10 Things to Know About President John Denning, C.S.C.
Commemorating 10 years of service leading Stonehill College, Fr. Denning reflects on his presidential journey, community ties and more.
In addition to celebrating Stonehill’s 75th anniversary, the 2023-2024 academic year also marks a decade since Rev. John Denning, C.S.C. (known to most as Fr. John) was named president of the College.
“I was truly elated when I found out I was chosen to serve in this capacity,” he said. “I also felt a tremendous amount of responsibility as I recognized the important role that a president plays in creating opportunities for a college community to flourish.”
In honor of Fr. Denning’s 10-year anniversary as the 10th president of the College, here are 10 things to know about him.
1. He felt pulled toward faith. Though he didn’t enter the seminary until after earning an undergraduate degree from Tulane University, Fr. Denning always had affection for the church because of the religious brothers, sisters and priests who modeled for him what it means to serve others. “I attended high school at LaSalle Academy in Providence,” he said. “The brothers there were very supportive. They were truly committed to the good of the community and the students. I had good mentors and developed a real respect for those who have chosen this path.”
2. He is a lifelong learner. Fr. Denning earned a doctorate in higher education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The knowledge he gained there has served him well in all the roles he has held at Stonehill since 2000, including director of campus ministry, inaugural vice president for mission and vice president for student affairs.
3. He has high hopes for the Hill. Throughout his time on campus, Fr. Denning has always tried finding joy each day. “I go back to the College’s motto, Lux et Spes, ‘Light and Hope,’” he said. “We do our best work when we maintain a sense of hope and share it with others.”
4. He is a present president. Serving as a First Year Experience (FYE) facilitator each year is one of the many ways that Fr. Denning contributes to the College’s mission of educating hearts and minds. FYE courses introduce first-year students to college life and the community. “I enjoy getting to know our students and helping them find ways to have a smooth transition to college,” Fr. Denning said.
5. He cares for the community. From alumni receptions to athletic competitions and beyond, Fr. Denning is a fixture at many campus events, during which he enjoys opportunities to engage with community members and friends of the College. Out of all the programs he attends, Commencement is the one he looks forward to the most. “Getting to meet parents and talk to them about how the College has made a difference in their child’s life is very fulfilling,” he said. “It’s moments like that from the last 10 years that I look back on fondly.”
6. He is Uncle John to a few alumni. Fr. Denning not only gets to interact with students and their families on campus, but has had opportunities to connect with his own loved ones at Stonehill. His nephew Patrick Sweeney ’15 and nieces Kassie Sweeney ’16, Meredith Norton ’17 and Annie Sweeney ’18 are all proud Skyhawks. “It was such an honor for me to present them with their diplomas,” he said. “I also recently had the opportunity to officiate the wedding of Patrick and Cassandra McGill '15. I look forward to celebrating Annie's upcoming marriage to Andrew Humphrey '18."
7. He finds comfort in prayer. Small statues of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Virgin Mary are among the personal items Fr. Denning keeps on his desk. The latter was given to him by religious sisters from Vietnam studying at the College. The president admires Saint Francis for his “great love of the environment and God’s creations,” while Mary is a religious figure who he turns to often in prayer, remembering that at the height of the pandemic, “I would come into the office during that time and found that the chapel, named in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, on the first floor of Donahue Hall was a place that brought me much solace,” he said.
8. He has an interest in the classical and the contemporary. When he isn’t fulfilling his duties as president, Fr. Denning likes listening to traditional and modern Irish music. The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners and The Pogues are among his favorite musical groups. He also likes reading the poetry of naturalist Mary Oliver, as well as works about classical and medieval history. He counts "The Waning of the Middle Ages" as one of his favorite books.
9. He enjoys the beauty of the campus. During evenings and on weekends, Fr. Denning likes taking long walks on Stonehill's grounds. "From walking the campus nature trails to stopping on the Feeley Bridge to watch the swans floating on Ames Pond, I marvel at the beauty of this campus," he said. "I am grateful for any opportunity I have to take it in."
10. He takes a balanced approach. Looking forward to the future, Fr. Denning is focused on expanding the College’s capacity to help students become inspirational leaders who flourish both personally and professionally. Amid this work, he recognizes the importance of remembering what makes Stonehill special. “While growth is important, we also must maintain the tight-knit sense of community that we’ve experienced for the past 75 years.”