Waiting for God’s next assignment

Noreen Carrocci is the first lay woman president of Newman University in Wichita. She will step down on Dec. 31. Behind her is a statue of the school’s namesake, Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was canonized on Oct. 13. (Advance photo)

Noreen Carrocci will step down from NU after 12 years as president

From the first day she walked into her office on July 1, 2007, Noreen Carrocci said it never felt like work.

“It has been the most joyful position I’ve ever held,” the president of Newman University said, adding that the support she received from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the school’s board, and board chairs played a big part in her joy.

“The faculty and staff have been wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed the students,” she said, still recovering from jet lag after a trip to Italy to witness the canonization Oct. 13 of the school’s namesake, St. John Henry Newman.

The ceremony was a high point in her life, she said. While in Rome, she and the entourage of 34 from Newman visited the ASC headquarters and St. Maria de Mattias’ tomb.

“We have a unique situation at Newman in being sponsored by these wonderful Sisters Adorers,” she said, “and having an incredible partnership with the diocese. I really don’t know another Catholic university that is blessed this way, or that is affiliated with two saints.”

Previously worked in Alabama

She contrasted her work as president of Newman with her previous position at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where she served as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of Communication from 1998 to 2007. “It was so internally focused,” she said. “You deal with problems with the curriculum and faculty and staff, and so forth.”

Another blessing during her tenure at Newman, Carrocci said, was when the late Bishop Emeritus Eugene J. Gerber agreed to give his name to the science center.

“It shouldn’t have happened because he had retired in 2001, but here he was actively helping us with the fundraising. I grew spiritually just being around him. That’s a great gift I’ll always treasure.”

Two other fond memories are the school’s 2017 reaccreditation and the establishment of the St. Joseph House of Formation.

“When we got our report back from the Higher Learning Commission’s visiting (accreditation) team, we met all the criteria and subcriteria with no recommendations for improvement,” she said. “We’d never had that before. That’s a testament to all that the faculty and staff did during that 10-year period.”

First lay woman president of NU

Carrocci, the first laywoman to lead Newman, said Bishop Kemme’s decision to establish a seminary in cooperation with Newman is another fond memory.

“It was a dream when I came. Father Joe Gile and Father Mike Simone and others were hoping it would happen and I quickly got caught up and thought that would be a great idea.”

She said she had a wonderful relationship with Bishop Michael O. Jackels, who shepherded the Diocese of Wichita from 2005 to 2013. “We were the same age – we were simpatico,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to be in this diocese that’s so thriving and to get to know wonderful bishops including our current Bishop Kemme who has done remarkable things for us.”

Asked what advice she would give to her successor, Carrocci said she didn’t want to be presumptuous. She did suggest that the next president embrace “all the constituencies” and not to focus on one group. “Every student is important, every faculty member, every staff member, every donor is important,” she said. “But maybe first and foremost, get to know and embrace the charism of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. That has been absolutely essential in my time here.”

Part of the Adorers’ charism is: “We pray and work to transform the world into what our founder called ‘that beautiful order of things which the great Son of God came to establish in his blood.’”

She will stick around after retirement

Her tenure ends on Dec. 31 and her plans for the next few months are clear, she said.

“I think we will stay in Wichita for the time being because we have so many wonderful friends and I have a great network here now,” she said.

Currently her biggest challenge is her immediate surroundings. “I have to start thinking about cleaning out this office – and I think I have 34,000 unread emails. I have to clean all that up and hopefully have a little bit more success in fundraising before the year’s up.”

After the new year, she and her husband, Bob Benson, will spend some time in Florida.

“Then I’ll come back and see what God has planned for me.”