Hall of Fame - Page 28 - Mary Pat Seurkamp

Hall of Fame
- Page 28
Mary Pat Seurkamp
First permanent lay leader of Notre Dame women’s college helped it thrive into 21st century

BACKGROUND

Age: 72

Born: Pittsburgh

Education: St. Joseph High School, South Bend, Indiana; Webster College, Washington University, State University of New York-Buffalo

Career: Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania, various administrative roles, including dean of student life; St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, associate vice president of student affairs, associate vice president of academic affairs, chief academic officer; Notre Dame of Maryland University, president; partner, MPK&D Partners

Civic/charitable engagement: Various boards and commissions, including the Baltimore Archdiocese Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Schools; the archdiocesan school board; St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, board; chair of the Maryland Hospital Association Board

Family: Married to Bob; three children, Kris DePalma, Robb Seurkamp and Brooke Patterson; five grandchildren

After a long career in higher education, Mary Pat Seurkamp felt ready for the challenge of a college presidency and started looking around for institutions where she thought she might be a good fit. When she first set foot on thecampus ofwhatwas then the College ofNotreDame, she quietly made her way to the chapel, where she spent time in prayer andmeditation, thinking aboutwhere the right placewas for her. She quickly realized that she had foundit. Shewent back to Rochester and told her husband, “That’s where I need to be.”

Fortunately for her, and for Catholic education in Baltimore, Notre Dame’s trustees felt the same way. Her appointment in 1997 marked a major departure for the college, which was the first Catholic women’s institution in the country to award bachelor’s degrees. She was the first permanent lay leader for Notre Dame, but during her long tenure there, Ms.

Seurkamp demonstrated that her faith and values aligned perfectly with the school’s long tradition, and that her vision and leadership wereupto the challenge of extending that legacy into the 21st century.

“She’s a person of enormous vision and energy,” says the Rev. Brian Linnane, the president of LoyolaUniversityMaryland. “She is an almost natural leader who inspires people to understand her vision and come to support it.”

Notre Dame has thrived since Ms. Seurkamp arrived in 1997, but a lot of schools like it didn’t.

Small liberal arts institutions have faced increasing pressure to stay financially viable in recent years, and for a small, Catholic women’s college, those pressures were even more intense. Ms. Seurkamp says if necessary, she would have advocated for going co-ed in Notre Dame’s undergraduate college rather than closing altogether, but her leadership made sure it never came downto that.

“Mary Pat was steadfast in her commitment to remaining a women’s college,” says Pat Bosse, a Notre Dame alumna who was one of Ms. Seurkamp’s first hires. “She sawthat itwasworth working harder and smarter to maintain that mission.”

Ms. Seurkamp conducted a capital campaign, expanded Notre Dame’s nursing program and created a doctorategranting school of pharmacy. In 2010, she led the institution to its most public transformation—a change in status and name to Notre Dame University of Maryland. The school was largely operating as a university already, but the name change really helped the public and prospective students understand what it had become, says P.J. Mitchell, a Notre Dame alumna who served on the school’s boardthroughoutMs. Seurkamp’s tenure. “She worked to maintain the heritage of Notre Dame’s founding but understood that it needed to have a broader vision to progress,” Ms. Mitchell says.

Ms. Seurkamp brought that same sensibility to her service on the archdiocese’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the region’s Catholic schools. Her leadership in that effort was of existential importance to the Catholic school system, says Frank Bramble, who chaired the commission.

“She is a strategic thinker, a very gracious person but very serious about moving the ball forward,” Mr. Bramble says. “What she recognized is if we didn’t become more accountable both from an educational perspective and a financial perspective, there was going to be no Catholic schools.”

Ms. Seurkamp didn’t start out wanting to be an educator (shewas briefly a theater major), but she discoveredthat educationwas hermission— specifically the kindof values-driveneducation a Catholic institution imparts, and the kind of experienceawomen’s college provides. Peoplethink of women’s colleges as providing a protected environment, but it’s actually the opposite, Ms. Seurkampsays.

“Students can’t hide,” she says. “Everyone could be called on all the time. You have to be prepared, be informed and take on leadership. It leaves students with no question in their minds what they can achieve and take on.”

Her personal example leaves no doubt of those things either.

“She has a tremendous legacy,” says Archbishop William E. Lori. “She brought a real spirit of forward-thinking leadership. She is personally a great administrator, has wonderful insight into people, she sees opportunities to grow and expand. Notre Dame thrived under her leadership.”