live the mission.”
Br. James also loves seeing the “pride and enthusiasm of Lewis students,” and he tends to witness it firsthand at graduation every fall and spring.
“When people say something to me on the stage at graduation, it’s just a few words, and it’s what Lewis meant to them,” said Br. James. “What the faculty meant to them and what the program meant to them. That’s pretty powerful.”
For faculty and students alike, it’s hard to imagine a Lewis without Br. James, but when you look anywhere on campus, you can see what Lewis’ president has done over the past 25 years. And it’s pretty remarkable.
“In the hardest moments, you see what it’s about,” said Br. James. “It’s easy to be very motivated, and we do great things. The results have been pretty marvelous.”