UC President Janet Napolitano Recalls Rev. Fitzgerald’s College Years

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Brittany Ladin
Contributing Writer

As the new president of the University of San Francisco, the Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. is normally viewed as a figure of authority. But University of California President Janet Napolitano, who will be speaking at his inauguration, has been his friend since before either of them had earned strings of titles and degrees and she offers another perspective. The two were undergraduate classmates at Santa Clara University in the 1970’s.

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Courtesy of Santa Clara University

“Paul and I met during one of the classes in the Honors Program at Santa Clara University,” said Napolitano. “We became friends over class discussions, meals in Benson, and numerous cups of coffee.”

As to what they were like as undergrads, according to Napolitano, “I think we were both a bit nerdy, but we also liked to have a good time.”

Seeing him today, it may be hard to imagine the president at 20. “I had long hair, and a lot of it,” Fitzgerald recalled. As an undergrad, Fitzgerald didn’t consider himself particularly religious. He was fascinated by the academic rigor that a college education offered. “I took classes in all different disciplines. I took seminars. I read books and talked to people and just kind of plunged myself into this world of ideas.”

“I could see Paul as a scholar,” said Napolitano, thinking back on the path she might have imagined for him so many years ago. “He has always been intelligent, thoughtful, and inquisitive (in the right way). As for being a Jesuit…that came as a surprise!”

Even Fitzgerald himself had to laugh when remembering his life-changing decision. “I started to think toward the end of my college years about being a Jesuit, and I remember going to see this one priest, and he was surprised . . . ‘You?’ Fitzgerald reenacted, throwing his hands up in the air. “‘You’re not religious!’”

President Napolitano, who served as governor of Arizona and Secretary of Homeland Security, is delighted for her old friend. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Paul to lead one of the nation’s premier Jesuit institutions. I think you will find in him a thoughtful, intelligent and kind leader who will listen to multiple points of view before making decisions.”

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