His faith guides his calling to strengthen families and build up communities in Dayton. For this work, the University of Dayton honored Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64, with an honorary degree.
In the 20 years since he stepped down as president of the University of Dayton, Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64, has put faith and community first.
And during a ceremony April 1 that was intended to recognize his efforts to create opportunities for children, parents and families in the greater Dayton area, he instead turned the spotlight on the people and initiatives that are finding success in building community.
“We’re putting together a network of people working to advance racial solidarity, really helping people to have the capacity to take hold of their lives,” he said.
The University of Dayton conferred on the president emeritus an honorary doctoral degree in humanities during The Common Good in a Divided City, a University-sponsored conference focused on the need for regional solidarity — an issue championed by Fitz during and since his presidency.
Fondly known as “Brother Ray,” Fitz’s name became synonymous with UD during his 23-year tenure as president, which began in 1979 and was marked by active engagement in some of the most pressing needs of the Dayton community. After stepping down as UD president in 2002, he moved into a position as Father Ferree Professor of Social Justice — a professorship named for his mentor — in the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, a center the University named in his honor that year. He continues to teach students and collaborate with the community to build solutions together.
“Clearly, my Christian faith background, being a Marianist, is extremely important, and it’s really the reason that I do what I do,” Fitz said during remarks at the ceremony. “Seeing Jesus Christ in the poor really is what motivates me in my prayer life and the ways I work together on this issue.”
Father James Fitz, S.M. ’68, vice president for mission and rector
“We grew up together in a family of six siblings. We were pretty close knit, and we all got to know each other well. He’s the oldest, five years older than I am, so I kind of followed him. Even though he was smaller than most, in high school he was very intense and full of energy. He became an all-city football player. (I played football but was not all-city, and that was OK by me.) Then Ray joined the Marianists. He’s the prime reason I joined. When I visited him, I got the chance to know the ministry and community spirit of the Marianists that was attractive to me.
“For part of his years as president, I was provincial of the Marianists, and the Marianist university presidents reported to me. When I completed my term as provincial, I came to UD as director of Campus Ministry and reported to him. He and I would laugh, ‘OK, which way are we meeting as now?’ After another period of time with the Province, I came back to UD in 2010. He and I both live in the Stonemill-Kiefaber Marianist Community, the first time we’ve lived together since we grew up. We’ll do a lot of stuff together, like driving down to Cincinnati to visit family, sharing books that we have found inspiring, etc.
“As president, he formed UD into a quality university that makes a difference in the city of Dayton. Once he stepped away from the presidency, all of his energy and passion went into working toward justice. He was very intense in football; now I see the same intensity coming out in his passion for justice, especially for trying to change structures for disadvantaged young people.”
Rhine McLin, former Dayton mayor
“I had the opportunity to work with him in 2019, when I was interim director at Wesley Community Center, on an effort for the Learn to Earn program. We had all the players at Omega Baptist Church, and we had hit a bump in the road while trying to get things done. We went to Brother Ray. He didn’t know if he could help us, but he said he would come and listen. And I remember the intensity of his listening, and then him giving us sage advice on how to navigate the situation. He basically told us what he could do, what he couldn’t do, what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. It was a beautiful thing.”
Sandra Yocum, University Professor of Faith and Culture
“I came to UD in 1992, and Brother Ray asked me to work with fellow religious studies professor Dennis Doyle on a statement of inclusion, particularly centered around what we would now say is
LGBTQ+. It was pretty early relative to what was going on at other Catholic campuses. Brother Ray’s insistence was that we engage a lot of people on campus, including students who identified as
LGBTQ+, those who ministered to students, the president’s council, faculty and staff. It was a conversation that respected the Catholic identity of the institution and the dignity of each person.
“That was a true moment of leadership. There were other campuses where this was a huge controversy. Instead, we facilitated conversations with the people who were directly affected in ways that were caring. It worked thanks to the generosity of LGBTQ+ students and others helping us to think of ways to be inclusive and respectful.
“Brother Ray is known for his leadership in underserved communities, especially those that are in poverty. In his work on the statement of inclusion, there’s a consistency of concern for those whose experience is marginalized and underserved. …
He models a strong integration between his work and his prayer life and sees one enriching the other. His faith life calls him to work on social justice, but his work of social justice transforms what it means for him to live the Gospel and follow Christ.”
