Father Raymond Roesch, S.M. 

By Brendan Zdunek

Father Raymond A. Roesch (1914-1991) was a Marianist brother and the 16th President of the University of Dayton. He is renowned for presiding over a transformative period for the university from 1959-1979 and for playing a pivotal role in the history of the city of Dayton. During his tenure, he added nine academic departments, six associate degree programs, 18 bachelor’s degree programs, 44 master’s degree programs, and three doctoral programs. Roesch was also instrumental in the reopening of the Law School and in the construction of 20 buildings on campus, including Miriam Hall and Kettering Laboratories. The university also grew tremendously in the number of students and faculty during his presidency. In 1950, the university had 200 full-time faculty members and 3,700 students. By the end of the 1960s, it had peaked at 7,500 students and, by 1975, it had 446 full-time faculty members.[1]  Much was changing on campus during Roesch’s presidency outside of student body size and buildings. The social movements of the 1960s had an impact on both students and faculty. Roesch ensured that members of these movements had a fair say in campus matters. He also played a pivotal role in transforming the University from a small, parochial school to a premier research institution. Athletics underwent dramatic changes also during his term. The basketball team grew in popularity, leading to the construction of the University of Dayton Arena.

“Reverend Raymond Roesch, 1959-1979”, Dayton Daily News

Early Life

Raymond Roesch was born in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania in 1914. He had one brother, Frederick, and two sisters, Eliese and Jeanne. He joined the Society of Mary, or Marianist order, in 1933. In 1936, he graduated from the University of Dayton. On May 30, 1944, he was ordained as Fr. Roesch at Mount St. John Seminary in Dayton. Roesch then prepared for the priesthood both at Catholic University of America and at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He received his master’s degree in psychology from the Catholic University of America in 1945, a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University, and then returned to the University of Dayton as a psychology professor. In 1952, he became the chair of the psychology department and he held that position for seven years until, in 1959, when he took over for Fr. Andrew Seebold as president of the University.[2]

President of UD

During Roesch’s tenure, the university grew academically. He added a number of new academic departments. Roesch directly involved himself in these departments through department chairs he appointed. These chairs were in charge of promotions, schedules, and even salaries for the professors. They conducted their own set of interviews to hire new professors and created their own merit system for pay raises. In the 1950s and 1960s, UD began to evolve into a research institution. Roesch encouraged the change by recruiting new thinking faculty members. The administration had to start hiring more professors with a research background and direct existing professors to complete more research.[3] However, Fr. Roesch confronted crises by hiring educators and researchers with doctoral degrees.

The shift towards UD becoming a research institution brought changes to the culture of the school. Once largely a parochial, Catholic school, the University was embracing a more secularist education. The change resulted in tensions. In the 1960s, a group of younger philosophy professors began to teach new, unorthodox concepts including situation ethics and existentialism. Both of these philosophies believed in individual morals rather than higher absolute morals. One of the other philosophy professors, Dennis Bonnette, claimed their views to be “heretical” to the Catholic faith due to its rejection of absolute morals. He carried his claims to both Archbishop of Cincinnati, Karl Alter, and the United States’ representative to the Vatican, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi. One of the principles of the secular, humanist tradition at the center of the nation’s best research and education institutions was the principle of “academic freedom.” This is the idea that professors and teachers should be allowed to teach their ideas freely without fear of possible punishment. Torn between academic freedom, which Roesch had learned in earning his PhD, and his own obligation to Catholic doctrine, the situation proved a challenge to him. In a move of lasting importance to the future of the school, Roesch sided with the “heretical” professors, backing academic freedom. Bonnette and his supporters’ tactics of going outside the University challenged Roesch’s authority. Consequently, Roesch believed his choice to be obvious in backing his own professors.[4]
The “heresy” incident was indicative of a number of social changes occurring in the United States and in the Catholic Church in the 1960s. In the U.S., what historians refer to as “consensus,” the idea of relative conformity in the nation, was beginning to fade. A broad group of social movements in its wake that included the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the anti-war movement. Similar changes were occurring across the globe outside of the U.S. as well. As a result, Pope John XXIII called for the monumental Second Vatican Council, which lasted from 1962 to 1965.[5] The council called for an openness to the new ideas of the modern world, especially in regards to Catholic theology.[6] The council even changed the ancient tradition of conducting the Mass in Latin.[7] Vatican II represented a significant change in Church tradition and an attempt to bring the Church into step with contemporary society. In Dayton, Roesch was helping turn this change into practical reality. Roesch’s backing of the “heretical” philosophy professors demonstrated his openness to modern ideas.

