Amy Lovell was asked to be part of the committee planning her husband, Michael Lovell’s inauguration as the 24th president of Marquette University.Marquette University president Michael Lovell and his wife, Amy, pose for a photo, Sept. 2, in his office overlooking Gesu Church across the street. The inauguration of Lovell as the 24th president of Marquette University will take place Friday, Sept. 19. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan Carlos Medina)

Probably her biggest contribution, she estimated, was the suggestion that the wording of the theme be changed to “Ignited in Faith. Alive in Inquiry. Forward in Service.”

“Mike being such an active, intense person – people use that word a lot to describe him – they were thinking of using action words,” said Amy. “So I asked them to reverse them and highlight faith, because faith was such a huge part of the decision. … Originally they were going to have alive, forward and ignited and I thought they should reverse it because faith, especially, is what drove this decision,” she explained.

It was a “simple, but significant suggestion,” agreed Brian Dorrington, director of university communication, that more accurately defines the first layman to lead the 133-year-old Jesuit institution.

Their Catholic faith is the heart of their lives and it was ultimately the factor that led Lovell to leave his position as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and become the president of Marquette. He will be formally installed on Friday.

Faith now part of professional life

“I think I said no to them four or five times before I really started thinking about it seriously,” Lovell admitted, referring to the Marquette University search committee. “It wasn’t until (Jesuit) Fr. (Robert) Wild said to me to take (the decision) before God and ask him what would be most fulfilling in your career, and when I started doing that, I realized, as hard as this decision was going to be, I was being called to do this.”

Being in an environment where faith is a visible part of daily life is something he welcomes.

Seated in his corner office which looks across to the majestic Gesu Church across the street, Lovell described how in his short time at Marquette, he’s delivered more faith-related speeches than ever.

“It all has to do with being at a place where I can practice my faith in professional life. For a while I at least contemplated being a priest, and being able to talk about my faith publicly is something I could not do in my previous role, but I’ve had more speeches in my time at Marquette about my faith, religion than I’ve had in my entire career. That is something I’ve always longed to do,” said Lovell.Michael and Amy Lovell are pictured with their children, Anna, left to right, Marissa, Kevin and Matthew, in this family portrait taken earlier this year. (Submitted photo courtesy Troye Fox Photography)

Faith is also the center of family life, agreed the couple who met on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1980s.

After being introduced through friends, Lovell asked Amy to go to Mass with him as a first date, but she turned him down.

“My sister called me the next day and I told her and she said, ‘You said no to a guy who asked you to go to Mass?’” Amy said, retelling the story, explaining she said no because she had already attended Mass that day.

Relationships grew through Newman Center

Over time their relationship grew, in part due to their involvement at the Newman Center on the Pitt campus.

Describing herself as a cradle Catholic, Amy said her faith moved from the strict rules-guided faith to a more personal relationship with God during college. For Lovell, whose father was Catholic and mother, Protestant, college also helped define his faith. After his parents divorced when he was 13, he said he felt more connected to the Catholic faith because of its devotion to Mary and its stricter rules and guidelines.

At the University of Pittsburgh, he became friends with “a dynamic group of young priests,” and several novices; he even considered moving into their novitiate.

“They were trying to get me to move into the house to discern whether I wanted to be a priest or not, and I certainly thought about it, but I never found a strong enough calling to the priesthood,” he said.

When the couple married Nov. 13, 1993, in the Heinz Memorial Chapel on the Pitt campus, there were eight priests as part of the ceremony, and several novices, he noted, adding many remain close today.

Lovell holds three academic degrees in mechanical engineering, including a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. A researcher, his work has led to several technological breakthroughs and he holds seven patents and 14 provisional patents. Earlier this year, he was formally inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.

Devoted father of 4

In 2008, he was named dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s College of Engineering and Applied Science and was elevated to chancellor in 2011.

For all of his academic and professional achievements, however, Amy, a pharmacist, sees her husband as a devoted father who “somehow manages to connect with all his kids every day,” she said, adding, “he’s really good about not working until the kids are settled.”

The couple has four children: Marissa, 19, who transferred to Marquette from the University of Pittsburgh this year as a sophomore; Matthew, 15, a sophomore at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee; Anna, 14, a freshman at Whitefish Bay High School; and Kevin, 11, a sixth-grader at Holy Family School, Whitefish Bay.

Calling Lovell a “very involved dad,” Amy recalled with a smile times when he would help her out by taking the two middle kids who were born 14 months apart on an outing.

“He’d want to give me a break and put one on his back and the other in the front pack and take them to the grocery store or something. He was not afraid to go out with these little kids,” she described.

He’s also disciplined, according to Amy, who noted that he prays the rosary daily, often in his car or while running, and the couple make it a practice to pray together every day, using a set of prayers given them by Dawn Kinsman, coordinator of the UW-Milwaukee Newman Center. They try to attend daily Mass, and the couple are both involved in their parish, Holy Family, Whitefish Bay, where he is an extraordinary minister of Communion, and she, an advisor for confirmation and coordinator of eucharistic adoration.

Position will deepen faith

He expects his new position will deepen his own faith.

“One of the neat things about taking on this role, my faith journey will be challenged in new and different ways, and when you are challenged you grow,” Lovell said. “I will be going through the Spiritual Exercises (of St. Ignatius of Loyola) after the inauguration, for about year, so I am excited about that, getting a deeper understanding of my faith, particularly leading a Jesuit, Catholic institution and what that means, so that is something I am looking forward to,” he said.

In spite of his busy schedule with the beginning of the school year and the inauguration looming, Amy noted that Lovell spent a recent Sunday afternoon at Six Flags Great America with his son, Matthew – something they do every year.

“Yes, I rode the Goliath,” admitted Lovell, speaking of the “most extreme wooden roller coaster on the planet,” according to the Six Flags website. “I was probably the only gray-haired person on the ride, but it was fun, something that we’ll remember,” he added, noting he tries to make it to as many of his children’s sporting and school events as possible.

Weighing the impact the job as MU president would have on their family life was a big consideration in whether he accepted the job, according to the couple.

“When he took on this position, and even the leadership position at UWM, he talked to each of us separately, to see how it affected all of us, because we have a young family and there are a lot of demands on his time and he asked each of us if we could handle it because he’d be so busy — a lot of nights and weekends,” said Amy, adding the children were all OK with the new position, provided they did not have to move.

“These positions are a sacrifice for the whole family,” admitted Lovell. “You do your best to balance family with your professional life, but the reality is these jobs are demanding, a lot of nights and weekends.”

Feels at home at Marquette

In the months since he’s accepted the job, Lovell said he’s received daily affirmations that the decision to move to Marquette was the right one for him.

“Marquette is a special place; what is unique about Marquette – this is my fourth university – is how much people care about each other and how much they care about the institution,” he said, pointing to the recent prayer service in memory of MU alum and journalist James Foley who was murdered by ISIS terrorists, Aug. 19. 

“By far, that was the most spectacular memorial, prayer service I’ve been to. What was really unique you had over 1,000 people filling Gesu and over 100 family and friends from all over the country because they had a connection here through Marquette. Marquette, in his words, formed who (Foley) was and the sense of pride in the institution and pride in who he was and how he represented our university and it made me realize these people have the same values as I do and I’m so fortunate to be part of a strong Catholic community.”