Bro. Raymond Fitz, SM
Executive Director of the Association of Marianist Universities
It is a privilege and a deep joy to introduce Bro. Bernard Ploeger, S.M., Ph.D. as the ninth President of Chaminade University.
I am told that my job is to give you a little insight into this man Bro. Bernie. I have been given permission by Bro. Bernie to use a few lesser known stories. I am assuming that you all have read the official biography contained in the program. My intent is to enrich that biography with a few stories about Bro. Bernie as a friend, colleague and Marianist brother – most of these stories really happened and all of them are true.
I first met Bro. Bernie when he was a young Brother studying mathematics at the University of Dayton. I had just returned from finishing my studies and was beginning to teach at the University of Dayton and living with the younger Brothers at Mount St. John in Dayton. I was initially drawn to friendship with Bro. Bernie because he was only person among 100 or so brothers who understood the mathematics behind my dissertation work. Soon I found out that Bernie was very a very competitive athlete in volleyball and baseball – which I liked. You did not want to get in front of his spike on the volleyball court and, while he was not the most graceful runner, there was very little he could not run down in the outfield. He still has this competitive spirit. Last weekend in St Louis, I mentioned to him in a teasing manner that now that Chaminade in NCAA Division II, I expect a national championship in basketball. Without missing a beat his replied “That is something we will try to get done.” Bro. Bernie likes to win.
After Bernie complete is Ph. D. at Ohio State he was a mathematics professor at UD and a very important team member for a project that a number of Marianist religious at the University developed in Niger with the cooperation with Catholic Relief Services and the US Agency for International Development. The purpose of the project was to turn back the desert from encroaching on the fragile ecosystem of West Africa by a program of sustainable agriculture and herding practices. Bernie volunteered to go to Niger, learn French, and be the on-ground supervisor of the project. He showed his great adaptability and perseverance in this task. He learned much during this project. At one time in this project, the intensity of work, the diet, and the heat brought this quite tall man young men down to 135 pounds. I don’t think Bro. Bernie has seen 135 pounds in several years!
The lore of our Marianist community is filled with great Bro. Bernie stories – all about his amazing efficiency, hard work, and his compassion. Fr. Jim Heft is fond of telling the story of how on one morning he saw Bernie in his room after breakfast simultaneously listening to NPR, flossing his teeth, and discovering some problems in the University budget. We all know to this day – he has few cavities, still can tell us what was on NPR that day, and the University was much better for his astute budget management. Bro. Bernie has wholesome sense of self-deprecating humor. I am sure we have all heard Bernie, with his great smile flashed across his face, explain to you the difference between an introverted mathematician and an extroverted mathematician: When you meet the introverted mathematician he looks at his shoe and when you meet the extroverted mathematician he looks at your shoes.
I have always been touched by Bro. Bernie’s wonderful examples of compassion. I remember how in Dayton he cared for some of the most difficult people to deal with, people that some of us would rather avoid, and he did it with patience and perseverance. He would interpret whatever important work he was doing to be present to one of God’s less fortunate people – his presence was accepting and loving.
I had the pleasure of working with Bro. Bernie at the University of Dayton. As President of the University I was blessed, more than I deserved, to have Bro. Bernie as my Senior Vice President for Administration and Fr. Jim Heft as my Provost. With Bro. Bernie, I knew that I had a professional and thoughtful educational colleague who was an outstanding steward of University resources, a person who was concerned for all employees of the University, and recognized that the University has an important relationship to our Dayton community. I knew if I had an idea that would with stand Bro. Bernie’s critical scrutiny, I could be confident that I was going the right direction. We didn’t always agree – but through dialogue we could forge a common direction. Fr Jim was a very thoughtful leader for our Catholic and Marianist identity and mission and Bro. Bernie was a great colleague by helping to marshal resources needed to realize the vision we all had for the University of Dayton – to be a national leader in Catholic higher education. During this time UD made great progress and Bro. Bernie was a major force in that transformation.
But sadly my administrative Camelot was not destined to last forever. It was clear that Bro. Bernie had excellent potential beyond the role that he was playing at the University of Dayton. He was developing a vision for Marianist educational and academic excellence and the important role faculty played in that vision. The partnership between the University of Dayton and Chaminade University was an opportunity for Bro. Bernie to test and develop his desire to do more Catholic and Marianist higher education. When President Sue Wesselkamper invited Bro. Bernie to come to Chaminade University, I must say I was a little sad. I would miss working with a great colleague and a dear friend. While my sadness lingered for awhile, I knew it was a grace filled time. First, Bernie left a great team in place at UD and we were able to continue our forward momentum without too much disruption. Second, you always want your friend to have an opportunity to realize their best gifts – not only for their own flouring but for what those gifts would bring to others and our work of Marianist higher education. Third, I knew that Bernie would have the support of good friends. I knew that Sue and Tom Wesselkamper and others at Chaminade would provide Bernie with a warm friendship he needed in order for his gifts and talents to be realized. Working at Chaminade and being a colleague of President Sue Wesselkamper as they worked with the whole campus community on the refounding of Chaminade University provided an excellent fit for this man of talent, imagination, perseverance, and integrity. We all know the story of what President Sue, Bro. Bernie, and the Chaminade family were able to accomplish. If ever they was a time when God’s great Province shined on our work of Marianist higher education it was during the refounding of Chaminade University. So today we ask President Sue, as part of the wonderful community of saints in heaven, to take our prayers to the Lord and ask a blessing on this phase of Chaminade University’s journey to becoming an outstanding Catholic and Marianist university. We ask her to intercede with the Lord and his blessed Mother for a blessing on the man who will carry forward the bright torch of Marianist higher education, which she and Bro. Bernie so wonderfully re-enkindled together.
I am proud to present to you the person who has been chosen to the 9th President of Chaminade University, my friend, my colleague, and my brother, Bro. Bernie Ploeger, S.M., Ph.D.