These new changes in the 1960s was reflected in American Catholics. After World War II, Catholics in the U.S. surpassed both Protestants and Jews in wealth and social status. Consequently, more younger Catholics started to attend college and have more progressive viewpoints. Professors at Catholic universities asked for more academic freedom as these Catholics colleges started to become more secular.[8] John F. Kennedy encapsulated this trend of American Catholicism. Young and optimistic, Kennedy firmly believed in the separation of church and state and had bold and progressive ideas for the United States, such as his New Frontier domestic agenda.[9]

Fr. Roesch was conscious of these cultural and religious changes. A young and highly educated psychology professor, he believed in a more secular, Catholic theology. At this time, all secularist Catholic educators believed that Christianity was the key to social progress in American society.[10] Roesch believed that change was fundamental in Catholicism and his viewpoints definitely fit in the time of Vatican II and of great social change in the United States. Hence, his consciousness of social and religious change played into his decision of how to handle the heresy scandal.

Change was not only present in the direction Roesch was taking the University, but it was also present in the students’ behavior. One issue that concerned many of the students was the University’s 2-year requirement of ROTC training for male students. This was a controversial issue due to the growing presence of the anti-war movement on college campuses across the United States. On March 3, 1965, Roesch signed a contract with the U.S. Army to renew the University’s ROTC program.[11] UD students’ opposition to the Vietnam War grew, and many of them began calling for a termination of the program. It seemed contradictory to these students that the Marianists are opposed to any sort of violence but yet just renewed a contract to continue the ROTC program. Consequently, in 1966, a large group of students signed a petition for the removal of that two-year ROTC requirement.[12]

With these changing times, Fr. Roesch was a man who wanted to have a dialogue with the students at UD and their concerns. As early as 1964, he held his own fireside chats in the Torch Lounge in the Kennedy Union building. Although he was always willing to listen to the students, Roesch still wanted students to adhere to the University policy. He famously answered to many student complaints during those chats that “You didn’t have to come here.”[13]

Despite this apparent dismissal of the students’ concerns, Roesch ultimately brought the ROTC issue to the Academic Council on March 18, 1968. The Military Science Department presented the council with some options: keep the program in its current form, end the program, make only the first year of it mandatory, make the program optional, and make it as part of the professional or pre-professional curricula.[14] After considering these options for a month, on April 16, Fr. Roesch and the council made a resolution to have one year of mandatory ROTC effective January 1969. The effective date was later changed to September 1969.[15]

In spite of the resolution in the council, the issue did not seem resolved among the students. Later that year following the watershed events of the Tet Offensive and Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, students demonstrated a growing demand for social change. Consequently, on October 7, 1968, the Academic Council voted 12-0 with one abstention to reopen the ROTC issue.[16] On December 2, at the council meeting, Paul Peters, the student representative on the council, voiced his opposition towards the program and called for a voluntary ROTC for September 1969.[17] On January 20, 1969, at the council meeting, the Theological Studies Department joined Peters on moral grounds in being opposed to the mandatory character of the ROTC program. Later in the meeting, a vote was made to make ROTC voluntary. Roesch, conscious of the student body’s concerns, agreed with Peters and, consequently, the program was voted to become optional. However, it was agreed upon that entering freshmen would have ROTC sessions during Orientation Week.[18]

Managing College and Community Rift

Fr. Roesch’s sensitivity to students’ concerns was demonstrated by his fireside chats and his willingness to change the ROTC program. However, he only went so far in addressing these concerns. With a large group of conservative Catholics supporting the University of Dayton who opposed this social change, there was only so much Roesch could do. As a result, he adhered to University policy and enforced the student code of conduct.

“Student Occupation of St. Mary’s”, January 1967, Freicks Scrapbook, University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, University of Dayton.

