The Rev. Timothy Lannon looked out onto a sea of 500-plus faces Monday and did what he's always done in his 25 years as a priest.
He told a few jokes. Kept his sermon short and sweet. And he reached out, tried to connect, be conversational.
Creighton University's 24th president said that all in all, his first official day on the job — which kicked off with a noon Mass at St. John Church on the Creighton campus — went even better than he had hoped.
"Today was very important," a relaxed, jovial Lannon said in an interview after the Mass and get-to-know-you picnic with faculty and staff. "I wanted to make a good first impression."
Lannon, 60, earned a math degree from Creighton in 1973. He's the university's first alumnus to serve as president. Lannon's formal installation is Sept. 30.
An Iowa boy — he grew up in Mason City — Lannon replaces the Rev. John Schlegel, who retired June 30.
"My mother always said to keep your sermons seven minutes or less," he said, sipping a cup of coffee out of a mug with his name on it. "If it's short, people love it. When the coughing starts, you know you've gone too long."
Lannon comes to Creighton after eight years at the helm of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
He's not shy in his happiness over returning to his roots.
He has known Schlegel since 1969, when Lannon was an undergraduate sitting in one of the first political science courses Schlegel taught at Creighton.
"I have a sense of this place," said Lannon, who credits Schlegel with being instrumental in his decision to become a Jesuit priest. "It's been a long time since I was here. But one thing that has not changed is that students' lives are changed here."
Lannon shares most of Schlegel's philosophies but differs greatly from his predecessor in personality and leadership style. Schlegel is wry and reserved, down to business.
Lannon, on the other hand, is chatty and outgoing. He began Mass with a joke related to the sermon he would later give.
"I do not, have not and will not walk on water," he said with a smile. "But will tread water beautifully."
In Schlegel's 11 years as Creighton's president, he built CU into a premier private university. Enrollment grew, applications doubled and the campus expanded by 40 acres.
Thanks to a successful $400 million fundraising campaign Schlegel spearheaded, state-of-the-art buildings adorn much of the campus.
Schlegel's successor is, at least for now, keeping his plans for Creighton close to his vest. He wants to take the next few months to "listen and learn" before announcing any changes or plans for the university.
"I want to get a better feel and build upon those dreams for the university," Lannon said.
Under Lannon, St. Joseph's improved student housing, the student center, science center and fieldhouse. St. Joseph's also bought a 38-acre campus from a private K-12 school when that school moved.
St. Joseph's also says that under Lannon, the undergraduate curriculum was revised and facilities were created for programs in business ethics, Catholic bioethics and autism education.
At Creighton, and at campuses across the country, the number of Jesuits has continued to drop. Lannon said that as a kid, the priests at his home parish in Iowa "seemed almost too holy" while the Jesuits at Creighton appealed to him.
Lannon, who likes to run and bike in his free time, said he wants to try to encourage more young men to join the Jesuit priesthood, something he actively pursued in Philadelphia.
"I am a Jesuit priest first," Lannon said, "and a university president second."
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