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Chatfield College inaugurates fifth president

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. MARTIN DEANERY — The Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, board members, alumni, faculty, students and staff of Chatfield College gathered Oct. 10 for the inauguration of John Tafaro as the school’s fifth president. The ceremony, also attended by visiting presidents and delegates from other colleges and universities, along with Coadjutor Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, was held in the Sacred Heart Chapel on Chatfield College’s St. Martin Campus.

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John Tafaro (CT/Tony Tribble)

The mission of Chatfield is to teach life skills, via a liberal arts education, to individuals who might best succeed through its supportive, small college experience. Sponsored by the Ursulines of Brown County, Chatfield was founded in 1971 and also operates a campus near Findlay Market in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine. The school offers associate degrees in liberal arts with concentrations in business, human services and early childhood education.

Tafaro assumed leadership of the institution after the spring graduation ceremony on May 9, succeeding Ursuline Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, former president of the College of Mount St. Joseph, who served as Chatfield’s interim president for a year.

Prior to his selection, Tafaro was a partner in the Cincinnati law firm of Kohnen & Patton, did consulting work with numerous businesses and served as CEO of many area companies. He also served as an adjunct professor at Ohio University, Xavier University and Tiffin University and has been a board member and officer of several non-profit organizations. Tafaro earned his bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, a master’s degree in education from Ohio University and attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.

The inaugural ceremony began with a procession to “Ode to Joy,” followed by welcoming remarks from various speakers, including Archbishop Schnurr.

“On behalf of Archbishop Pilarczyk, myself and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I extend greetings on this installation day . . . greetings and deep gratitude,” he said.

“The role that Chatfield plays among Catholic institutions of higher learning in the archdiocese is unique, it is very important and it is very much appreciated,” the archbishop continued. “In thanksgiving, I am delighted to be here today to impart a blessing as John P. Tafaro is installed as the fifth president of Chatfield College.”

In her welcoming remarks, Sister Patricia Homan, congregational minister of the Ursulines of Brown County, said, “We formally entrust the mission of Chatfield College to you, John, and we offer you our best wishes and support and, above all, we promise to hold you in our prayers.”

As the Rite of Installation was held, Paul Muething, chairperson of the college’s board of trustees, Sister Patricia and the living past presidents of Chatfield — Franciscan Sister Nancy Linenkugel, Sister of Mercy Margaret Anne Dougherty and Ursuline Sister Ellen Doyle — came forward to present the medal of office to Tafaro.

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Pictured from left with John Tafaro are Ursuline Sister Ellen Doyle, Sister of Mercy Margaret Anne Dougherty and Franciscan Sister Nancy Linenkugel, three of the former presidents of Chatfield College. (Courtesy photo)

In his inaugural address, Tafaro expressed his thanks to those who had gathered to share the day with him. “It is indeed a high honor and a privilege to stand before you as Chatfield’s fifth president,” he said.

Tafaro went on to speak of the wide role of Catholic colleges and universities, noting the words of Pope John Paul II, who wrote in 1999 that, “A Catholic (school) enables the church to institute an incomparably fertile dialogue with people of every culture.”

Tafaro said the inauguration of a new president affords the “opportunity to celebrate a school’s rich history and tradition, examine its present day contributions to education and community and to think about the future and it’s role therein.”

Chatfield’s history, Tafaro explained, goes back to the 1500s and founding of the Ursuline Sisters by St. Angela Merici, whose writings and counsels he said are still relevant for educators today. Tafaro went on to tell of the journey of Mother Julia Chatfield, for whom the college is named, her courage and that of her Ursuline companions as they settled in the Ohio wilderness in 1845, founding the St. Ursula Literary Institute. Before Chatfield’s founding, other schools operated on the St. Martin campus, Tafaro noted, and, for a time, the college was primarily a place where young women trained for careers as religious. In 1971 that portion of the school accredited to award associate degrees was renamed Chatfield College, and the public was admitted. Today the school serves nearly 300 “talented, beautiful and intelligent men and women,” Tafaro said.

In Chatfield’s immediate future, he said, “we will continue to devote time to our alumni association, to give students the feeling that they have a permanent home here. We will explore new partnerships with day-care providers and early childhood educators, both to assist young mothers to overcome this major obstacle to their enrollment and to help our early childhood education curriculum evolve and improve so we turn out better child care providers. We will examine new fields of study, in the health sciences for sure, and determine if we have the ability and there exists a need to offer new programs. We are committed to expanding service learning, where students go out into the world and devote time and energy to non-profit entities, because we know they will learn and benefit from the experience and see that service to on another is a good and noble cause, worthy of lifelong commitment.”

Tafaro said the college wants to educate its students and help improve their lives, but also noted in the midst of these uncertain economic times that “some of our students are more concerned about putting food on the table and providing clothes for their children.”

”Sometimes we enroll students who live in the present,” he said. “They are happy to be at Chatfield, proud to be at college, but beyond that, they have no plans, no dreams. We need to teach our students to dream, to strive for something better in the future. If, after two or three years, we return our graduates to society, to a baccalaureate program, perhaps, or a better job, we want them to have further dreams and ambitions. We know Chatfield has helped many achieve their dreams. We are just a little college, but big dreams come true here.”

After Tafaro’s address, two students shared their experiences at the college, the school’s alma mater , “Chatfield,” was sung, and blessings were bestowed. Following the ceremony, a reception and art show were held and student-led tours of the campus were available. 

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reaced at econnelly@catholiccincinnati.org.

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