A new era at St. Vincent College (SVC) became official Friday as the Rev. Paul R. Taylor, OSB, Ph.D., was inaugurated as the Unity Township college’s 18th president during a vespers service and ceremony in St. Vincent Basilica.
Taylor was appointed as the Benedictine college’s president on June 14, and he began work in his new role on July 1.
Father Paul succeeds Brother Norman Hipps, OSB, as president. Hipps announced his plans to retire in the spring after nine years leading the college.
“It is a privilege to stand before you. As an alumnus of St. Vincent myself, it is an honor to be asked to serve with an outstanding faculty and administration in meeting the challenges before us,” Father Paul said on Friday, reading from a prepared inauguration address.
Father Paul, 53, has served as a Benedictine monk for 30 years and a priest for 25 years. He’s also held the role of Catholic chaplain of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who spent their 54th consecutive training camp season at St. Vincent this past summer.
“Father Paul is a living embodiment of what Catholic higher education means in our time — a competent integration of faith and reason, expressed in practical service for the betterment of our students, of our church, and of our society,” J. Christopher Donahue, chairman of the college’s board of directors and CEO of Federated Investors Inc., said during Friday’s presidential proclamation.
Prior to being named president, Father Paul spent seven years as St. Vincent’s executive vice president and spearheaded the school’s $100-million capital campaign, first unveiled in December 2017.
The capital campaign, the largest in the history of the college, includes four major construction projects totaling $40 million: The $5.7-million James F. Will Engineering and Biomedical Sciences Hall that opened in November 2017; expansion of the Dale P. Latimer Library as a humanities and technology education center; technology updates for Alfred Hall classrooms and the Robert S. Carey Student Center, and a dining expansion to include a student life and community center. Renovation and expansion of the campus library is nearly completed.
Another $20 million has been earmarked to strengthen current St. Vincent College programs, including the Students First Fund, the Fred M. Rogers Center, academic and support services, and student life resources, athletics, recreation and wellness.
In June, the college announced that its fundraising goal has grown to $110 million.
Despite St. Vincent’s future plans and the college’s desire to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology, Father Paul mentioned in Friday’s address the importance of maintaining perspective and knowing that wisdom still has a place in the 21st century.
“Knowledge about our world is deepening and information is growing and multiplying faster than human minds can readily assess given the relentless sophistication of new technologies,” he said. “As wonderful as the exponential expansion of our access to information may be, it carries a danger that the mind of a great liberal arts institution must avoid. We must never confuse information with wisdom, or more data for deeper truth.
“At St. Vincent, we are committed to providing the best of science and technology, business and communication, literature and culture, philosophy and theology through education, critical thinking and research.”
St. Vincent was featured this year in the New York Times for its high retention and completion rates for students from all economic and social backgrounds. The college also previously announced plans to collaborate with the Harvard Graduate School of Education on further study of the work and writings of Latrobe native and children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers, housed at the Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media on campus.
Father Taylor on Friday discussed the college’s need — and present ability — to connect. And whether it was mere coincidence or not, he stressed the importance of students and teachers staying connected on the same day “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the new film starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, debuted in theaters nationwide.
St. Vincent Archabbot the Right Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB, welcomed Joanne Rogers, the widow of Fred Rogers, to Friday’s inauguration.
“One of the key factors cited in the (New York Times) article contributing to the strength of St. Vincent is connectedness,” Taylor said during his inauguration address. “This caring, of course, is the legacy of St. Vincent and is rooted in the connectedness between each student and his or her teachers.
“As Fred Rogers said, ‘Where would any of us be without teachers — without people who have passion for their art or their science or their craft and love it right in front of us?’ What would any of us do without teachers passing on to us what they know is essential about life?”
Archabbot Nowicki welcomed Father Taylor’s mother, Irene, and brothers, Lawrence and Robert, to Friday’s event. He also publicly mentioned Patricia Rooney, the widow of Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and “our friends from the Steeler Nation.” Also in attendance were former St. Vincent presidents Brother Norman (2010-19) and James Will (2000-06), along with county and local officials.
Like the beloved “Black and Gold,” Father Paul — who grew up in St. Marys, Elk County — has longtime ties to St. Vincent. Aside from his years at the college, his late grandfather Gilbert Straub was a priest at St. Vincent. Gilbert Straub, who died in 1956, was the founding pastor of St. Bruno Roman Catholic Parish in South Greensburg. In 1920, Straub converted St. Bruno from a mission to a church, which he built.
Father Paul is also the great-grandson of Peter Straub, the founder of Straub’s Brewery, a St. Marys-based beer maker that has been family owned since 1872.
Father Paul entered the St. Vincent Benedictine Community on July 1, 1987, and made simple profession of monastic vows on July 10, 1988, and solemn profession of vows on July 11, 1991. He was ordained a priest on June 6, 1992, in St. Vincent Basilica. He is a 1983 graduate of Elk County Catholic High School.
Father Paul earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from St. Vincent in 1987, a master of divinity degree from St. Vincent Seminary in 1991, a master of arts degree in mathematics from Duke University in 1993 and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Boston College in 1998.
In addition to his time as executive vice president, Father Paul’s other administrative roles at St. Vincent have included vice president of institutional advancement (2006-09); associate vice president of institutional advancement (2003-06), associate director (1996-97), director (1997-2001) and dean (2001-2003) of admission and financial aid, and acting dean of students (1999-2000). This past spring, he served as a Keats Society Lecturer and visiting professor at the University of Virginia. Additionally, Father Paul for nearly 20 years has visited students at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, and has brought St. Vincent students to the school for a week each January.
Father Paul received long and hearty applause before and following his inauguration address. Friday’s ceremony also featured prayers of intercession from St. Vincent international students Jessica Dong (offered in Chinese), Bertalan Papp (Hungarian) and Jacqueline Guerra (Spanish), along with St. Vincent Seminary student John Torres (Portuguese).
St. Vincent College ROTC cadet Noah Lynch of Mount Pleasant, along with fellow cadets Patrick Counihan, Joseph Heldrich, Anthony Meneses and Zachary Smith, also took part in the ceremony.
Friday’s service also included prayers and remarks from the Most Rev. Bishop Edward Malesic, JCL, of the Diocese of Greensburg, who strongly believes Father Paul will keep St. Vincent’s momentum “moving forward.”
As for Father Paul, near the tail end of Friday’s address, he reiterated a message he first touched on more than five months ago when he was named college president — at St. Vincent, you belong.
“In this world of shattered relationships and fractured society, ‘belonging’ is a treasure. Our Benedictine and Catholic mission prioritizes the sacred nature of the human person and the importance of the connectedness of that person to our community. The issues that face young people today are complex: Bullying, isolation, hatred and fear. How can a student learn when confronted by all of that?
“... Once you have the foundation of belonging, there are no hurdles too high, and no obstacles too big to keep you from success in this world — and eternal happiness in the next. This is the heart of the St. Vincent difference. We all belong.”