A day in the life of the president

Set your alarm early—then get up and follow Paul Locatelli, S.J., through a day of leading the University and serving as pastor, professor, mayor, and CEO.

His alarm is set for 5:30 a.m., but he generally wakes without it between 4:30 and 5. Wearing his jogging clothes, he first exercises his back, then prays in a maple rocking chair in his unfancy, 9-foot-by-21-foot room. The president will be presiding at the evening community Mass in the Jesuit residence, so for 30 minutes he meditates on the gospel passage in the lectionary and jots notes on Luke, Chapter 3, the baptism of Jesus, in which he finds the message of love and care, hope and faith that he witnessed in his recent baptism of Congressman Leon Panetta’s granddaughter.

At 6 a.m., Locatelli makes his first visit to his office in the Walsh Administration Building to scan the 40 e-mails from friends, faculty, staff, and international organizations that have piled up overnight. Some require only quick replies; the majority are put on hold until he has more time. And then he is running east and south—a four-mile loop that used to include the Southern Pacific railroad tracks until the gate to them was locked. He now favors hammering along the pre-dawn streets of Campbell Avenue or Alviso Street, sometimes collecting trash and tossed soda cans on his way.

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Santa Clara President Paul Locatelli, S. J.

Quickly spiffing up and dressing in one of his three Lands’ End or Clothing Broker black suits, clerical shirt, and stiff white Roman collar, he makes his first appointment of the morning, a 7:30 breakfast of fruit, rolls, and coffee in Adobe Lodge with Jim Purcell, the vice president for University relations, and with a generous couple who are increasing their donation to scholarships and contributing a six-figure gift to the library that’s under construction. The conversation is genial; there is no urgency, no squeezing; there is just a gentle floating of ideas that can be funded with their gifts.

At 8:15 the president heads back to his office to read the San Jose Mercury News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and major articles in The New York Times online and to scan his e-mail again and have his first review of the day’s obligations with Jim Briggs, who serves as his chief of staff. In an earlier talk with undergraduates, Locatelli told them, “Sometimes I have to act as a CEO in my job, sometimes as a mayor of a city, sometimes as a president of a university, sometimes as an accounting professor on the faculty, and sometimes as a pastor.” He’ll be doing a little of each this workday.

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The Monday morning staff meeting begins at 9:30 in the president’s conference room in Walsh.

Sitting around the long, 14-seat, hardwood-veneer table are Purcell, Briggs, Provost Lucia Albino Gilbert, Kevin Quinn, S.J., the executive director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, and Simone Billings, a senior lecturer in English who serves as the president’s assistant, or as the 19th century would have it, amanuensis.

The first topic is the fundraising priorities of the five schools, the success of the capital campaign, and a caution from Locatelli that donors often have not been responsive to requests for gifts to support technology and faculty development.

On the other hand, donors have been very responsive to requests for student scholarships and endowed professorships, so the president sometimes has to exercise a “put and take,” with senior professors getting endowed professorships and their slots going to assistant professors. And it’s getting harder to recruit Jesuits for those jobs.

Also on the agenda is Locatelli’s jam-packed calendar for the year. The Superior General of the Society of Jesus has named him the first Secretary for Higher Education. Locatelli drafted his own job description with requests for office, budget, and staff. “I’ll be making inquiries about status, vision, and mission for all our schools,” he says. “I’m collecting information now for a reference library. We want to establish cooperation across international Jesuit institutions—the only network of its kind in the world.” Because of those duties, he’s resigning from six boards and possibly two more, and in this past summer he spent two weeks in Rome in late June.

The Jesuits of the California Province have also chosen Locatelli as one of their representatives at the General Congregation in January 2008 that will elect the man to succeed the retiring Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., as the next Superior General. Even after the election, Locatelli expects important conversations about “where Jesuits are in the world today,” as he puts it. “What do we have to say about the culture of life, our broken world, religious plurality, concern for the environment, human rights, religious fundamentalism? And how do we incite concern in people so we can develop social action?”


