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USJ Leadership & Traditions

Leadership and Traditions

A History of Leadership

When President Rhona Free, Ph.D., became the University’s ninth president on July 1, 2015, she joined a 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 president was 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 and functioned much like the president does today.

Those who served in the presidential capacity include:


Each fall, Convocation welcomes new and returning students in a traditional academic ceremony. Originally, the opening of the academic year was marked by a welcoming Mass. The modern-day Convocation, which began in 1987, blends the spiritual with the academic. Each year, the community gathers in The Connor Chapel of Our Lady and asks for God's blessing and guidance in the coming academic year. Following welcoming remarks by the president, the faculty winner of the Father John J. Stack Teaching Excellence Award addresses the congregation.

Investiture marks a significant event in the life of a scholar. It commemorates the advanced academic standing of members of the junior class by dressing the students in the scholar's garb for the first time. Juniors process to the Chapel in academic gowns and receive their caps from faculty members. The University first celebrated Investiture in 1934 in a ceremony that coincided with the Feast of the Presentation. Following Mass, juniors recited the "Catholic Students Prayer" and received communion. Faculty members and mothers of the junior class were then invited to join the students at a communion breakfast. Although the ceremony has changed over the years, the intent remains the same: Investiture provides an opportunity for the College community to recognize the students' academic advancement and to ask for God's continued blessing.

Since 1978, the University community has celebrated the Advent season with The Festival of Lights. A joyful celebration of music, dance, and liturgy, the festival involves many members of the community as active participants. Students, faculty, and staff read from the scriptures and the University's choir and liturgical dancers perform throughout the ceremony. Sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry, the Festival ends with a traditional lighting ceremony in which a light is passed throughout the congregation until all hold a lighted candle.

As a tradition, Baccalaureate Mass dates back to the first graduating class of Saint Joseph College. Essentially, it is a Mass held prior to Commencement to celebratethe accomplishments of the seniors. Baccalaureate Mass unites the community in worship one final time to bless the graduating students as they move into the next phase of their lives.

Commencement, of course, is the final ceremony of the college experience. Each May, graduating students receive their diplomas and move into the role of University of Saint Joseph alumni.

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