Dr. Anthony J. Cernera Re-Elected to Lead International Federation of Catholic Universities

News Story: December 5, 2009
Dr. Anthony J. Cernera, right, presents Pope Benedict XVI with a book commemorating the 60th anniversary of the formal approval by the Holy See of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU). Photo credit-Osservatore Romano

The International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), the oldest and largest association of Catholic universities in the world, has elected Dr. Anthony J. Cernera, president of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, to his second term as president. At the group's 23rd international forum, at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, delegates from Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia voted to return the second lay president in the federation’s history to office. Three international vice presidents were also elected: Therese Lebrun from France, Michael Calmano from Japan, and Pedro Rosso from Chile. The formal election took place on Friday, November 20, and the week-long assembly included an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The International Federation of Catholic Universities represents a broad spectrum of educational institutions. Member schools – Catholic bodies of higher learning across the world – are committed to academic and professional excellence and to the best principles of Catholic post-secondary education. IFCU works to provide as comprehensive and authoritative a representation of Catholic higher education as possible.

Dr. Cernera heads a university that made history at its founding in 1963 when it became the first Catholic institution of higher education in the United States that was designed to be led and staffed by lay people. He had served as one of IFCU's three international vice presidents from 2000 until his election to the presidency in 2006. He is the second American to head the federation. The first was the celebrated Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, for 35 years the president of the University of Notre Dame.

As one delegate, Dr. Michael W. Higgins, the president of St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, said, Dr. Cernera’s “first term was characterized by energy, collegial inventiveness, skillful strategic thinking, and a deep commitment to global solidarity. His second term will see an intensifying and flourishing of these leadership qualities and priorities.”

IFCU's roots go back to 1924, and the organization was formally recognized by Pope Pius XII in 1949. It enjoys consultative status with such institutions as the United Nations and the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Its U.S. members include such institutions as Boston College, Georgetown University, the Catholic University of America, and the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Cernera has led Sacred Heart University since 1988. Under his leadership, the undergraduate student body has more than doubled, over a dozen degree programs have been added – including a doctorate in Physical Therapy – and campuses have been established in Luxembourg and Ireland. The Bronx-born educator introduced residential life in 1990 and such innovative efforts as the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding and the Cardinal Spidlik Center for Ecumenical Understanding. In 2006, he unveiled the John F. Welch College of Business, named for the legendary CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, who is a major benefactor and continuing advisor to the College. In September 2009, the University dedicated its new Chapel of the Holy Spirit, which has received national acclaim for its extraordinary mosaics by the Jesuit master artist, Father Marko Rupnik.

A three-time graduate of Fordham University, where he earned his doctorate in Theology, Dr. Cernera teaches Religious Studies every semester at Sacred Heart as a tenured professor. He is a director of both the National Association of Independent Colleges & Universities and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and for three years was the elected chairman of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges.

“True to its name,” he explained, “the International Federation of Catholic Universities welcomes voices from all over the world where Catholic higher education is making a positive difference in people’s lives. At one session alone this week, we heard educators from France, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil and India. All were working to explore the mission of the Catholic university in what is called the ‘post-modern’ world.

“What unites these centers of learning, no matter their location or the host culture, is the Catholic intellectual tradition. This living legacy comes to us from previous generations on the condition that we share it with our children for them to develop and make their own. It’s a tradition that enlivens and enriches those who are touched by it. It is my great honor to serve the federation as its president as, together, we face the challenges of the 21st century.”

IFCU's general assembly meets every three years providing international members of the Catholic academic community an opportunity to exchange ideas, debate issues related to Catholic education and share their visions.

To watch H2O's coverage of IFCU's 23rd General Assembly, click here.