Concern for people was his route to his vocation as a Jesuit. Locatelli was not devout or even going to church during college, but after earning his degree in accounting at Santa Clara, he was forced to go on active duty in the Army for six months. Wedged in the Cold War period between Korea and Vietnam, his military service was spent stateside and was relatively peaceful, but still, “I felt there had to be more to life than learning how to kill people”—and he noticed old slurs and prejudices that had their roots in both World War II and the Korean War. “There was so much dehumanizing of all Asians. And I thought, there’s something wrong with this picture.” A general dissatisfaction connected with his own post-collegiate self-evaluation inspired him to begin going to church on a regular basis. When he was released from active duty but still in the reserves, he took a job in an accounting firm and went to morning Mass whenever he could, and a yearning for a more intimate relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church began to take hold. Within the year he was making inquiries about joining the Society of Jesus. He entered on Sept. 7, 1962, nine days before his 24th birthday.

And now at 10:45 he hurries out to a sea green 2006 Volkswagen Jetta that has been donated for his use by Bob Lewis Volkswagen. (Locatelli officiated at the wedding that joined Steve Lewis, the company’s president and CEO, to Margaret Fox, daughter of Michael E. Fox Sr. and Mary Ellen Fox; Mike is former chair of SCU’s Board of Regents, while Mary Ellen was the first woman to serve as president of the Board of Fellows.) Heading to San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation for the 11 a.m. swearing in of California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Locatelli reviews the invocation he’s written whenever there’s a stop light, hacking out words and sentences. “It’s too long.”

Entering the Tech Museum through the service doors off the Crowne Plaza Hotel lot, he’s escorted through a hall of perhaps 50 banquet tables and is introduced behind the curtained stage to Quentin Kopp, former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, and a retired San Mateo County judge who will perform the swearing in. Kopp casually asks if there are protests over the Army ROTC program on campus. The question comes from out of the blue, and Locatelli shrugs it off by saying, “Oh, we argue about it all the time,” and then seeks out his friend and former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery. But their conversation is cut short by an event planner who wants to go over the program.

Watching him walk off with the staffer, McEnery says of Santa Clara’s president for the past 19 years, “Though many of us are in favor of term limits, we’re glad they have not been invoked in his instance.”


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Santa Clara University President Paul Locatelli, S. J. speaks with Steve Poizner

Elected insurance commissioner in November 2006, Republican Poizner is off to the side backstage, reviewing his speech. Crowding around him are some 20 friends, family, and staff, waiting for the ceremony to commence. A string quartet is playing Handel’s “Water Music” as Poizner looks up from a page and notices many faces he doesn’t recognize.

Smiling, he says, “So much for our security concerns.” Poizner is Jewish, so Locatelli was surprised and honored when he was invited to offer the opening prayer. Singing a hymn after him will be the female cantor from Congregation Shir Hadash.

Locatelli jokes,”Are you going to make me look bad with your cantoring?” She laughs. And then he meets Poizner’s high school-aged daughter, Rebecca, and he smiles as he asks if she’s decided on a university yet.

The string quartet shifts from “Water Music” to “America the Beautiful,” and that’s the cue for the guests to file out. Onstage, McEnery, the emcee, introduces Locatelli, who prays the invocation. Although he’s been invited to stay for lunch, Locatelli hurries off the stage—he’s expected for a meeting at the Jesuit community’s new residence on Franklin Street.

At least four times a week his lunches are fundraisers, but this noon he’s meeting with Paul Sheridan, S.J., president of Bellarmine College Preparatory school, and the school’s principal, Mark Pierotti, along with Atom Yee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The dining room has eight tables, and Locatelli selects for his guests the one closest to the sunshine of the courtyard. His lunch is a cup of minestrone soup and a salad with oil-and-vinegar dressing. In conversation he notes that he’ll be attending the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome, where the primary focus will probably be on the Jesuits’ mission in the world today and how to implement their goals of sustainability, interreligious dialogue, and doing justice. Locatelli hopes that there won’t be an emphasis on conferences because “I find at this stage of my life I don’t get as much from group discussions. I need to read and reflect.”

The Bellarmine administrators are there to propose the innovation of having their finest seniors actually attend some Santa Clara University classes rather than take advanced placement courses in the high school. Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., who’s dining at a neighboring table, is called over by Locatelli to help determine how the plan could be effectuated. While they strategize, Locatelli goes to the kitchen to collect chocolate chip cookies on a plate that he hands around to his guests.

At 1 p.m. he heads back to Walsh for an hour, during which he reviews correspondence and e-mail and writes out his one-page homily for the Jesuits’ 5:30 Mass.

At 2 p.m. Joe Sugg, assistant vice president for University operations, arrives with the architectural plans for a convertible meeting place near the Leavey Center that’s to be the student activities building, sometimes unofficially called the Bronco Mews. Locatelli is concerned that the architectural features in the presented drawings aren’t consistent with the Mission style of the campus, but “from the overall massing and site plan angle, it’s fine.” At the next meeting he has with the undergraduates, he’ll have a conversation about the various uses they could dream of for the Mews.

