After almost a yearlong search, St. Mary’s College in Moraga announced last week that James Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union, will be the college’s 29th president.
Though Donahue is a practicing Roman Catholic, his tenure, which begins on July 1, will mark the first time in the Catholic college’s history in which a layman is the president.
“I am very excited about the quality and history of St. Mary’s College and the mission, standards and various dimensions that make it a very distinct community,” Donahue said.
According to Michael Beseda, St. Mary’s College vice president for college communications, although Donahue will be the first lay leader for the school, this is becoming a more common practice in Catholic institutions due to the declining interest in religion and the lack of interest from qualified candidates to hold administrative positions.
“His position will impact the college in a productive way in the fact that we will have a highly skilled leader that also understands the traditions of the college,” Beseda said.
Donahue has been president of the GTU for the past 13 years. He has led the institution through several changes, including the establishment of the Center for Islamic Studies. The GTU is affiliated with UC Berkeley and students of both institutions may cross-register in classes offered at either school.
According to GTU media spokesperson Joi Foley, Donahue has helped maintain the union as a relevant and prestigious institution.
“He has continued to steer the consortium through declining interest in religion and theology,” Foley said. “And he has done it in a way that allows us to continue to be one of the top graduate options for theology and religion.”
In addition to his work at the GTU, Donahue has held faculty and administrative positions at Santa Clara University, Boston College and Georgetown University.
A practicing Roman Catholic, Donahue says he has displayed an interest in theology from a young age.
“I have always been very interested in the choices that people make and how they relate it to their beliefs and fundamental understanding of faith and ethics,” Donahue said.
Munir Jiwa, founding director of the Center for Islamic Studies and assistant professor at the GTU, has worked closely with Donahue in advancing Islamic studies at the GTU, since the establishment of the center in 2007. He credits Donahue’s excellent leadership as central to its success and growth during the past five years and expects to see similar achievements at St. Mary’s College under Donahue’s tenure as president.
“He is deeply committed to scholarship, dialogue and service across and within different religious traditions, has played a tremendous role in advancing diversity and is always eager to engage ideas where religion meets the world,” Jiwa said.