Roesch’s conflicted approach towards student protests became apparent in an incident later in 1970. On March 17 and 18, 1970, a group of 154 students staged a sit-in at St. Mary’s Hall, asking for a list of demands to be met. These demands reflected some of the broader social changes going on in the feminist and sexual freedom movements. Their demands included an end to a curfew caused by the bus schedule, open hours for men and women in the dormitories and for alcohol in the dorms as well, freely available birth control information, and a student-run radio station. Fr. Roesch stayed with the students all night to ensure that they did not get arrested for trespassing. After having breakfast and saying Mass, he gathered a committee in Kennedy Union to discuss what to do about the sit-in. However, at the same time, other students who were trying to get into St. Mary’s Hall clashed with the protesting students. Eventually, the protesters left.[19]
Two days, later, on March 20, to address the sit-in, there was a meeting of 5,000 students at the Fieldhouse, filling the building to capacity. At the meeting, Fr. Roesch laid out his policy on campus protests. “Militant action, regardless of how righteous the cause, has no right to trample on the rights of others or they can receive no amnesty,” said Roesch.[20] Although he sympathized with the concerns of students, Fr. Roesch was still aware of the concerns of the more conservative students and alumni as well.

Later, in spite of his ambivalent support for the protestors, Fr. Roesch admitted he believed the students were better aware of what was going on in the real world than those who were in the government. “The thing that amazes me when I look back at the troubles we had in the 68-70 period is that the students had a better insight about what was going on than the military or the Congress or the President of the United States. They were closer to the truth,” he would later remember twenty years after the fact. To his credit, Roesch worked to eventually make each of the demands of the sit-in students part of University policy.[21]

Expanding the University

Throughout these turbulent times, a need for new buildings and campus expansion was increasingly present. Under Fr. Roesch’s presidency, money was raised for the University of Dayton to construct these new buildings and to expand the campus for the increasing number of students. This push for new buildings was part of what Roesch termed the Ten-Year Plan, which evolved into a Five-Year Plan.[22] In 1962, UD held its most successful fundraising campaign to date, raising $3 million.[23] This money was used to create a new student activities center and a new Business Administration building. These two buildings eventually were named Kennedy Union and Miriam Hall, respectively. Kennedy Union was named after President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated during the building’s construction. Miriam Hall was named after Miriam Rosenthal, a major UD donor who was heavily involved in the Dayton community. She also sat on UD’s Committee on Foundation Relations. Roesch also pooled enough money together to build two new residence halls, Marycrest and Stuart Halls, and a new health center as well.[24]

The project to build Kennedy Union, Miriam Hall, and other campus buildings resulted in the creation of UD’s Development Committee. This desire for new structures began back to when Fr. Andrew Seebold was president. On July 18, 1958, Fr. Seebold sent a letter to Thomas Marshall, a member of Dayton’s Chamber of Commerce Solicitations Review Committee, to approve a capital fund drive for the overall project.[25] City officials had questioned the project’s initial $4 million goal. Eventually, after two years of debate, it was agreed that the city would only fund $3 million for project. On October 26, 1960, Fr. Roesch announced to the Development Committee that the Solicitations Committee had approved the drive, ushering in a transformative phase for the University of Dayton.[26]

“Fr. Roesch, President of the University of Dayton, circa 1960”, University of Dayton eCommons, https://ecommons.udayton.edu/imri_photos/105/.

In 1968, Roesch announced a new program called the “Threshold of Greatness.” The program’s goal was to raise $43 million for endowment and for new buildings which included an engineering building, a new library, a physical recreational facility, and a fine arts building. $31 million for the goal was already attained or was expected to be raised. Encapsulated in that program was the New Horizons program that had the goal of raising $3.3 million from Dayton-area benefactors, which the program would eventually achieve. This money was later used to construct Kettering Engineering Laboratories, and the library that bears Roesch’s name. Kettering Labs was also built with the help of a $1 million gift from Eugene and Virginia Kettering, the latter being the son of the famous inventor, Charles Kettering. Eventually, the Threshold of Greatness fundraiser also helped finance the building of the Physical Activities Center and the Rike Center for Fine Arts.[27]
Growing Importance of Athletics to the University

As college attendance grew throughout the country, athletics became a bigger part of campus culture at so many universities. Specifically, to UD, the change from a commuter campus to a more resident campus resulted in higher attendances to athletic events. However, when Fr. Roesch became president, there was much concern over the University’s athletic department, especially with the football program. In fact, at a Development Committee meeting on September 17, 1959, one committee member was quoted as saying, “Basketball is so outstanding, football so mediocre.”[28] Basketball was the only part of athletics that was notable at all due to the great coaching of Head Coach Tom Blackburn.

