University of Dayton presidents leave legacy

19th president to begin leadership


Dan Curran, the president of the University of Dayton, will entrust the leadership of the school to Eric Spina, who will become the 19th president of the university at the end of the week.

Curran, the first lay person to lead the university, replaced Brother Ray Fitz in 2002.

The university has come a long way since Father Leo Meyer, the first president, bought 125 acres of land from John Stuart in exchange for a medal of St. Joseph and a promise of $12,000. He opened St. Mary’s School for Boys on the property on July 1, 1850.

UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON PRESIDENTS 1850-1908 PHOTO GALLERY

Under Curran’s watch the campus has nearly doubled in size to 398 acres and the UD endowment has grown to over $500 million.

In 2009 the university purchased the old NCR world headquarters allowing for more work in research.

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Curran told the Dayton Daily News in May that his biggest point of pride is the diversification of the student body. There were 42 international students on campus when he became president 14 years ago. Today there were more than 1,700 during the just-completed school year.

He will take a one-year sabbatical as executive-in-residence for Asian affairs in the University of Dayton china Institute in Suzhou, China, then return to join the faculty as a professor.

Eric F. Spina, former vice chancellor and provost at Syracuse University, will take the reins Friday.

He joined the Syracuse faculty in 1988 and has acted as department chair, dean and vice chancellor and provost.

“I have learned about the University’s Marianist values and the deep commitment to social justice and community engagement here,” he said in a Sept. 2015 release. “I found that these values, these priorities are my priorities. In a way, I feel that I am coming home.”

This is the first of two installments of the history of the University of Dayton presidents from 1850 to 1908.

Father Leo Meyer, 1850-1857

Reverend Leo Meyer was the founder of the American Province of the Society of Mary. He was born on April 24, 1800, at Eguishheim, near Colmar in Alsace, France. He was ordained a priest at Strasburg in 1823 and was sent by the Superior-General of the Marianists to found a new Society of Mary province in America. Father Meyer arrived in the United States from France on July 4, 1849, and arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 16. He was then appointed assistant to Reverend Henry Junckeer, the pastor of Emanuel Church in Dayton. It was here that Meyer met John Stuart, from whom he purchased land in 1850. It was on that land that the roots of the University of Dayton would be planted. In July of 1850, Father Meyer opened St. Mary’s Institute with the boarders lodging in Stuart Mansion, which burned down in 1855. Acting as Provincial of the American Province, Meyer, whose duties had considerably increased, was obliged to give up his directorship at the school in 1857. On January 30, 1868, Father Meyer passed away.

Brother John Stintzi, 1857-1860

Brother John Stintzi was born on Nov. 10, 1821 in St. Croix, Alsace, France, and in 1837 joined the Society of Mary at Ebermunster. In 1856 he was named Director of St. Patrick’s School in Cleveland, Ohio, which was the first English school accepted by the Marianists. By 1869 he had become the first Marianist “Inspector” (Director of Education) for the American Province. He came to Dayton in 1857 to help with the restoration of St. Mary’s after its main building (Stuart Mansion) had been destroyed by fire a few years prior. At the end of his time as president the school enrollment had increased from 60 to 147. Pupils began to come in larger numbers and in 1860 a three-story building was added to the boarding school. Brother Stintzi died on Feb. 7, 1900, in Dayton.

Brother Maximin Zehler, 1860-1867

Brother Maximin Zehler was born in Bergheim, Upper Alsace, France on Aug. 18, 1827 and in 1844 at the age of 17 he joined the Society of Mary. Brother Zehler was one of the original Marianists sent to America from Europe and in 1852 he became the first Director of St. Mary’s School in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1860 he was appointed Director of St. Mary’s in Dayton and his time at the school could be considered the period of brick and mortar because of the school’s rapid expansion. The first building erected by Brother Zehler was the Normal School (Zehler Hall) in 1865, which acted as the home for the postulants, novices, and scholastics of the Cincinnati Province. In 1866 Liberty Hall was built and in 1869 the Immaculate Conception Chapel was completed. In 1871 St. Mary’s Hall was completed and was the largest building in Dayton. The last building added to the campus by Brother Zehler was the gymnasium (Rike Center), which was ready for use in 1874. The final contribution Brother Zehler made to the school was the creation of an Alumni Association.

