The Rev. Harold E. Ridley

1939-2005

President of Loyola furthered expansion

Jesuit leader remembered as education `champion'

January 20, 2005|By Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Harold E. "Hap" Ridley, a Jesuit priest who strengthened Loyola College in its transformation into a regional university in his decade as president, was found dead yesterday morning at his home on the eastern edge of the school's North Baltimore campus. He was 65.

Father Ridley apparently died Tuesday night, and his body was found by his secretary, a college spokesman said, adding that the cause of death had not been determined.

A former professor of Victorian English literature, he was credited with raising millions of dollars for a new business school building, as well as fitness and student centers. He also opened graduate centers in Columbia and Timonium and smoothed over fractious relationships with affluent neighborhoods around the campus.

"Father Ridley was open, honest, candid and respectful," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday evening. "He was straight with people."

Mr. O'Malley, a former city councilman whose district included the area around Loyola, said Father Ridley "was much like a mayor within our city. And he was a good one. He encouraged his students to tutor at city schools. He was a real man for others."

"In many ways, he just loved life and loved the classroom," said the Rev. Frank J. Nash, a fellow Jesuit and a close friend. "He had a very good wit and used language well. He won our neighbors over on the strength of his personality. He had them coming over and visiting at Christmas."

Academic colleagues at Loyola said Father Ridley kept his eye on the future and set goals for the college's growth, which included doubling the number of applications to the undergraduate program.

"Father Ridley's many achievements were a direct result of his vision and his unyielding dedication to Loyola College," said trustee and board chairman John R. Cochran, a 1973 graduate and chief executive officer of MBNA America Bank. "He had the unique gift of being able to articulate Loyola's achievements as well as aspirations. His legacy will be an important part of the college as it moves forward."

Born in Jersey City, N.J., Father Ridley entered the Jesuit order immediately after high school. His parents thought that their easygoing son would never last in the priesthood.

Fellow Jesuit seminarians voted him Most Likely to Drop Out, and his mother predicted he would be home before winter. But 13 years later, in 1969, he was ordained a priest at Fordham University. He had earned a bachelor's degree in English at Fordham, and then studied at Woodstock College in Baltimore County and at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He earned his doctorate in English literature from New York University in Manhattan.

For more than 20 years, Father Ridley taught English at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit institution in Syracuse, N.Y., where he also was chairman of the English department and served as the college's chief academic officer.

He came to Loyola in July 1994, succeeding as president the Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, who died in 1993 after guiding the college through 26 years of expansion. Father Ridley was asked to build on the changes over that time, when Loyola grew from a local, all-male commuter school into a regional co-educational college with extensive graduate offerings.

"He was a brilliant man, down to earth, and a tremendous asset to Loyola," said alumni board member Michael Cataneo. "Coming after Father Sellinger, he had a big set of shoes to fill. Hap Ridley took the school another step forward."

"Father Ridley was a dear and loyal friend," said Cardinal William H. Keeler. "He had a vision for Loyola which continued to build on what Father Sellinger had done in such an exceptional fashion."

The cardinal said Father Ridley often offered "wise counsel" and was "a major force for good in our whole community."

Father Ridley was frequently seen entertaining donors at the Center Club and Oriole Park, and came with an entourage for the Hippodrome's opening. He also enjoyed sitting on the sidelines at Loyola lacrosse and basketball games.

"We want to be considered one of the best Catholic colleges in the country," he told a Sun reporter in 1998. "Right there with Holy Cross, Georgetown and Boston College."

"When he walked into a room, he created a presence," said Mary Pat Seurkamp, president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. "He commanded respect."

"He was an extremely patient man, and I can't recall ever seeing him angry. His favorite saying was, `The bigger the problem or issue, the calmer I am.' That really characterizes him well," said David C. Haddad, vice president for academic affairs at Loyola.

"He was a champion of higher education and particularly Catholic education in our state. His leadership skills helped develop Loyola into what it is today," said Dr. Thomas H. Powell, president of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg.

"Father Ridley was a good Jesuit. Among his fellow priests, he was regarded highly for his intellect, his compassion for others and his spirituality," said the Rev. Eugene Geinzer, rector of the Loyola College Jesuit community.

He served on the boards of the College of the Holy Cross, Crown Central Petroleum and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed him last year to the Maryland Higher Education Commission's planning committee.

He had also served as a trustee of Fordham University, St. Peter's College, the University of Scranton and Loyola High School in Towson.

He was also co-chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee's Public Outreach Committee on Regionalism.

Funeral plans were incomplete yesterday.

Survivors include his mother, Doris Ridley of Manasquan, N.J.; a brother, John Ridley of Bernardsville, N.J.; a sister, Sister Judith Ridley of Philadelphia; and several nieces and nephews.

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