History of Leadership

History and Traditions

A History of Leadership

When President Rhona Free, Ph.D., was named the University’s ninth president on July 1, 2015, she joined an esteemed group of visionary leaders — women who formed and served the University’s mission since its founding in 1932. Like the University itself, the presidency has evolved over the years to meet the needs of our ever-changing society.


In the University’s early days, the dean functioned much like the president does today while the president served as the Major Superior of the Sisters of Mercy of Connecticut, a position that oversaw 800 Mercy members. Consequently, the president delegated many executive functions to the dean, who oversaw the University's day-to-day operations.

Those who served in the presidential capacity include:

Sister Rosa McDonough, one of 14 Founding Sisters, earned a doctorate in Psychology from Catholic University, becoming the first Sister from Hartford to receive an advanced degree.

She was regarded by those who knew her as a person dedicated to excellence. Her relentless pursuit of the best was evident in all she created: the University's academic programs, resources, and buildings. During the construction of the campus' administrative building (now named McDonough Hall in her honor), Sister Rosa was seen at the site every day inspecting progress and requesting changes. As a teacher, Sister Rosa taught courses in philosophy, logic, and psychology. She pushed her students to think for themselves, to pursue graduate studies, to contribute to their community, and to cultivate a love of life-long learning.

Under her leadership, the University defined itself with: a values-centered curriculum that combined liberal arts with professional preparation; the campus landscape plan which thoughtfully factored future growth; and the standard of excellence that has become the USJ hallmark.

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