In early August, Anthony Cernera, president of Sacred Heart University (Conn.), became the first nonclergy person to lead the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He was elected at a general assembly meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand. He was joined by leadership from Roman Catholic colleges and universities based in Columbia, Spain, Indonesia, India, France, the Philippines, Guatemala, and other countries.
Cernera's appointment is in step with a broader trend in Catholic higher education. Lay leaders are more commonly leading American colleges and universities. At least 55 percent of Catholic college presidents in America are nonclergy members, Cernera notes. A smaller number of clergy members in education is partly fueling the trend, but there are institutions that have wanted to cultivate strong lay leadership.
Sacred Heart is a perfect example. The university was founded in 1964 with a lay leader as president.
As head of the International Federation, Cernera will be overseeing 60 collaborative research projects that cover the fields of global economic development, poverty, homelessness, and AIDS research. A large part of his duties will also include leading inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogues between Christian institutions in countries that are predominantly Muslim or Buddhist. Part of the federation's mission is to prepare students to join the workforces of emerging nations.
"The greatest need is overcoming poverty and injustice. The issues come out most graphically when you see institutions providing people with access to a better way of life," Cernera observes. Sharing research funds and organizing faculty exchange programs also are part of the overall goals. The selection of Cernera as leader is noteworthy in another way. The federation, which has roots going to back to 1924, has only once before selected an American as its president. -J.M.A.