John Daniels-A UDM Treasure
John Daniels makes UDM a better place to live, learn and grow in faith
John Daniels ’68, ’71, kicked off the start of a 40-plus year relationship with the University of Detroit Mercy by carrying a goal post down Livernois to protest the cancellation of the University of Detroit football program. The rambunctious 17 year-old faced Dean Joe Donahue for his actions; however, despite the negative circumstances surrounding their meeting, Daniels says the experience changed his life course.
“I saw Dean Donahue’s ability to lead with sensitivity and it stuck with me. I decided from then on that I wanted a job like that,” says Daniels.
So, Daniels’ days at U of D began. He arrived on campus from the Chicago area in 1964 and enrolled in the co-op program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1968 and followed that up with a master’s degree in guidance and counseling with a cognate in higher education administration. Along the way, Daniels met Kathy Horan ’69, ’84, ’93. Initially, he was daunted by her popularity, but he soon admired her for her dedication to tutoring Project 100 students and her stance on racial injustice. The relationship progressed, and they married in 1969. The newlyweds lived in an upper flat across from the U of D campus so they could easily commute to and from classes. In the span of 30 years, they raised three children—Margie, Amy and Christopher—in the Detroit neighborhood just north of campus. Daniels describes the home as a gift, for there were students coming and going along with many of the Jesuits.
“I made a sign that read, ‘Jesuit bike stop’ so one particularly close friend, Fr. Norman McKendrick, would always feel welcome to drop in,” recalls Daniels.
A life-long career begins
Daniels’ first job with U of D came in his senior year. He worked for Dean Donahue as a resident assistant, then moved into the role of assistant dean of Freshman Studies. From there, he became the assistant director of Career Planning, Cooperative Education and Placement. Daniels initiated the career planning function and increased the efficiency and volume of recruiting for graduates. He also planned national funding policies, but the pay-off from this post came unexpectedly on a routine visit to see students he had placed at Dow Chemical Company.
“I went to Midland to see a co-op student named Marty. He gave me a very professional tour of Dow. I wasn’t expecting this level of professionalism from him. Marty was someone who showed me that students could be as good and capable as we seasoned professionals are,” says Daniels.
Daniels’ interest in developing students deepened, and he sought an opportunity within the Student Life department. He says, at the time, his creative spring was wound tight and his vision involved showing that students could responsibly take ownership of the Student Center. As director, his trust in the students’ talents and skills paid off with each wall they moved and every coat of paint they applied.
Twelve years later, Daniels became the director of the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) where he developed a database and Web-based systems of information that increased the program’s capacity for service-learning. The three aspects of the LDI program center on service, reflection and leadership skills, all fueled with a deeper purpose to be true to the University’s Mission.
“We discovered what it means to be connected to the best and the most human part of us. If I see, I will feel; I will help, I will do something to make things better,” explains Daniels. “We prepared the students to not only see, but to pay attention to what they felt within themselves.”
Daniels’ push for finding humanity within actions encouraged service-learning students to relate their community outreach experience to their coursework and connect with the best and most human part of themselves. In the last few years, the Adopt-a-Family department at COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter) has benefited greatly from the support of UDM colleagues and alumni, as well.
“LDI gave me the opportunity to remind people of how good they are,” says Daniels. “Through LDI, I got to see the most human faces of our people here.”
A lasting impression
According to Margaret Auer, dean of University Libraries and the Instructional Design Studio, Daniels’ retirement party is testament to a man who made an indelible mark on the University. Daniels officially retired in spring 2009. Auer, who also has a 40-plus year career at UDM, marveled at the range of guests who attended his retirement party, which included business people, community leaders, former students, COTS employees and UDM colleagues.
“John’s understanding of the Jesuit charisms resonated in his actions and impacted the entire University,” says Auer. “We will be able to replace him as an administrator, but we won’t ever be able to replace his heart.”
Daniels and Kathy moved to the Traverse City area upon retirement from their home at the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills. They had resided there for almost 10 years to deepen their faith. Although Daniels may have left the area, his legacy on campus lives on in the lives he has touched and the student programs he has shaped.
“I’m blessed to have worked with the students,” says Daniels. “Student empowerment came natural to me. I believe I impacted their lives by helping them recognize their best selves, their capabilities and by helping them begin to appreciate that they are personally beloved by God.”