In October, Jeanne Garvey and her husband, President John Garvey, were on a train to New York City to attend the white-tie Al Smith Dinner, a prestigious fundraiser for Catholic Charities that garners national attention for the heavy hitters in attendance including the presidential candidates. On the train ride, President Garvey asked her, “When we were first married did you ever imagine our lives would take us to such places?”
Reflecting on that moment, she laughs and says that 41 years ago “I thought I was marrying a small-town professor.”
While those “pinch me” moments are inevitable, Garvey says the moments that mean the most to her as the wife of Catholic University’s president are the ones that involve students.
The Garveys are regulars at the weeknight 5 o’clock Mass in Caldwell Chapel. “One night I saw a student a few pews ahead of us quietly crying. After Mass, I asked her ‘Are you homesick?’ She just started bawling. She was from South Dakota, so far from home. We have a scholarship for students from South Dakota and I knew the student who had that scholarship the year before. I put them in touch.”
Since moving on campus when her husband took the helm of the University in summer 2010, Jeanne Garvey has become a beloved fixture. She roams campus doling out hugs and lending a sympathetic ear. Her approachability is enhanced by “first dog” Gus, who is so popular he has his own Twitter following. “Students stop to pet Gus and that’s the perfect opportunity to start a conversation,” she says.
When the couple moved to Catholic University from Boston College, where President Garvey was dean of the law school and Jeanne Garvey was director of career services for the M.B.A. program, she candidly admits she struggled at first to define her role.
But she quickly began to chart her own course by doing what she knows best — connecting with people. She came out to help freshmen move into their residence halls. She greeted parents at Family Weekend. She joined students on a spring break mission trip. She was on hand to congratulate nursing students at their pinning ceremony. She bundled up for the annual March for Life.
Perhaps her most important role is something she does quietly and regularly. She is in demand to talk to student groups about her faith. “Just as you work at a marriage, you work at your faith. Students just seem to crave those honest discussions. Faith has been a constant for me through life’s ups and downs.”
While she doesn’t have an official title, Jeanne Garvey has her role figured out. “I’m a mom. I have five children and 19 grandchildren. There’s nothing I haven’t seen. That’s what I bring to our students.”