Jan Lepore-Jentleson ’71, executive director, East End Community Services, Dayton
“I first met Brother Ray in the kitchen of his family’s home in Marion, Indiana. It was probably 1966. This is pure serendipity: His family moved to Marion from Akron, and his dad, Ray Fitz Sr., worked with my dad at a General Tire rubber plant. Mary Anne is the only daughter of that family, and we became very close friends. ... I remember one day when everybody was home — it might have been a holiday weekend — and Brother Ray came in, and we chatted for a while; I was probably completely intimidated by him. And then, when it was time to go to college, Mary Anne said to me, ‘Well, the Fitzes go to the University of Dayton,’ so I said, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll go, too.’”
“Last August, we had Brother Ray’s 80th birthday party at my house. There’s a whole group of us who have bonded with him as friends beyond the workplace. We all go way back to UD.
“I work at East End Community Services, and when we started that in 1997 I got on one of the county committees he was chairing. We’ve been working together for the last 20 years around poverty and social justice, but really around place-based community development to try to address the problems of the populations that live in challenged neighborhoods.
“He’s been leading through one committee or another an effort to look at two-generation poverty reduction and to bring forth the notion and the practice of addressing two generations — maybe three generations — of a family, looking at the generational cycles that can limit the potential of the next generation. ... In neighborhoods, we look a lot at how we can build a sense of community, and that’s really where Brother Ray started. Community is a huge component of the Marianist charism, as he would call it.
“Yesterday, he and I were sitting in a meeting, and the three other people in the room were all over 80. We were talking about how long we have all known each other and worked together — we’re talking 50 to 60 years. I said, ‘What other generation in history can say that, and the people are still engaged in the work?’ It’s pretty remarkable.”
Nick Cardilino ’89, director of Center for Social Concern, Campus Ministry
“When I became a Marianist Educational Associate, my cohort and I spent a week learning about what it means to be a Marianist university. Part of it was looking back at the founders’ lives and where the Marianists come from. Brother Ray took an entire day to go through the story of the three founders of the Marianists in the midst of the French Revolution. I had always heard snippets of the story, but I had never put them all together. He told the story in such a way that it caused a huge lightbulb to go on in my brain. That was the impetus for me to write the musical Spectacle. There is no way I would have ever thought to do it without him.”
Frank Surico ’70, member of the Place-Based Two Generation Committee
“In 1969, I was involved with a group of UD students in Project Interface. Brother Ray, who joined the engineering faculty that year, was very instrumental in introducing us to a variety of systems planning concepts — in simple terms, how to look at things from a whole as opposed to siloed, individual pieces. It sounds simple, but it’s very difficult to move people who are in individual silos to come together and look at a common outcome.
“I’ve served with Brother Ray many times through the years. ... I can remember him once saying something to me and then, all of a sudden, I get the bullfrog effect: I start to turn red, just get really angry even though I don’t know why I’m angry. And he starts laughing. He says, ‘You think this conversation is about you. No, it’s about your idea. I’m not attacking you — I love you — but I just don’t like your idea.’ It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, to know you could disagree and still have discourse.
“The one thread that is consistent with Brother Ray is his ability to take a group of people who are very different from each other, listen to them, figure out where the common thread is and, without confrontation, get them to have a dialogue.”
The Rev. Daryl Ward, pastor emeritus, Omega Baptist Church; honorary trustee, University of Dayton
“One of the things that I’ve learned from people like Brother Ray is that no matter how busy you are, you always have time for what really matters to you. Busy people say they can make the time, and Brother Ray did. He had invited me to be a part of the UD board of trustees. As I got to know him, I realized his commitment to the city — his commitment to all people — and then I followed up and asked him, would he commit to this fledgling institution, the Omega Community Development Corp.? He committed, and he showed up. He is a wisdom keeper; when he speaks, it’s crickets and everyone listens.”
The Rev. Vanessa Ward, pastor emeritus, Omega Baptist Church; chief executive officer, Omega Community Development Corp.
“In 2008, I received the Brother Raymond Fitz Award from Montgomery County. I treasure it because of the man it represents. Sherry Gale, then pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, and I received the award that year, and I remember looking out and seeing the joy in his face. He congratulated me and acknowledged that we shared a common heart for children and families. He said, one-on-one, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ That means a lot. It’s hard, hard work, being committed to trying to break the cycle of poverty. His values resonate well with my walk, and I find him an example to follow.”
