Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Former President Henle Dead at 90

By Tim Sullivan Hoya Staff Writer

Former University President Robert J. Henle, S.J., died Thursday, Jan. 20, at the age of 90 in St. Louis, Mo., at a Jesuit infirmary residence. The cause of death was not reported.

Henle served as Georgetown’s president from 1969-1976, a period that was marked by far-reaching changes as well as considerable controversy. According to Rev. William McFadden, S.J., Henle “deserves a great deal of credit” for many of the important changes which came to Georgetown during his tenure. McFadden was the chair of the theology department throughout Henle’s term.

Among the most significant innovations that Henle oversaw while in office was the creation of the faculty senate, which would prove to be the genesis of one of the watershed moments of his time in office.

In May 1970, the faculty senate voted by near acclamation to suspend classes and examinations for the remainder of the semester in the wake of the fatal shooting of four student protestors at Kent State University in Ohio. According to McFadden, it was Henle’s support for the resolution that led to its passage. Rev. Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J., academic vice president at the time, entered the faculty meeting in Copley Formal Lounge and declared that he had “just met with Fr. Henle, and he would certainly endorse a resolution to suspend all classes and exams,” according to McFadden. McFadden said that the decision “defused the situation” on the Georgetown campus, preserving order during a tumultuous time on college campuses around the country.

Henle was also directly responsible for the hiring of John Thompson in 1972. While a search committee was responsible for finding qualified candidates, ultimately it was Henle’s confidence in Thompson that led the school to hire the 29-year old local high school coach. His decision paid off for the school; Thompson would go on to lead the Hoyas to the zenith of college basketball, including three NCAA Finals appearances in four years and a national title in 1984. Thompson was also one of the first black coaches at a major college basketball program, another reason why Henle’s decision to hire him was so significant.

It was also during Henle’s tenure that much of the devolution of Jesuit control of the university occurred. Henle reorganized the board of directors to include lay people and women. He hired Patricia Ruechel as the vice president of student personnel at a time when, according to McFadden, “many Jesuits that had held important positions were being replaced.”

The number of women on campus increased dramatically throughout the course of Henle’s tenure, as Georgetown College first accepted women for the class of 1973.

Two controversial episodes transpired at the close of Henle’s presidency. WGTB, at one time hailed as the No. 1 rock station in D.C. by The Washington Post, was shut down by the university for interfering with physics experiments. Eventually, the station was sold to the University of the District of Columbia for $1 by Henle’s successor, Rev. Timothy Healy, S.J.

Henle’s administration was plagued with internal disturbances late in his tenure. In 1975, several policy decisions made by Executive Vice President Edmund G. Ryan, S.J., caused Henle to fire Ryan, who served as Acting President when Henle was unable to attend certain functions. There was a considerable amount of turmoil among the faculty, according to McFadden, and there were many divided loyalties, despite the board of directors’ support for Henle. In the end, Henle’s decision to fire Ryan stood.

Henle resigned as president in 1976 and was succeeded by Healy, who served until 1989. Before his time at Georgetown, Henle was a classics and philosophy professor at St. Louis University. After his presidency, he returned to St. Louis, where he taught in the philosophy and law departments.

In his career, Henle was the author of more than 200 articles and nearly a dozen books. He penned one of the most widely used Latin grammar books in the country. In his late ’80s, Henle published a translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Veritae, or On Truth, despite suffering from serious health problems. His final work, a collection of his papers and essays, was published under the title of “The American Thomistic Revival.”

Henle was born in 1909 in Iowa and attended Creighton University in Nebraska. He joined the Jesuit order in 1927 and was ordained a priest in 1940.

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