DeSales Inaugurates Rev. James J. Greenfield, OSFS ’84 as Fourth President
In May of 1984, a young James J. Greenfield sat with his fellow classmates in Billera Hall, ready to receive his diploma. Nearly 34 years later, he began a new chapter in that very same building—this time, as president of his alma mater.
DeSales University ushered in a new era on April 4 with the inauguration of Fr. Greenfield, OSFS ’84, Ed.D. as its fourth president. W. Douglas Brown, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, placed the ceremonial presidential medallion around Fr. Greenfield’s neck in front of a large crowd of faculty, staff, students, alumni, other university and college delegates, community members, and fellow clergy.
“It’s my deep honor to stand here before you this afternoon to be presented for service and ministry as the fourth president of DeSales University,” Fr. Greenfield, the first alumnus to lead the University, told the crowd.
He focused his address on three key areas: memories of his alma mater, a mandate for Catholic higher education, and the mission of DeSales. He also recalled his own time as a student and likened his return to a homecoming.
“Back then, there was no such thing as a fitness center—just a room with free weights somewhere in a closet. In 35 years, Billera Hall has changed dramatically, and so has this great school. And so has the world and the enterprise of higher education.”
Fr. Greenfield acknowledged the skyrocketing cost of higher education and the historic levels of student debt, and vowed to ensure that the money families spend at DeSales is worth their investment.
For his final point, Fr. Greenfield invoked the University’s spirit of Christian humanism and the Salesian theme of unidiversity—co-existing in a peaceful, loving way with those who are different.
Before the address, a mix of old friends and new faces offered their greetings and support, including Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, Ph.D., president of Villanova University; Alison R. Byerly, Ph.D., president of Lafayette College; and members of the DeSales faculty, staff, and student body.
Fr. Donohue, who represented Catholic colleges and universities, first met Fr. Greenfield about a decade ago during Fr. Greenfield’s time at George Washington University.
“I was very honored to be asked to take that role,” Fr. Donohue says, adding, “The ceremony was very nicely done. I liked his address because I thought he was really creating a vision for the place.”
Timothy Nolan ’77, executive vice president of EmblemHealth, represented DeSales alumni and previously served on the Board of Trustees alongside Fr. Greenfield.
“Father Greenfield is an outstanding speaker and communicator,” says Nolan. “It’s great to see a former trustee and alum actually step into that position. We are very fortunate as a University to have him at this point in time.”
Denise Von Funk ’80, a current member of the Board of Trustees, told the inauguration crowd that during the search for a new president, she was struck by how Fr. Greenfield compared the role of the president to that of an orchestra conductor—someone who leads by listening and doesn’t micromanage.
“It was clearly evident that Father Jim would bring a new energy and perspective to DeSales. In the relatively short time that Fr. Greenfield has been on campus, it is evident his love of the University and that he has a vision for its future.”
Psychology major Karrington Hamilton ’18 agrees. She delivered the invocation at the request of Fr. Greenfield, and says the invitation came as a shock.
“There I am sitting at the MAC Championship game for the men's basketball team and Father Jim just waltzes up to me and asks me flat out,” she says. “It was so calm but it was very impactful. I think how casually it happened says a lot about Father Jim and the approach that he takes with the students under his care.”