For Marquette University's first lay president, faith comes first

Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University, poses for a photo with his wife, Amy, Sept. 2 near Gesu Church. (CNS/Catholic Herald/Juan Carlos Medina)

Milwaukee — Being in an environment where faith is a visible part of daily life is something Michael Lovell, the first lay president of Marquette University, welcomes.

In his short time at the university, he said he has delivered more faith-related speeches than ever.

"It all has to do with being at a place where I can practice my faith in professional life. For a while I at least contemplated being a priest, and being able to talk about my faith publicly is something I could not do in my previous role, but I've had more speeches in my time at Marquette about my faith, religion than I've had in my entire career. That is something I've always longed to do," he said.

Faith also is the center of family life, according to his wife, Amy, who also described her husband as a devoted father who "somehow manages to connect with all his kids every day."

The couple has four children ranging in age from 11 to 19, and they are actively involved at Holy Family Parish in Whitefish.

Lovell, inaugurated Sept. 19 as Marquette's 24th president, holds three academic degrees in mechanical engineering, including a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. His work as a researcher has led to several technological breakthroughs, and he holds seven patents and 14 provisional patents.

Earlier this year, he was formally inducted into the National Academy of Inventors. In 2008, he was named dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's College of Engineering and Applied Science and was elevated to chancellor in 2011.

He was elected to head Marquette by the university's board of trustees in April and took the post Aug. 1.

He expects his new position at Marquette will deepen his own faith.

"One of the neat things about taking on this role, my faith journey will be challenged in new and different ways, and when you are challenged, you grow," he told the Catholic Herald, a publication that serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.

Seated in his corner office, which looks across to the majestic Gesu Church across the street, he said that being in an environment where faith is a visible part of daily life is something he welcomes.

Before accepting the Marquette job, he weighed the impact it would have on their family and spoke to each member of the family separately about it, asking if they could handle his busier schedule.

"These positions are a sacrifice for the whole family," Lovell said. "You do your best to balance family with your professional life, but the reality is these jobs are demanding, a lot of nights and weekends."

In the months since he accepted the job, he said he has received daily affirmations that the decision to move to Marquette was the right one for him.

"Marquette is a special place; what is unique about Marquette -- this is my fourth university -- is how much people care about each other and how much they care about the institution," he said.

He was particularly moved by the Aug. 19 prayer service held in memory of James Foley, the journalist and Marquette graduate slain by militants with the Islamic State.

"By far, that was the most spectacular memorial, prayer service I've been to," he said, noting that more than 1,000 people filled the university chapel. People from all over the country were there who had a connection to Foley through Marquette.

"Marquette, in his words, formed who [Foley] was and the sense of pride in the institution and pride in who he was and how he represented our university," Lovell said.

"It made me realize," he added, "these people have the same values as I do and I'm so fortunate to be part of a strong Catholic community."

[Maryangela Layman Roman is managing editor of the Catholic Herald, a publication that serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.]

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