A Legacy Of Growth In Mission and Recognition

Since he assumed the presidency of Saint Mary’s College in January 2005, Brother Ronald Gallagher has strengthened the College academically, enhanced its reputation and prepared it well for the next chapter in its history. 

On a personal level, he has also brought a gentle humor to the job and has been renowned for being available to students, faculty and parents.

“Brother Ron is one of those rare individuals who looks for and finds the good in everyone. He is one of the most non-judgmental, fair-minded and caring people I’ve encountered,” said Professor Frances Sweeney, a former vice provost of academic affairs. “This goes beyond the Lasallian aspiration to meet students where they are and help each of them maximize their own potential. His is a true hospitality of spirit and heart, with a large dose of Irish wit and effervescence thrown in for good measure.”

When he was named president, Brother Ron brought with him many years of experience on the local and international stage. A 1969 graduate of Saint Mary’s, he began teaching in the English Department in 1984. He served as vice chancellor of Bethlehem University from 1993 to 1997, secretary general of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Rome from 1997 to 2001, and president of the International Association of Lasallian Universities from 2007 to 2009. 

Father Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco, said that when he first met Brother Ron he was “surprised that such an accomplished leader was so modest and unassuming. After all, he ran the University of Bethlehem, which has to be the toughest assignment in all of Catholic higher education.” He lauded the president not only for his “Irish wit, wisdom and charm” but also for bringing “a global perspective, well-tested faith and solid values” to everything he does. 

At Saint Mary’s, the list of Brother Ron’s accomplishments is long. He has provided strong leadership in institutional and academic planning, from the Building on Strengths Strategic Plan to the Academic Blueprint and the new Core Curriculum, which focuses on specific learning goals. Perhaps as a result, the College has reached record levels of student engagement.

During those years, the College has grown in both size and quality. Traditional undergraduate enrollment is at an all-time high, and SMC now boasts the most academically qualified and diverse undergraduate student body in its history.

Graduate programs in business, leadership, kinesiology and fine arts have expanded. The College has won national accreditation for its Integral program, greatly increased the number of scholarships available to students, won national recognition in performing arts, and expanded support for student research.

Brother Ron also oversaw the construction of the Kalmanovitz School of Education and Filippi Academic Hall, the Louis Guisto baseball field, and renovations of campus facilities, including Oliver Hall. The Joseph Alioto Athletics and Recreation Center, scheduled to open in 2014, will provide a vibrant new center for student life on campus.

In athletics, which have always been dear to Brother Ron’s heart, Saint Mary’s has risen to national prominence. Men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s tennis have all competed in NCAA tournaments, and the rugby team has competed in quarterfinals. In the past three years alone, Gaels have won five WCC championships.

Donor relations have also been strengthened, setting the stage for a comprehensive campaign and new fundraising records, and the Alumni Office has organized some of the most successful events in SMC history—from record-breaking reunions to Gaelebration.

With all these advances, recognition of Saint Mary’s strengths has grown by leaps and bounds. Forbes magazine ranked it fifth in the nation for colleges that enhance the potential  of graduates’ financial success. Its culture of service earned it a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. And its unique educational approach was lauded in the prestigious book Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges.

“Brother Ron has led us through challenging economic times with a commitment to strengthening the core of what we do best:  providing a high-quality, intellectual and engaging education to diverse undergraduate and graduate students, grounded in our Catholic mission and driven by our commitment to the common good,” said Provost Beth Dobkin. “He has positioned the college to achieve more than its founders might have imagined 150 years ago.”

As Brother Ron’s time in office draws to a close, former chairman of the Board of Trustees Jim Quandt ’71 recalled his first stroll across campus with the new president. “Virtually every student we passed walking to the Library greeted Brother Ron with a warm hello, a wave or just offering up a smile to him, and at that moment I knew we had made a truly excellent choice for our new president,” he said. “I will be forever grateful that he gave up eight very important years of his life to lead Saint Mary’s during such a formative time in our history.”

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