St. Joseph's College Monday named a new president, the first nonreligious leader of the small liberal arts college since it was founded nearly a century ago.
The college, which was opened in 1916 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood and has campuses in Patchogue and Brooklyn, will be headed by Jack P. Calareso -- currently the president of Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass. -- starting July 1.
All of the college's previous presidents have been nuns except for one priest, the Rev. William T. Dillon, who headed it from 1945 to 1956.
"Dr. Calareso comes to St. Joseph's College highly recommended by many of his colleagues across the country," Chris Drewes, chair of the college's board of trustees, said in a statement. "He is a strong leader with a stellar academic background, and is well-positioned to lead the college into the future from a position of strength."
Calareso, 63, replaces Sister Elizabeth Hill, a St. Joseph's alumna who has been president since 1997 and presided over the expansion of both campuses. Hill announced last summer that she would retire as of June 30 of this year.
The new president will have to tackle issues facing many small liberal arts colleges, including declining enrollment, stagnant tuition revenue and weak fundraising. In February, Moody's downgraded the St. Joseph's debt rating to just above junk bonds.
Combined enrollment at the school's two campuses, currently about 4,500 students who are mostly commuters, dropped more than 9 percent between fall 2010 and 2013, according to Moody's.
Calareso, in an interview, said he did not yet have specific plans for how to tackle the college's problems.
"It's a very competitive world in higher education, to try to keep costs manageable and quality high," he said. "There is incredible competition for enrollment."
President of Anna Maria College since 2007, Calareso previously headed two other small Catholic liberal arts colleges -- Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, and Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa.
He received his doctorate in educational leadership from Marquette University in Milwaukee, master's degree in Scripture from St. Bernard's School of Theology in Rochester and undergraduate degree in English and theology from Boston College.
Calareso also was the first nonreligious leader at Ohio Dominican. He said he did not believe that being the first lay person to head St. Joseph's will be an issue.
"It's just something I need to be aware of," he said. "Obviously, they've had a long and rich tradition of leadership."
Drewes said the board of trustees did not make a "conscious decision" to select a lay person.
"We certainly would have been open to a religious candidate," he said. "Frankly, we didn't have any. There were no religious candidates that stepped forward. The fact is, there aren't as many nuns as there used to be."
The Sisters of St. Joseph were "very open to having a lay president," he added.
A search committee considered 100 candidates and narrowed the list to eight who were interviewed. Three people were interviewed by the entire board and visited the campus, Drewes said.
Calareso, in a statement accompanying St. Joseph's announcement, said, "It is clear that St. Joseph's values and promotes academic excellence, intellectual inquiry, a respect for all people, the search for truth and a commitment to an educational experience that balances liberal education and career preparation."