NEWARK — Running an institution the size of the University of Delaware, with about 17,000 undergraduates and some 3,600 graduate students, is a formidable task, one that consumes much of Patrick Harker’s time. But the UD president believes giving back to his community is also important, and he has been active in nonprofit leadership both locally and nationally.
“This was all part of my upbringing. I watched my mother do it through example,” Harker said recently in his office in Hullihen Hall. “She lives a life of service, even though she’s 87.
‘You just make the time. I think the lesson in life is you make time for the things that are important.”
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Wilmington will honor Harker for his service with the Msgr. Thomas J. Reese Award at the agency’s annual tribute dinner, which will be held March 28 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. The award was created in 1989 in memory of Msgr. Reese, a longtime community activist and director of Catholic Social Services, the forerunner of Catholic Charities. It recognizes “individuals who have demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting and restoring the well-being of people,” according to Charities.
Since becoming the University of Delaware president in 2007, Harker has been involved with several local organizations. He is a member of the boards of Christiana Care Health Systems, First State Innovation and Easter Seals of Delaware. Nationally, he serves on the board of Catholic Relief Services, is a founding member of the board of directors of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a member of the Regional Leadership Initiative Steering Committee at the Council on Competitiveness, and a trustee of Howard University.
Much of his work involves corporate governance, including searching for new board members, raising money and making sure the organizations are in compliance with federal law and, in the case of Catholic entities, canon law.
Richelle Vible, executive director of Catholic Charities, praised Harker’s commitment to the community.
“Dr. Harker is an accomplished man and has a busy professional life, but has found the time, and the passion, to devote his talents to those less fortunate,” Vible said. “He is a true reflection of the spirit of Msgr. Reese and is a deserving recipient of this award.”
His mother, Jennie, had the biggest influence on him, but was certainly not the only one. Harker recalled the impact of many of his teachers, including Dominican sisters and priests of his youth in Gloucester City, N.J. His father died when he was 9, but there were other men who helped shape him, his football coaches.
“I played football in high school and at the University of Pennsylvania. They had a tremendous influence on me in terms of teaching me hard work, dedication, striving for goals. These are important life lessons. People can learn those in different ways, and for me, athletics was very important,” he said.
Before he arrived in Newark, Harker, 53, spent 23 years at Penn, but he and his wife, Emily, lived in Camden County, N.J., where they raised two sons and a daughter. He was a member of the finance council of the Diocese of Camden and volunteered at the high schools his children attended.
“I’ve always been involved in various ways, shapes and forms with the Catholic Church,” he said.
He and his wife attend the St. Thomas More Oratory, which, coincidentally, is staffed by Dominican priests, and he praised the work of the priests and oratory staff. One of the things he likes about the oratory is that it’s not just students who attend, but staff, faculty and area residents.
“It’s a phenomenal community,” he said.
And although it’s impossible for him to know all of the students at the university by name, attending the oratory allows him to meet a number of them. He also teaches one business course a year, and he holds receptions for students at the president’s house on campus on a regular basis.
The commitment to service by Delaware students and faculty impresses him. There are activities in the state and around the world.
“We have a program with our engineering students, Engineers Without Borders, who go and do work in Cameroon and Guatemala, and they really extend the concept of service globally,” he said.
Harker feels fortunate with where he has been able to work. His mother and mother-in-law both live in South Jersey, and his children are all nearby.
“We were blessed with the opportunity to stay local and to be around family. And I really count that as a blessing because not everybody gets that chance.”
The real heroes
For Harker, the Catholic Charities dinner is important because it is an opportunity to raise money “for a great organization. This is a good excuse to get my friends and colleagues involved in raising money for an organization that is critical to our community. If you think about what Catholic Charities does each and every day, for the people here in our diocese, it’s absolutely critical. It helps people get through really tough times and helps people move along with their lives. It’s the work of the church; it’s the Lord’s work,” he said.
He said he is humbled by the honor because there are other people more deserving of the Msgr. Reese Award, but it is important for him to accept it so he can honor them. He said those who work for Catholic Charities every day “are the ones who deserve an award. They are the real heroes.”
If you go
Catholic Charities will hold its annual tribute dinner on March 28 at 5 p.m. Tickets to the dinner are $185 each and are available at www.cdow.org/tribute.html. Information about sponsorships and advertising, as well as donating to Catholic Charities, is also available at the website.