Cover Story

President Garibaldi and delegates

Inaugural Address of Antoine M. Garibaldi

This inauguration ceremony is a perfect moment to celebrate three notable Catholic institutions of higher education—University of Detroit, established in 1877 by the Society of Jesus; Mercy College of Detroit, founded in 1941 by the Religious Sisters of Mercy; and University of Detroit Mercy, formed in 1990 through the consolidation of University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit. Because University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit have rich histories dating back to their founding in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, I decided to share just a little of their early beginnings so you can see how similar the purposes of the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy were when they founded these two institutions.

Today’s inauguration ceremonies on April 13, 2012 also have an unexpected but very interesting historical coincidence. And here’s the reason why. Exactly eight days and 135 years ago, Bishop Caspar H. Borgess, Bishop of Detroit, and Very Reverend Thomas O’Neill, S.J., Provincial of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus, signed an agreement that began the development of University of Detroit on April 5, 1877. That document conveyed to Fr. O’Neill and the Jesuit province parcels of land familiar to most Detroiters and also a perpetual responsibility: Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral downtown; the pastoral residence next door; other adjacent buildings between Larned and Jefferson avenues; and, last but not least, parochial charge of the parish and parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul. But the transfer of property came with the following condition from Bishop Borgess:

“On condition that the said party (Jesuit Provincial Fr. O’Neill) ….  and his successors … shall establish and maintain in the said City of Detroit a College or School for the education of youth. But if at any time the said party (Fr. O’Neill)  … or anyone of his successors in the office should deem it necessary or adviseable (stet) to change the location of said College or School, and establish it on some other part of the City of Detroit, the said party of the first part (Bishop Borgess) hereby grants permission and authority to build a church near the new College or School  when such change shall be decided upon or effected, and to organize there a parish …” (Herman J. Muller, S.J., The University of Detroit 1877-1977: A Centennial History, 1976, p. 5)

Looking back on this agreement 135 years later, the Jesuits not only fulfilled their promises to Bishop Borgess, but I have to say that they exceeded his wishes. For example, the Jesuits not only began “Detroit College,” which was originally a high school that expanded into a college in 1879 on Jefferson Avenue downtown, but they have also continued the high school, known today as University of Detroit Jesuit High School, a little more than two miles away from here. Additionally, in 1922, the Jesuits bought The Horkey Farmhouse and converted it into “Gesu Chapel,” which was then located on the corner of Livernois and Six Mile Road. The establishment of Gesu Chapel, the precursor of today’s Gesu Church, where Mass was celebrated this morning by Archbishop Vigneron, was in anticipation of and in compliance with the terms of the agreement 45 years earlier between Bishop Borgess and Fr. O’Neill, whereby if the College moved from downtown, a church would have to be built and a parish established. Thus, Fr. John McNichols, the 13th president of the University, acquired the initial 30 acres of land that we are on today in 1921 to begin the development of this campus that was later named in his honor. In further fulfillment of the April 5, 1877 agreement, the Jesuits continue to maintain Saints Peter and Paul Parish downtown in addition to Gesu Church and Parish, U of D Jesuit High and the three UDM campuses on more than 91 acres.  Bishop Borgess’s dream has indeed been fulfilled by the Jesuits, and they and UDM are as committed to this community and the city of Detroit today as they have been over the last 135 years.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy’s commitment to the city of Detroit is equally strong and their early beginnings here and their establishment of Mercy College of Detroit echo a similar history. In 1929, Mother Mary Carmelita Hartman was the first Mother General of the amalgamation of 39 of 60 Sisters of Mercy Motherhouses into 45 congregations.  The local Sisters of Mercy were a part of the Cincinnati Province. But as the Detroit area of the Sisters of Mercy nearly doubled in size between 1929 and 1940, Mother Mary Carmelita Manning, the Detroit Provincial, persuaded her Cincinnati Provincial, Mother Hartman, to petition Rome to begin a separate Province of Detroit. Receiving that approval in 1940, sixty-three years after University of Detroit began, Mother Manning established the Sisters of Mercy’s Detroit Province at Southfield and West Outer Drive, for the same educational purposes as the Jesuits. Barely a year later on September 8, 1941, Mercy College of Detroit, under the leadership of Sister Mary Patricia Garvey as its first president, was founded to prepare young women for careers in nursing and teaching. And only four years later in 1945, Our Lady of Mercy High School was established on the same campus of Mercy College and the Motherhouse of the Detroit Province. Mercy High School, with its motto of “Educating women who make a difference,” still flourishes today just as U of D Jesuit High does, with its nearly five centuries-old Jesuit educational goal of “Men for Others.” Over time Mercy College of Detroit grew in numbers of students and academic programs to a comprehensive coeducational liberal arts college; and University of Detroit likewise expanded its student body and increased its extensive list of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. 