Reverend Francis Feith, 1876-1879

Reverend Francis Feith was born in Malsheim, Alsace, France on Jan. 23, 1844. He entered the Society of Mary in 1857 and was sent to Paris in 1861 where in 1865 he received the degree Bachelor of Letters. Feith was ordained in 1874 and was appointed chaplain of St. Mary’s Institute, Belfort, France, and it was during this time that he prepared himself for missionary work in America. He arrived in America in February of 1876 and in August of that year he was appointed Superior of St. Mary’s Institute in Dayton. During his time as president St. Mary’s was incorporated under the laws of Ohio in 1878. Then in 1879 he was appointed chaplain of St. Mary’s College in San Antonio, Texas and three years later, he was appointed Director, which was the position he held until 1893. In 1893 Reverend Feith was sent as Chaplain to the Hawaiian Islands where he spent the remaining years of his life. On July 2, 1930, Reverend Feith passed away at St. Louis College, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Reverend George Meyer, 1879-1887

Reverend George Meyer was born in Galfingen, Alsace, France on Jan. 23, 1850 and in 1867 he entered the Society of Mary. He arrived in Dayton in 1877 and was made Subdirector of St. Mary’s Institute and in 1879 he became president. In 1882 St. Mary’s Institute was empowered by an act of the General Assembly of the State of Ohio to confer degrees. Father Meyer witnessed the destruction of the convent by fire in 1883 and in 1884 St. Joseph’s Hall was built in its place. This same year Reverend Meyer purchased a field from the Patterson family (where Kettering Labs and Baujan Field would later be built). After his time as President of the Institute he served as Provincial of the American Province for a total of twenty years and he served as Novice Master at Mt. St. John in Dayton, Ohio from 1918-1937. Reverend Meyer passed away in 1939.

Reverend John Harks, 1887-1889

Reverend John Harks was the first American priest of the Society of Mary to do service in the United States. Born on May 25, 1856 in Cleveland, Ohio, Reverend Harks made his first vows on Aug. 6, 1872 in Dayton. He became president of St. Mary’s Institute in 1887 and during his tenure the first printed catalogue of the school was published. In 1889 Reverend Harks left the presidency and returned to Europe. A few years later in 1901 Reverend Harks returned to the United States to become the pastor of a church in Toledo, Ohio. He served there until his death twenty years later.

Reverend Joseph Weckesser, 1889 – 1896

Reverend Joseph Weckesser was born on June 4, 1856 in Rochester, New York, and he entered the Society of Mary on July 22, 1869, in Dayton. He studied and taught in Europe but returned to America and was appointed president of St. Mary’s Institute in 1889. In the fall of 1890 the statue of Our Lady of the Pines was unveiled and the first college degree of Bachelor of Science was conferred. After his time as president Reverend Weckesser served as Provincial of the American Province and in 1908 he served as Provincial of the newly created St. Louis Province. He spent his remaining years in San Antonio, Texas where he died in 1934.

Reverend Charles Eichner, 1896-1902

Reverend Charles Eichner was born on Aug. 21, 1861 in Columbus, Ohio, and entered the Society of Mary in 1877. The following year he moved to France to study and teach. He returned to the United States in 1895 and was appointed chaplain of St. Mary’s Institute. In 1896 he was appointed president and during his term he opened the Classical Department, erected the powerhouse in 1898, and in 1900 he introduced the high school department. After leaving the presidency in 1902 Reverend Eichner became chaplain for several Marianist communities and retired to Mt. St. John in 1941 where he spent his remaining days. Reverend Eichner passed away in 1951.

Reverend Louis Tragesser, 1902-1908

Reverend Louis Tragesser was born on April 12, 1866. In 1902 he was appointed President of St. Mary’s Institute in Dayton. In the same year he reorganized the academic curriculum into four departments: Classical, Scientific, Academic, and Preparatory. The following year St. Mary’s Institute became a member of the Catholic Education Association. In 1904 Reverend Tragesser witnessed the construction of Chaminade Hall and the Arcade as well as the erection of the Statue of the Immaculate Conception. In 1905 St. Mary’s Hall was remodeled and Zehler Hall was built as well as a Commercial Department being added to the curriculum. Reverend Tragesser resigned from the presidency in 1908 and later served as Provincial of the St. Louis Province. He retired to San Antonio, Texas where he died in 1942.



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