Alumnus Michael Rizzi Charts the History of Jesuit Colleges and Universities

Since 1789, there have been at least 54 colleges and universities operated by Jesuits in the United States.  According to Michael Rizzi, these institutions played a pivotal role in the history and evolution of the American higher education system.

“The Jesuits started schools in every region of the country in every imaginable circumstance, from the Colonial era to the Civil War, Westward expansion, the industrial age, and beyond,“ says Rizzi. “The more I read about them, the more convinced I was that I needed to tell this story.”

Michael Rizzi is a 2017 alumnus of the Doctor of Education (Ed.D) in Higher Education program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

In his new book, Jesuit Colleges and Universities in the United States: A History (Catholic University of America Press, 2022), Rizzi traces the complex history of colleges and universities the Jesuits have operated in the United States. His book examines the history of the American education system through the eyes of institutions such as Georgetown University, Boston College, Fordham University, Gonzaga University, Marquette University, and others.

“The book was a labor of love,” says Rizzi. “In total, 27 Jesuit colleges and universities still exist today. It’s an extremely important slice of the US higher education sector.”

Rizzi began the book writing process while he was working on his dissertation in the EdD program at Pitt Education. Through the research process, Rizzi quickly recognized why a book focusing on the history of Jesuit schools had never been written and why it was so important to him.

“I collected a lot of books about the history of individual Jesuit colleges, but I couldn’t find one that told their story collectively,“ explained Rizzi. “It was challenging but fascinating to trace how so many schools evolved through all of these time periods.”

Rizzi hopes readers of his book walk away with an understanding of how education has changed over the centuries and how interconnected Jesuit schools are to that evolution.

“I wanted the book to be a history of the U.S. higher education system as well as a history of Jesuit colleges operating within it,” explained Rizzi. “What we consider a ‘normal’ college experience today is very different from what higher education was in the past.”

Rizzi says supportive faculty at Pitt Education encouraged him to follow his passion of writing a dissertation that eventually inspired and empowered him to try his hand at a book.

“I was fortunate to have some very supportive faculty on my committee, including Stewart Sutin and Michael Gunzenhauser,” said Rizzi. “When I told them that I wanted to write a dissertation on Catholic colleges and universities, they encouraged me to follow my passion even though it was a slightly unusual topic. I doubt that I ever would have attempted to write a book if I hadn’t already had the experience of writing an EdD thesis and my time with Pitt Education.”

Rizzi credits Pitt Education and the EdD program for giving him the foundational tools necessary to write this book.

“Everything I learned was valuable,” said Rizzi. “Every class session was an opportunity where I could learn from my peers in all walks of education. I took a lot out of the program, and I’m certain that I never could have written this book if not for the experience I had in the School of Education.”

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