As I reflect on the histories of University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit, it reminds me, and I hope you also, that the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy had a single purpose, namely, to provide the highest quality Catholic education to young men and women in the city of Detroit. But even more important than the type of education students received was both religious orders’ emphasis on the total development of the student. That value-added component is expressed precisely in the second sentence of University of Detroit Mercy’s current Mission, which succinctly states:

“A UDM education seeks to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and social development of our students.”
Because of those similar values, it seems only natural that a consolidation of these two well-known and respected institutions would occur one day. So in 1990, 113 years into University of Detroit’s history and 49 years into Mercy College of Detroit’s history, they became the largest Catholic university in Michigan. Twenty-two years later, as a jointly sponsored University of the Society of Jesus and Sisters of Mercy, the beginning words of UDM’s mission statement,  “…. a Catholic university in the Jesuit and Mercy traditions, providing excellent, student-centered, undergraduate and graduate education in an urban context.” ...confirm that the University has not strayed from the original missions of University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit.

At this pivotal juncture in UDM’s second century, the University of Detroit Mercy Community has developed a strategic vision and plan that will assure its recognition as a great institution in this region and nationally for several decades. Yes, we are proud of UDM’s number 23 ranking this year among regional universities in the Midwest in U.S.News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges 2012”; we are also proud of the academic success of our nearly 5,400 students and even more excited about their extensive amounts of volunteer service in the seven schools and colleges of Architecture, Business Administration, Dentistry, Engineering & Science, Health Professions, Liberal Arts & Education and Law; and we celebrate the honor roll accomplishments of our student-athletes in the classroom, on the field and on the court in our 19 Division I sports, in the same way that we celebrated the championship performances of the men’s and women’s basketball teams this season. But we also know that to stay ahead of our competition in higher education and be recognized as a “great institution,” UDM must have bold goals that will advance it first into the top 20, and then the top 10, of all regional universities in the Midwest.

To position UDM properly for the next decade, members of the UDM Community engaged in discussions about the University’s future every week of this academic year. Under the leadership of the Shared Governance Strategic Planning Team and with extraordinary involvement and input from UDM faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees, a draft of the UDM Strategic Plan: 2012 – 2017 was presented to the UDM Board of Trustees two weeks ago. The vision of the plan states that: 

“The University of Detroit Mercy will be recognized for its excellence and distinguished by its graduates who lead, serve, and make a difference in their communities.”

And the Team agreed on these five strategic goals to assure UDM’s future excellence:
1. Drive Academic and Institutional Excellence
2. Increase Enrollment, Retention, and Graduation of Students
3. Heighten the Distinction of the University
4. Create a Culture that Fosters Effective Management and Strong Financial Health
5. Amplify the University’s Dynamic Community Engagement

Those goals are not only achievable, but we are confident that they can be exceeded. Under the first goal, Drive Academic and Institutional Excellence, we will ensure excellence in learning, teaching, scholarship, and assessment of academic outcomes; leverage our technology and innovation to enhance the excellence of all of our academic programs; develop a culture of exceptional service to our students, faculty, staff and alumni; expand global awareness and perspectives on campus; and we will celebrate and broaden inclusive excellence.

