Loyola University Chicago marked a milestone in its history May 23 when it announced the first layperson and female to hold the position of president. During a morning gathering Jo Ann Rooney was introduced to a auditorium packed with students, faculty and employees as the university’s 24th president. Those in attendance were alerted to the historic appointment when Jesuit Father James Prehn led the opening prayer and used the pronoun “she” when offering prayers for the new president. At the mention of the first “she” a low murmur spread throughout the auditorium. Up until then, the name of the president had been confidential. Founded in 1870, Loyola University Chicago is one of the nation’s largest Jesuit universities, with nearly 16,500 students. Rooney succeeds Jesuit Father Michael Garanzini who stepped down and became the university’s chancellor in July 2015. She officially starts her tenure on Aug. 1 and her term runs through 2021. Rooney said being a layperson and woman in this role brings a new perspective. “I think it is energizing the community, even the Jesuit community who really feel at this point that this is helping them expand their mission,” she told the Catholic New World. “It shows how much Loyola is positioned to really be part of the changing dynamic in higher education, Catholic higher education and Jesuit higher education.” As president, Rooney said she wants to focus first on two major areas: making education more affordable to students and making Loyola a leader in the community when it comes to questions about how to be diverse, inclusive, accessible and committed to social justice. “Even our model of higher education has got to change in terms of tuition affordability and sustainability,” Rooney said. “That’s the piece that the university has been starting to have that dialogue on and really making progress toward changing that. I think that’s our imperative.” Rooney has already met with Archbishop Cupich and received his approval of her appointment. Along with other undergraduate and graduate degrees, she holds a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate of law from Suffolk University Law School. She previously served as president of both Spalding University — a private, Catholic university in Louisville, Kentucky — and Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts. She has also spent more than 12 years teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels. From 2011to 2012 she served in the U.S. Department of Defense as acting undersecretary and principal deputy undersecretary for personnel and readiness. In 2012, she was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest award given to a civilian by the secretary of defense. In 2013, President Obama nominated her for undersecretary of the U.S. Navy. Rooney joins Loyola from Huron Consulting Group in Chicago where she is a managing director.