Is this the first and only Jew to head a Christian University?

A Roman-Catholic university in the US has made history by electing a Jew to be its 17th president.

Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012
(photo credit: REUTERS)

A Roman Catholic university in the US has made history by electing a Jew to be its 17th president.

The Worcester, Massachusetts-based Assumption University board of trustees announced on Monday that Greg Weiner, PhD, has been elected as the 17th president of the university. This announcement would not make any major headlines if it was not for the fact that Weiner, who has successfully served as Assumption University’s interim president since last April, is a practicing Jew.

Weiner celebrated his bar mitzvah in an Orthodox synagogue and currently belongs to a Conservative synagogue.

Who is Gred Weiner, Ph. D.?

Assumption University is a private Roman Catholic university founded in 1904 by Augustinians of the Assumption. According to its website, Assumption University integrates “career preparation and education of the whole person, drawing upon the best in the rich and centuries-long tradition of Catholic higher education.”

After a successful political-consulting career in Washington, DC, Weiner joined Assumption in 2011 as an assistant professor of political science. He then was appointed an associate professor and a full professor. In 2019, he became the university’s provost while also serving as vice president of academic affairs.

In addition to his teaching duties, Weiner served as an officer of the Representative Faculty Senate and contributed to Assumption’s restructuring from a college to a university. Weiner was recognized with the Student Government Association’s first “Above and Beyond” award for faculty. He is also the recipient of the Paul Ziegler Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

 Greg Weiner, Ph.D., has been elected the 17th President of Assumption University (credit:  Assumption University) Greg Weiner, Ph.D., has been elected the 17th President of Assumption University (credit: Assumption University)

Weiner has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and several national magazines. He was interviewed by Tikvah Foundation’s podcast, hosted by Jonathan Silver.

The podcast centered around a speech given by former US ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who delivered a pro-Zionist and Jewish speech after Israel was attacked in 1975 when the UN convened and determined in Resolution 3379 that “Zionism is a form of racism” by a vote of 72-35.

Weiner is the author of four books on American political thought and enjoyed an influential presence in Washington. Among his roles in national politics, Weiner served as communications director and policy adviser to several US senators and founded the speech-writing firm Content Communications, LLC.

“I am grateful to Assumption University’s Board of Trustees and to the members of the presidential search committee for the extraordinary opportunity to lead this University,” Weiner said in a statement.

“I am honored to help lead Assumption toward new possibilities that embrace our Catholic educational mission and welcome all, no matter who they may be, who seek to pursue the truth in the company of friends,” he said.

In a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post, Weiner said: “Growing up in a small town in Texas, we were the only Jewish family in town.” Being the only Jew in the neighborhood “can give you more appreciation for your religion and other religions.”

Weiner is the only Jewish president of any Christian university. “I have tremendous respect for Catholic liberal education; it speaks to questions of the heart,” he said.

Catholic liberal education is “the cultivation of faith and reason for full human flourishing,” according to The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

The institute “inspires and equips Catholic educators to renew today’s Catholic schools by drawing on the Church’s tradition of education, which frees teachers and students for the joyful pursuit of faith, wisdom, and virtue,” it said. Based in the liberal arts and sciences, this educational vision that “was developed by the Catholic Church and was the gold standard of formation for centuries.”

Weiner said the only Jewish education he received was from his grandparents while spending summers with them as a child.

“My grandparents started an Orthodox synagogue called Anshei Emunah in Florida, near a retirement village where they lived,” he said. He is now an active member of a Conservative Jewish congregation in Worcester.

Catholic liberal education entails the study of enduring ideas and truth for their own sake, Weiner said. “From the perspective of anthropology, the person is created in the image of God, which is also very Jewish,” he added.

In the past, Jews were not allowed to be admitted into Catholic schools and universities, but that is not the case today, Weiner said.

“We welcome anyone who is interested in pursuing the truth in the company of friends,” he said, citing one of the university’s mottos.

Weiner earned a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas, Austin, a master’s degree in liberal studies from Georgetown University and a PhD in government from Georgetown University.

Weiner “demonstrated a strong commitment to the University’s Catholic educational mission since first setting foot on the Assumption campus,” Very Reverend Dennis M. Gallagher, vice chairman of Assumption’s Board of Trustees and provincial superior of North America, The Augustinians of the Assumption, said in a statement.

Weiner “is a man of deep faith, compassion and character, who brings great energy, innovative ideas, and humble leadership to everything he undertakes,” he said.