To achieve our second strategic goal,  Increase Enrollment, Retention, and Graduation of Students, we will provide excellent learning experiences that students will value and remember; assure that our facilities are excellent on all three campuses so that vibrant learning, living, and working environments are available for our students, faculty and staff; we will develop excellent programs to accommodate the diverse needs of communities of learners; we will foster the personal and professional growth and leadership development of all students; market learning experiences and programs to attract and retain
talented students; and we will create a distinctive University student experience.

Our third strategic goal, Heighten the Distinction of the University, will be accomplished by strengthening the University’s local, national, and international reputation; by living the Catholic, Mercy, Jesuit, and urban Mission and Identity; by celebrating the accomplishments and reputations of members of the University of Detroit Mercy community; by increasing alumni loyalty and involvement in the life of the University; and by capitalizing on the University’s historic name, legacy, and image.

To accomplish our fourth strategic goal, Create a Culture that Fosters Effective Management and Strong Financial Health, we will focus on our internal operations; ensure excellence and consistency in University policies, procedures, standards, and processes; develop additional and varied revenue sources to keep the cost of a UDM education affordable; ensure that the University’s management is evidenced-based, data-driven, and results-oriented; allocate and reallocate resources effectively; achieve accountability through the comprehensive and annual assessment of administrative outcomes; advance the leadership skills and culture of the University community to enhance decision making; and increase the level of giving from alumni and friends.

Our fifth strategic goal, Amplify the University’s Dynamic Community Engagement, is the centerpiece of the Mercy and Jesuit sponsors’ mission and commitment to service and social justice. With an already recognized reputation for our service to others, we will expand the number and type of experiences that are essential to students assuming leadership roles and providing service to others; we will accentuate the University’s community leadership, service, and engagement; promote the University’s knowledge experts and centers of excellence; lead in the strengthening and revitalization of the neighborhoods and communities surrounding the University; and be the University of choice for the community’s future human resource needs.

These five strategic goals hold the key to our future, but promoting UDM’s academic excellence and amplifying the University’s community engagement are personally very important to me. With more than 100 undergraduate, graduate and professional academic programs, we must promote and enhance them so that prospective students are aware of their national reputation and accreditation. And at a time when the city of Detroit needs assistance from its local residents, businesses and non-profit organizations, University of Detroit Mercy is poised to continue and expand its service to the community by sharing more of the talent and expertise of our faculty, staff and students. Through our seven colleges and schools and numerous administrative divisions and departments, our UDM Community is extraordinarily engaged throughout the city: from our School of Architecture’s intensive work with local citizens, client groups and the City of Detroit through the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC); to the free services of our Counseling Clinic, the only no-cost mental health clinic in Southeast Michigan, that serves nearly 300 clients annually, as well as our reduced cost Psychology Clinic that serves 250-300 individuals, families and couples; to the School of Dentistry’s two main clinics and four outreach clinics that provide more than 14,000 patients each year with significantly reduced cost dental care; to the College of Health Professions’ McAuley Health Center clinic on the East side that provides health services for nearly 2,800 patients annually; to our School of Law’s 10 clinics that provide pro bono services for more than 2,100 clients, including indigent youths and adult citizens, veterans, immigrants, and local citizens needing legal representation, facing mortgage foreclosure and consumer claims; through assistance to local schools through UDM’s Department of Education and to youth interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through the numerous enrichment classes offered during the school year and the summer by our College of Engineering & Science; and also income tax services and business plan development that are provided to local individuals and small business owners through our College of Business Administration.