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Sugg grins, and Locatelli says, “Joe loves me because I come up with these crazy ideas.”

Sugg mentions the old cross that stood across from the Mission. Weather so rotted its wood that the cross sheared off in high winds. Locatelli immediately instructs, “We need to build a new cross that’s roughly the same size. Maybe preserve a piece of the relic cross and display it under glass.” Recommending first-growth redwood for the job, Locatelli notes, “My family was in the lumber business in Boulder Creek. Locatelli Brothers Lumber Company.”

At 2:35 Simone Billings and Jim Briggs walk into the president’s conference room to consider the materials for the next meeting with the Board of Trustees, looking for holes in the agenda and focusing on opportunities for the trustees to learn about the construction of the new Leavey School of Business building.

And then Locatelli is in his Jetta again, this time with Santa Clara’s General Counsel John Ottoboni, former local legal counsel to the San Francisco 49ers. Locatelli has been invited to the DeBartolo Sports Centre at 4949 Centennial Blvd. for a 3 o’clock meeting whose exact purpose is a mystery to him.

The 49ers are interested in building a football stadium in Santa Clara, and in a confidential meeting with John York, the team’s co-owner; Larry MacNeil, vice president and chief financial officer; Lal Heneghan, the vice president for football operations; and Ed McGovern, a Santa Clara grad who serves the team as an outside consultant, it becomes clear that the organization is keenly aware that the University has a congenial working relationship with the city of Santa Clara, having cooperated on the construction of 15 buildings in the last 10 years. MacNeil narrates a slideshow of the architectural plans for the stadium and aerial maps of Paramount’s Great America park area, and there are estimates of construction costs and mentions of feasibility studies and environmental impact reports. But it is Locatelli’s experience in fostering good relations with the city and accommodating its planning department that are the primary reasons for the meeting, and the executives are interested in his advice.

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Invited to stay for a party that the organization is hosting at 4 p.m., Locatelli offers his regrets and heads back to Walsh Hall where, naturally, he has another meeting, this time with the Athletic Advisory Board. The primary topics are supervision of athletics, the role of the board itself, the two-year process of certification by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the need for an internal auditor to ensure the accuracy of reporting on undergraduate sports to the NCAA.

Concluding the meeting just before 5, Locatelli consults a list of missed telephone calls and returns those that seem most important until he has to race to the Jesuit residence for the community liturgy at 5:30. Quickly vesting in a white alb and green stole, Locatelli presides at a Mass for about 30 of his Jesuit brothers, delivering the homily on Chapter 42 of Isaiah and the gospel account of the baptism of Jesus that he prepared in the pre-dawn, 12 hours earlier. Almost 45 years a Jesuit and 33 years a priest, the Eucharist is still a high point of his day.

Afterwards, in the large, handsome living room, there is what the Jesuits call a preprandial—crackers and cheese with bottled water or wine and spirits. The hale and hearty conversations of scholars at ease with each other go on for half an hour or so and then the priests gradually wander into the dining room.

But Locatelli is having dinner out, as he will every night this week. This evening it’s not a fundraiser or a function, but just a working meal at Left Bank in Santana Row. There he’s joined by Karrie Grasser and her husband, Phil, as well as Ottoboni and his wife, Nancy. Karrie runs the Event Planning Office and will be organizing meetings of the Board of Fellows, so the salads and salmon steaks are accompanied with notes on hospitality and scheduling.

Locatelli returns to the Jesuit residence at 9 p.m. and gets a bottle of Crystal Geyser water to take with him to his first-floor room.

And though he’ll wake again in less than seven hours, he stays up a little longer to reread chapters of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat, which he’ll be discussing with a book group of 15 honors students that week.

His night prayer is the Examen, an Ignatian practice of reviewing how one’s waking hours were spent.


It includes correcting oneself if faults are perceived and reflecting on God’s graceful presence in all one’s activities. Locatelli jokes that “I usually quietly thank God that I just made it through the day.”

And then the president who is the highest authority for 1,583 employees, oversees an annual budget of $275 million as well as 76 buildings on a 106-acre campus, and who is available to a constituency of more than 80,000 alumni and students, finally retires to his twin bed and falls—there can be no doubt—vigorously asleep.

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