Brother Bernie Ploeger, S.M. ’71, assistant provincial of the Marianist Province of the United States; former UD senior vice president for administration, 1986-2001
“What characterizes Brother Ray’s leadership is his skill in getting people to speak about their concerns — what issues need to be addressed — and to order them in a way that makes them actionable. It is really his gift, with much success hinged on working collaboratively as a
“Within the Society of Mary, the impact of Vatican II meant that around 1970 things were changing very fast in religious life, and some of that was the restructuring of the initial formation program. Brother Ray took the lead and called it ‘community-centered formation,’ and that was the origin of the small communities around the University of Dayton like those now on Stonemill and Kiefaber. It was a new way of introducing a younger person to being a Marianist. In the 1980s, the Rule of Life — you can think of it as the Marianist constitution — needed to be revised. Brother Ray was quite involved in our General Chapter, so that would be the international Marianists, which produced the revision of the Rule of Life, situating the Society of Mary within the broader Marianist family.”
Maureen O’Rourke ’05, coordinator, Marianist PULSE
“Ray facilitates our monthly servant leadership training for the Marianist PULSE volunteers, so I see him at least once a month, but in many ways, I think my life is intertwined with his, luckily. ... I’ll bring our young daughter Eva (pronounced Eh-vuh) to his office on a Friday afternoon. He always remembers how to pronounce her name. I hope she sees my interaction with him in such a beautiful way that she feels comfortable with him — and she certainly does. I have these pictures of her back in August of last year grasping his face and of him kissing her little hand. Ray often talks about his mom and dad, nieces and nephews. Even in this life he’s chosen as a vowed religious, my sense is that he’s drawn to kids, and I think that’s why he cares so much for kids in the region.
“He really models the integration of faith. I think a lot of leadership can’t really speak to that and, when they do, it’s on that surface level of it. But he brings these community challenges to prayer. When he talks about the hidden violence of poverty, particularly in conversations with PULSE, he shares with us how heavily he carries these things in his prayer life, and how much that encourages him to continue the work, gives him hope. And that’s something I think, partnered with action, that has a lot of impact.”
Mike Parks, president, The Dayton Foundation
“Following the shootings in 2019 in the Oregon District, a community fund was established here at The Dayton Foundation to help the families whose loved ones’ lives were taken or those who had been seriously injured. ... When you’re making distributions to individuals, especially after such a tragedy, trust is everything.
“We asked Dr. Gary LeRoy and Brother Ray to co-chair the Oregon District Tragedy Oversight Committee to ensure this process was transparent and fair. When we called Brother Ray, he didn’t hesitate, not even for a second. He said, ‘How can I help?’ ... And he really didn’t know what he was getting into; none of us did. But that didn’t matter. He knew the importance of helping the families that were impacted, he knew the importance of helping the community heal, and he immediately said yes.
“There is not a better example in our community for servant-leadership than Brother Ray, and I think it’s that trust, that authenticity, that genuine belief of what is right and what is best for all in our community.”
Daria-Yvonne J. Graham ’94, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, California State University-San Bernadino; former UD associate dean of students
“Kathleen Henderson always reminded me — particularly when I took the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center director’s job at UD — that the Marianist brothers are enormous advocates and allies for diversity on campus. I remember going to Brother Ray, really kind of struggling with how do I change the environment? He started with a recognition that we didn’t have the same identity and were having two different experiences. And then he showed care and concern. Part of that two hours, he was telling me his story about how he ended up as president. ... His story was helpful for me to see. He offered encouragement and helped me think about aspiration in terms of here’s where we are, but don’t forget here’s where we could be.
“I talk about Brother Ray here in California — talk about the ripple effect. I am a transplant of Marianist education and engagement with community at the largest public educational institution in the nation, in a space and place that in lots of ways is the complete opposite of the University of Dayton. Because of Brother Ray’s leadership, I get to bring that in this space.
“He’s my uncle, even though he’s never agreed to be and I’ve never asked him to be; my touchpoint; a North Star.”
Mary Lynn Naughton ’82, managing director of the Mathile Family Foundation; manager of the UD bookstore 1992-99
“I have such deep respect and love for that man, and it spans his whole career and all the parts that I’ve been with him. When he was president, I was working there as the bookstore manager. Even though he was 50 layers of supervisors up from me, I really worked for Brother Ray — that’s how strong his leadership permeated campus. When I would make decisions, I would think about his commitment to the University and his moral compass. And those would be my guidelines for making decisions, even for a small entity of a large campus such as a bookstore, but I wanted it to fit into the culture.
“This year, I will have been at the Mathile Family Foundation for 23 years. Brother Ray is very close to Clay and MaryAnn Mathile, and there’s mutual respect all the way around. Brother Ray has been a great mentor and guide for me on what’s important to the community.
“I first started attending a two-generation advisory committee probably three years ago. He is single-handedly pushing this community to recognize that you have to serve the whole family. He has pulled groups together to have this dialogue, and now we’re working with Catholic schools, doing small piloting on how schools can engage more deeply.”