In addition to that short list of examples of community involvement in the seven schools and colleges, and there are more, our students are very engaged in personal volunteer service and in more than 75 service-learning courses through UDM’s Leadership Development Institute and the University Ministry office. They are involved with the Mercy Education Project, Gesu School, Campus Kitchen, Alternative Break Trips, and, even as I speak, our School of Law students are serving more than 100 homeless veterans at Southwest Solutions’ Veterans Stand Down through UDM’s Project SALUTE. Our students’ commitment to service is as strong as our Jesuit- and Mercy-sponsored founders were 135 and 72 years ago, respectively, when Detroit College and Mercy College of Detroit were begun; and it is a testament to the goals of our sponsors, whose primary goal was to educate young men and women who were intellectually, spiritually, ethically and socially-oriented. UDM’s commitment to the city and the community is firm, and we will seek more ways to collaborate with schools, social service organizations and, of course, in our surrounding neighborhood here and the Corktown and Riverfront campuses. Our three campuses are in Detroit and we will remain in this city.

To accomplish our strategic goals, external resources will be needed; and we have spent the last seven months also working on the plans for a major comprehensive campaign. This campaign will be necessary to build on our endowment and support student scholarships and fellowships; faculty scholarship and research; renovations of existing facilities and construction of additional campus buildings such as Phase I of the Student Fitness Center that is nearing completion. Financial support will also be needed for Phase II of the Student Fitness Center, which will include a pool, as well as new residence halls for current and future students. I am optimistic that our 83,000 alumni in every state and across the world will make a significant personal investment in their alma mater, whether it was called University of Detroit, Mercy College of Detroit or University of Detroit Mercy. The religious sponsors, the Mission and values of these institutions are the same; and it is because of them that so many alumnae and alumni have had successful careers and lifetimes of happiness.

As I formally begin my tenure as the 25th president of University of Detroit Mercy, I leave you with these two images to express how I am experiencing some of the same feelings that our founding sponsors did as they anxiously began their respective institutions.

On a visit to Detroit with Sister Mary Patricia Garvey, the first president of Mercy College, Sister Mary Justine Sabourin, RSM, the first academic dean of the college, describes in her 1999 book, Risk and Hope, what the future Mercy College looked like on August 6, 1941 as laborers feverishly worked so that classes could begin on September 8. Sister Sabourin writes:

“My first view of the College was a sea of black mud crisscrossed here and there by tracks of heavy machinery. Practically in the center was a very plain, cream-colored block building of five stories. Otherwise there was not a speck of color—not even a green weed. A paved road led to the front door. As we opened the door, I gazed with consternation at the marble stacked on the lobby floor. Beyond the foyer I could see the unfinished Chapel; to the left, unfinished offices. Workmen were jostling each other trying to meet the September 1 deadline. I turned to Sister Patricia and asked, ‘Did you say we are opening our doors to college students on September first.’ ‘No,’ replied Sister Patricia, apparently unalarmed, “I did not say it. Mother Carmelita said it, and I believe her.”  (Risk & Hope: An Early History of Mercy College of Detroit, Mary Justine Sabourin, RSM, 1999, pp. 12-13)

The first building for Mercy College of Detroit was ready on August 26!

The storyline was similar for the opening of University of Detroit in 1877. As Fr. Herman Muller, S.J., writes in The University of Detroit 1877 – 1977: A Centennial History:

“On June 1st the advance group of Jesuits arrived in Detroit excited and eager for their new undertaking… ready for instant work.”

Realizing that their residence would be needed “for college purposes,” they purchased the Trowbridge Mansion on 362 Jefferson Avenue “at the very reasonable cost of $21,500”; developed a curriculum; and increased the faculty size from four to nine Jesuits. Within three months, on September 3, 1877, the first sixty students reported for class.

Today I share the same excitement, eagerness and urgency that the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy felt when they began University of Detroit and Mercy College. Mr. Lewis and University of Detroit Mercy Trustees, thank you for the privilege to lead this great institution. We have much work to do and even more to accomplish in the next few years.

For more information about UDM, or to apply online, go to

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