March 23, 2004
Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J., 1922-2004
ST. LOUIS -- Former Saint Louis University President Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J., passed away Monday, March 22, 2004, at the Wolfington Jesuit Residence at Georgetown University. He was 82.
President of Saint Louis University from 1979 to 1987, Father Fitzgerald is widely credited with creating the foundation for the renaissance SLU is experiencing today.
When Father Fitzgerald became SLU’s 30th president, the University was dealing with a trail of red ink, aging buildings and declining enrollment. Father Fitzgerald took dramatic steps to turn things around, including consolidations and cost-saving measures.
Sound fiscal management was a hallmark of the Fitzgerald era, and there were six straight years of balanced budgets during his tenure. He also steered an energetic capital campaign, and the University’s endowment increased from $57 million in 1977 to $141 million in 1987.
"Father Fitzgerald left an indelible mark on Saint Louis University," said University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., immediate successor to Father Fitzgerald. "He put the University on firm financial footing, and his fiscal responsibility and strategic planning allowed for the growth SLU has experienced during the past 17 years.
"He was a mentor and a friend, and I will miss him," Biondi said.
Most of Father Fitzgerald’s major goals, as outlined in his 1979 inaugural address, became reality. SLU committed approximately $90 million to enhancing facilities during Father Fitzgerald’s tenure, including the University’s single most ambitious building project at the time – a nearly $60 million expansion and renovation of the Saint Louis University Hospital.
Also during his presidency, SLU built a new law school building and recreation center, expanded its library, renovated the business school, and created new labs for the medical school. He also oversaw the closing of West Pine Avenue from Grand to Spring to create a pedestrian mall on campus.
Father Fitzgerald’s presence was felt significantly throughout the St. Louis region. Shortly after Father Fitzgerald announced his plans to step down, then-Archbishop John May made this comment in the archdiocesan newspaper: "Under Father Fitzgerald [Saint Louis University] has taken brave and bold steps forward. Father Thomas Fitzgerald will leave St. Louis so much richer. We are in his debt."
The former president visited SLU in 1989, when the University honored with him the dedication of Fitzgerald Hall, which today is home to several academic departments.
The son of Thomas and Elizabeth Sheehy Fitzgerald, Father Fitzgerald was born in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 23, 1922. He attended Gonzaga High School, Georgetown University and entered the Society of Jesus in 1939. He was ordained a priest in 1952 in Louvain, Belgium.
Father Fitzgerald received a licentiate degree in Sacred Theology from Louvain and a doctorate in classical languages from the University of Chicago.
During the 1960s, Father Fitzgerald held several top administrative posts at Georgetown University, serving as dean of the college of arts and sciences and academic vice president. In 1973, he became president of Fairfield University, a post he held until coming to SLU in 1979.
After leaving SLU, Father Fitzgerald joined the faculty of Loyola College in Baltimore, where he was a member of the classics department and served as rector. Before retiring to Georgetown in 1999, Fitzgerald received six honorary degrees and served on the boards of trustees for nine different Jesuit institutions.
During his retirement, he read extensively from the works of classical authors, investigating the history of Jesuit education by tracing its roots to their Greek and Latin origins.
Father Fitzgerald is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Dr. James and Mary Cele Fitzgerald, and many nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.
His wake will be held from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, in Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown, followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 8 p.m. The burial service will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, March 25, in Dahlgren Chapel with burial following in the Jesuit Cemetery.
Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J. Photos