Developing the basketball program raised problems for Roesch. In 1960, all-star UD recruit Roger Brown, a heavily sought-after player from Brooklyn, was revealed to be involved in a point shaving scandal. Eventually, Brown claimed he had received money from Joseph Hacken, a central player in the scandal, for playing at UD. This, along with reports of the freshman team playing an excessive amount of games and UD’s role in financing three trips to New York for Brown, resulted in a two-year probation of Dayton’s basketball team. As a result, Roesch responded by prohibiting Brown from ever playing on UD’s team.[29]

The basketball scandal and the disorganization of the rest of the athletic department led Roesch and his administration to seek a new athletic director. In June 1964, they found a new one in Tom Frericks, a former University of Dayton basketball player. Part of his job would be “clean up” the program and the rest of athletics, but Roesch also saw the growing need for popular athletics at tuition driven schools.[30] Both Frericks and Roesch realized that the Fieldhouse was insufficient for both the increasing student population and the increasing popularity of UD basketball. Although Roesch was not heavily involved in the project, as Tom Frericks’ son, Tom Frericks, Jr., recalls, the president had much trust in his athletic director in what he was doing in regards to a new arena.[31] After pooling enough money from Bogie Busters and outside fundraisers, the new University of Dayton Arena was built and opened in 1969. Fr. Roesch may not have been the architect of the Arena project, but his vision in hiring Tom Frericks as athletic director was immensely important to the advancement of UD athletics and UD’s public image.

Father Roesch and Athletic Director Tom Frericks take turns breaking ground for the new University of Dayton basketball arena November 1968. Frericks Scrapbook, University of Dayton Archives.

Although he knew athletics made a huge component of college campuses, Roesch always believed academics came first. He never gave any of the athletes any preferential treatment and he never gave time off for students for athletic events. Two incidents in his time at UD demonstrated this. In Don Donoher’s first full season in 1964-65, the basketball team had a great year and were expected to make the NCAA Tournament. At an Academic Council meeting on February 22, 1965, the council prepared a statement in anticipation of this. The statement said that classes would not be cancelled for any games in the regular season or in the postseason. If the students did not find this acceptable, then any invitation to the tournament for UD will not be accepted.[32] A few months later, at another Academic Council meeting on April 28, an announcement was made that athletes are to be treated as general students and not to be given any special treatment.[33] Fr. Roesch valued academics deeply and his strict attitude came out when it came to these kinds of matters.

Community and Campus Relations

As president of the university that bears the name of the city of Dayton, Fr. Roesch was a man who wanted the University to be deeply connected with the local community. The University and the city had already been connected for a long time, but Miriam Rosenthal helped create even more connections between University and city officials. Thanks to Rosenthal, fruit from this connection could already be yielded. There are multiple examples of this. In 1962, while the University of Dayton raised $3 million for itself, Fr. Roesch also helped in raising funds for a similar $3 million campaign. The depth of Roesch’s concern for the city is demonstrated by the fact money raised was intended to construct a rival university: Wright State.[34]

During the troubled times of the 1960s, the city of Dayton had begun to experience economic and social trouble amongst minority groups. In the latter part of the 60s, racial unrest began to erupt in Dayton. Members of the Area Progress Council, a group of some of the Dayton area’s most powerful leaders, tried to find ways to bring whites and African-Americans back together after the Dayton race riots of 1966. The council decided to look to Fr. Roesch for answers. As a response, he created and sat on the Community Affairs Council, an interracial group that discussed and tried to find resolutions for these kinds of matters. This council played a key role in monitoring the court-ordered integration of Dayton Public Schools.[35]

This connection between the community and the University also bore fruit in Fr. Roesch’s Thresholds of Greatness and New Horizons fundraisers. As previously mentioned, these campaigns were meant to raise funds for new construction on campus. However, these funds did not come from large donors, but rather from the Dayton community itself. Dayton residents invested their money in the University and the money that these residents donated provided many new buildings on campus.[36] This successful enterprise was thanks to the connection that Fr. Roesch had forged between his institution and the area surrounding it. By building this connection, the two groups could collaborate in many ventures to find solutions to many problems that Dayton had encountered in the 1960s.

