Thomas J. Regan, S.J., always seemed destined for the Jesuits. He wanted to be a priest “very early on, from third grade,” he recalled. He loved education and he loved service work. And then there was the example set by his father’s first cousin, a Jesuit who taught at Boston College—“the coolest guy I’d ever met,” Father Regan said.

“He was a very, very popular math professor” and also “into computers in the sixties, before anyone knew what computers were,” Father Regan said. “He just had such an incredibly interesting life.”

Thus inspired, Father Regan pursued his own career as a Jesuit and an educator. After graduating from Boston College, he earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Fordham in 1982 and 1984; served as a philosophy professor and dean at Fairfield University and Loyola University Chicago; and came to Fordham as a visiting associate professor of philosophy from 2010 to 2011.

He was provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus for six years, and in 2020 he returned to Fordham. He sits on the Board of Trustees, co-chairing its Mission and Social Justice Committee. And he is also superior of Fordham’s Jesuit community, housed in Spellman Hall on the Rose Hill campus.

Jesuit Benefactors

This latter role has exposed him to a new joy of the Jesuit life: philanthropy. While he’s done his share of fundraising, he said, “coming here as rector was the first time I actually got to give away money.”

That’s because the Jesuits of Fordham Inc., incorporated in 1970, donate the lion’s share of their salaries, in compliance with the laws of the Society of Jesus. As superior of the community, Father Regan is the one who conveys the funds—to Fordham University and to Cristo Rey New York High School, Jesuit middle schools, and other nonprofits including Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic Charities.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to send a lot of money back to the University,” Father Regan said, noting that the 31-member Fordham Jesuit community numbered more than 100 when he arrived as a graduate student in the late 1970s.

The community endowed the St. Ignatius Loyola Chair, supported programs across the University, and, in the 1990s, created the Jesuits of Fordham Endowed Scholarship Fund.

In recent years, the community has made new, generous gifts to this fund, supporting the University’s $350 million fundraising campaign, Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, and its goal of providing equitable access to a Fordham education and making it more affordable.

The scholarship is designated for high achievers with high financial need, with consideration for students from Cristo Rey high schools. Seeing its impact on the lives of students is one of the many joys of Father Regan’s decades-long career in Jesuit education.

Tell me more about your community’s decision to make new gifts to its scholarship fund.
Access to education is what the Jesuits are all about. If we’re going to break the barrier of poverty, the best way to do that is through education. Father McShane [Joseph M. McShane, S.J., now president emeritus of Fordham] wanted us to designate our gifts to scholarships, and coming in as the superior, I just couldn’t agree more. To go to graduation and see first-generation students getting their diploma and the smiles on their parents’ faces, and their pride at what their daughters and sons can do—to be able to assist in that process is just wonderful.

I also think it anchors us more in the Bronx, so we can have more local students from the Bronx here. And I think that the more students of color come and see people like themselves here, it just reinforces that we’re here for them and they’re part of this community, and that this is why we’re here. So I think it’s exciting.

You’ve been in liberal arts education a long time. What do you think of current questions about its value?
I wrote my dissertation on the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and he said an educated person has to avoid knowledge “in a groove,” because the people who are going to lead society are the people who can see beyond the grooves. Someone once told me, “Throughout my professional life, I always could tell, when people were making presentations or just interacting with people, who went to tech schools and who had a liberal arts education.” These days, parents are rightfully looking at return on investment and asking, “If you study English, what are you going to do for a job?” Well, you might minor in data analytics, for instance, just so you have the skill set that’s marketable, but major in literature, because you never know when that door to another opportunity is going to open. It’s not surprising to find out how many of the best CEOs majored in philosophy.

How can Jesuit universities maintain their character and traditions in light of the declining number of Jesuits?
When I was provincial, people always asked that question, and I said, “I never get nervous about the number of Jesuits.” Looking at this historically, after World War II we just went crazy in terms of numbers, and that was an anomaly, because Jesuits never had those kinds of numbers before. And now we’re getting back to homeostasis. So I’m not too worried. And then there’s the quality of the younger guys that we’re getting in—they’re coming in with advanced degrees already. They’re just incredibly talented, very articulate. And so what we’re losing in quantity, we’re certainly making up in quality.

Is there a greater role to be played by lay people in Jesuit education?
In the Arrupe seminar for faculty and staff, which I teach with John Cecero, S.J. [vice president for mission integration and ministry at Fordham], we see so many people who work at Fordham and want to embody Jesuit values in their life. When I was in Boston as provincial, when I would go to these national meetings of Jesuit secondary education, I would be on a high for months afterwards, after meeting all these lay people who have given their lives to the mission. There would be very few Jesuits there. We just have to make sure that lay men and women have the opportunities to have the training that they need, because there’s no lack of desire.

Has your career as a Jesuit and an academic lived up to the inspiring example from your childhood?
My entire adult life has been in a higher education community. I can’t imagine a more charmed existence. I’ve been teaching pretty much since 1980, and I’ve done 200 weddings, I don’t know how many baptisms. It’s just an incredible opportunity that I’ve been given to be part of so many lives. Not a day goes by that I don’t interact with four or five former students. The new president of Loyola Chicago is someone I taught in freshman honors at Fairfield. And Rob Parmach [Fordham’s inaugural director of Ignatian mission initiatives] is also someone I taught as an undergraduate at Fairfield. Probably the best thanks that you can get is to see people that you taught do so well. And the Society of Jesus is at the center of this. Anyone who’s had my experiences has the same story to tell. I mean, we’re just so at home in so many different families. It’s incredible.

To inquire about giving in support of scholarships or another area of the University, please contact Michael Boyd, senior associate vice president for development and university relations, at 212-636-6525 or [email protected]. Learn more about Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, a campaign to reinvest in every aspect of the Fordham student experience.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].