SFU selects new president to replace Zeis

LORETTO – St. Francis University is getting a new president.

On Monday, the college’s board of trustees elected the Rev. Malachi Van Tassell to fill the role currently held by Rev. Gabriel Zeis, whose term expires at the end of the 2013-14 academic year. Zeis will have served as president for 10 years.

“I’m very humbled that the trustees have selected me as the next president of St. Francis, and I’m just excited to be the president and the pastor of our founding institution here in Loretto,” Van Tassell said.

The selection process started in May, with three candidates chosen from among the 133 Franciscan friars in the Third Order Regular’s province.

Van Tassell said his group’s minister provincial approached him and asked whether he’d be interested in pursuing the presidency, an offer he excitedly accepted.

A Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native, Van Tassell received accounting and Spanish degrees from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, a master’s degree in taxation from Arizona State University and a doctorate in higher education leadership from Capella University.

Prior to taking his vows in 1999, he worked as a certified public accountant in Phoenix and Albuquerque. In fall 2002, he came to Saint Francis, where he has since taught accounting as an adjunct assistant professor.

He also currently holds the position of province treasurer.

In 2004, he was ordained to the priesthood at the university’s Immaculate Conception Chapel.

Van Tassell said he knows he will have to work hard to continue the unprecedented growth spurred on by Zeis.

“I give kudos to Father Gabriel,” he said. “He’s really done a lot in terms of … building buildings on campus, and building good relations with the local community. He’s done a lot of great things. I’d like to capitalize on his success.”

Van Tassell said one of his goals moving forward is building up and safeguarding the university’s Franciscan identity.

“[It is] of prime importance to me,” he said. “The Franciscan spirit is part of who we are, but we also have a number of great friars who work on campus. I’d like to bring in more Franciscans to … really grow that Franciscan spirit.”

Zeis said in a press release that his time as president was a humbling experience.

“I am touched by the fact that I have been able to serve my alma mater and my order in such a profound way,” he said.

During Zeis’ time as president, university enrollment has increased approximately 20 percent, officials said, and the market value of the university’s endowment assets rose from $17.5 million to $37.4 million.

Van Tassell will work on a one-year contract which is renewable annually. Asked whether he planned to serve as long as his predecessor, Van Tassell laughed.

“Whatever the Lord wants,” he said. “I serve at the pleasure of the board of trustees.”

University officials plan to hold a formal press conference and meet-and-greet session with Van Tassell on Jan. 14.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.