Conclusion

In 1979, American and campus culture was much different compared to when Fr. Roesch first took the job as the President of the University of Dayton. For instance, the president used to be picked by the Marianist provincial as both the president of the University and as head of the local Marianist community. In 1970, a lay board of trustees was created at the University and now the board picked the president. Much was to be learned about the process as the only criteria was that the president had to be a member of the Society of Mary. To give them time to figure out this new process, Roesch announced his retirement as president in 1978 before a new board chair was named.[37] This new selection process was indicative of the many changes Fr. Roesch and his administration brought to the now-more secular University of Dayton.

 Eventually, Brother Raymond Fitz, S.M. was named Roesch’s successor and Roesch officially stepped down in 1979. Although he technically retired, Roesch actually went on to serve as president of Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii from 1982 to 1989. He returned to the University of Dayton for a time as special assistant to Br. Fitz, but that position did not last long. On July 7, 1991, Fr. Roesch died of a heart attack at 76 years old at his campus home in Dayton.[38]

Endnotes:

[1] Schweikart, Larry, “Overview” in Voices of Dayton, (Dayton, University of Dayton 2000), 12-13. [

2] “University of Dayton: Presidents,” Libraries Research Guides, accessed October 30, 2018. http://libguides.udayton.edu/c.php?g=15315&p=82747#s-lg-box-wrapper-277608.

[3] Schweikart, “Overview,” 13-14.

[4] Schweikart, “Overview,” 14.

[5] Julie Byrne, “Roman Catholics and the American Mainstream in the Twentieth Century,” last modified November 2000, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/tmainstr.htm.

[6] Phillip Gleason, “Catholicism and Cultural Change in the 1960s,” Review of Politics 34, no. 4 (1972), 97, accessed November 27, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1405957.

[7] Julie Byrne, “Roman Catholics and the American Mainstream in the Twentieth Century.”

[8] Phillip Gleason, “Catholicism and Cultural Change in the 1960s,” 95-96.

[9] Julie Byrne, “Roman Catholics and the American Mainstream in the Twentieth Century.”

[10] Fayette Veverka, “Catholic Philosophers of Education, 1900-1960,” https://www.biola.edu/talbot/ce20/database/catholic-philosophers-of-education.

[11] Farrelly, Barbara, “Student Life at the University of Dayton” in Voices of Dayton, (Dayton, University of Dayton 2000), 63.

[12] University of Dayton. “Academic Council Meeting Minutes.” March 1965.

[13] Farrelly, “Student Life,” 63.

[14] University of Dayton. “Academic Council Meeting Minutes.” March 18, 1968.

[15] Ibid, April 16, 1968.

[16] Ibid, October 7, 1968.

[17] Ibid, December 2, 1968.

[18] Ibid, January 20, 1969.

[19] Farrelly, “Student Life,” 67-68.

[20] Farrelly, “Student Life,” 68.

[21] Farrelly, “Student Life,” 69.

[22] University of Dayton, “Background of Development Committee.”

[23] Columbus, Tom, “The University of Dayton and the Community” in Voices of Dayton (Dayton, University of Dayton 200), 173.

[24] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 174.

[25] University of Dayton, “Letter to Thomas Marshall, Solicitations Committee,” July 18, 1958.

[26] University of Dayton, “Development Committee Meeting Minutes,” October 26,1960.

[27] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 175.

[28] University of Dayton, “Development Committee Meeting Minutes,” September 17, 1959.

[29] Schweikart, Larry. “Sports at the University of Dayton” in Voices of Dayton, (Dayton, University of Dayton 2000), 143-144.

[30] Interview of Gary McCans and Tom Frericks, Jr., September 27, 2018.

[31] Schweikart, “Sports,” 144.

[32] University of Dayton, “Academic Council Meeting Minutes,” February 22, 1965.

[33] Ibid, April 28, 1965.

[34] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 173-174.

[35] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 174.

[36] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 175.

[37] Columbus, “University of Dayton and Community,” 176.

[38] “Raymond Roesch; Educator, 76.” New York Times (New York, NY), July 9, 1991.