Chicagoland

DePaul University invests first lay president

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
November 22, 2017

Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider, left, applauds as A. Gabriel Esteban is inaugurated as DePaul University’s 12th president Nov. 19 during a ceremony at Navy Pier. (Jamie Moncrief/ DePaul University)

In a ceremony rife with references to St. Vincent de Paul, A. Gabriel Esteban was invested as the 12th president of DePaul University on Nov. 19, declared by Pope Francis as the World Day of the Poor.

Esteban is the first lay leader of DePaul, the nation’s largest Catholic university with nearly 24,000 students. He assumed the office of president July 1.

Cardinal Cupich gave the invocation, referencing the parable Jesus told about the mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

“We give thanks and praise to you, O Lord, for revealing your presence and action in the world as we witness the growth of the seed planted by St. Vincent de Paul four centuries ago, and which now is a vigorous tree, of Vincentian works for the poor, for the immigrant, for those thirsting for education and eager to be of service,” Cardinal Cupich said. “This day that great tree sprouts new life, as DePaul University welcomes a new leader, Dr. Gabriel Esteban.”

Cardinal Cupich said Esteban “takes up his task as one who has learned the ways of a pilgrim, always walking with others, patient of each other’s pace, respectful of their needs, humble enough to ask for directions and hopeful enough to keep moving forward, no matter the unevenness of the road or the bends in the path.”

In his address, Esteban thanked his friends, supporters and family, including his wife, Josephine, whom, he said, started on this journey with him more than 8,400 miles away in their native Philippines. 

“I know neither of us could even dare to dream this day would happen. We have been blessed in more ways than we can thank the Lord.”

Esteban, who previously served as president of Seton Hall University in West Orange, New Jersey, said he was impressed by the groups of students, faculty and staff he met when he was interviewing for the position and how dedicated they were to what is known as the “Vincentian question”: “What must be done?”

“I was struck by the consistency with which they described the mission of DePaul and what it meant to them. I remember asking the search consultant if everyone had been coached to all say the same thing,” he said.

“So what is the mission of DePaul?” he said. “St. Vincent de Paul wrote that we must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God, and as an object of God’s love. DePaul University, as a Vincentian higher education institution, makes a conscious choice to love and serve our neighbors: the poor, the marginalized, first-generation and immigrant communities. We choose to serve them because we know we can make a difference in the trajectory of their lives. We choose to serve them because we know society’s better off when we can provide opportunities for our students to succeed.”

Last spring, he said, 85 percent of DePaul students voted to increase their own student fees to make more money available for scholarships for undocumented students.

He talked about DePaul’s 120-year tradition of enrolling students who don’t come from privileged backgrounds. DePaul has a higher proportion of lower-income students than 92 percent of American colleges and universities.

Many DePaul alumni share their gifts with the community in the Chicago area. More than 116,000 DePaul alumni live in the area, Esteban said, and he and his wife have yet to attend an event where they do not meet several people with ties to DePaul.

However, the university faces challenges now, with more to come, he said.

“The Great Recession, along with the decline of federal and state support of higher education exposed the financial frailty of our sister institutions that enroll some of the most underserved populations in this country,” Esteban said. “Assistance programs such as the monetary assistant program, known as MAP in Illinois, and Pell can significantly affect the ability of our underserved populations to access a hugh-quality education.”

At the same time, the population of young people in Illinois and the Midwest is shrinking, and some civic leaders and families are questioning the value of a liberal arts education, which is challenging the survival of some smaller institutions, he said, and can affect even larger schools like DePaul.

Esteban defended the value of the education DePaul provides, and the way its alumni live out the values they learn there.

“We serve students who believe in a life well lived in seeking out justice and charity,” he said.

DePaul is one of three Vincentian institutions of higher education in the United States.

James T. Ryan, the chairman of DePaul’s board of trustees, echoed the university’s commitment to its tradition.

“We should be mindful that our obligation is not to this moment,” Ryan said. “Rather our thoughts must be focused on the unique Catholic, Vincentian and urban mission that we are dedicating to perpetuating: open, inclusive and diverse.” 

Topics:

  • depaul university

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