Concordia’s Storyteller

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President Ferry has kept a handwritten journal for 20 years, the entire span of his Concordia University presidency.
President Ferry has kept a handwritten journal for 20 years, the entire span of his Concordia University presidency.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the spring 2017 issue of Concordian, the official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin. View a PDF version of the magazine here.

It was July 1, 1997, and Patrick Ferry was on the cusp of a monumental period of change in his life when he decided it was time to start keeping a journal.

Ferry was professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin at the time, seeking the Lord’s next calling in his life.

He was young, earnest, and humbled by the possibility that he could succeed R. John Buuck as president of the university with aptitude, vision, steadfastness, and fervent attention paid to the Gospel mission.

If not president, then he would become vice president of academics at Concordia University Texas. He had already accepted the position, contingent on being elected president. His bags were literally and, to some degree, figuratively packed for the South, as Ferry famously likes to tell. Of the five serious candidates in consideration for the presidency, Ferry by far had the least leadership experience.

His first journal entry details his reflections as he awaited the electors’ decision:

“Today is the last chapter of one part of our life, and tomorrow begins a new one. By noon tomorrow I will know better if I am elected to be Concordia University’s next president, or whether I will become Vice President of Academics at Concordia Austin. My feeling is that another will be chosen, though there is no clear choice. ... Surely the Lord knows if I have put forth the right vision and if I am the right person.”

The next day, “the underdog” was elected the 10th president of Concordia University Wisconsin, and two decades later the university is looking back on the tremendous season of growth it has experienced under his leadership.

The Narrative Approach

The conclusion of the 2016-17 academic year marks 20 years with Rev. Patrick T. Ferry, Ph.D. at the helm of Concordia University Wisconsin, four of them with the Ann Arbor campus also under his charge.

As the third longest-running president of CUW, Ferry has propelled the university through a number of significant changes: the remodel of CUW’s bluff, the merge with the Ann Arbor campus, the acquisition of the North Building, and a 74 percent increase in total student enrollment from his first academic year to now, to name a few.

All the while he’s kept a near-daily journaling routine, recording his innermost thoughts and reflections on faith, his family, and Concordia’s greatest triumphs and struggles.

The routine is therapeutic for Ferry. Oftentimes, putting pen to paper turns into a sort of private prayer practice, he says.

Perhaps it’s the history professor in him, but Concordia’s president loves a good story, and sometimes his journals are the sounding board for his public addresses. Seldom does a sermon, letter, or speech go by without a memorable anecdote in its midst—often told with his head cocked slightly to the side and his trademark bowtie in place.

“There’s something about the narrative approach,” says Ferry. “Sometimes you can get caught up in metrics, but in the end we live our lives in kind of a narrative framework.”

Beyond Storytelling

But it’s not all talk where Ferry is concerned. His friends, colleagues, and employees know that his ability to seek out feedback, and his capacity for genuine care and concern are equally extraordinary.

One longtime colleague described his observations of the president during the countless meetings they sat in together: “Sometimes these discussions get heated. President Ferry doesn’t participate much in that, but he listens, and you can see the wheels turning. And then, at the end of the meeting he’s able to say, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.’”

In other words, Ferry listens, synthesizes, and comes to a decision and then is able to compellingly translate what’s important for the university to those who need to hear it. And always at the top of his list of most vital messages is Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection for us all.

When Ferry reflects on his first days as president of CUW, and more recently of CUAA, he notes that much has changed. However, one thing is sure, he says—any success that is to be attributed to his time at Concordia University is the result of the Lord at work in him for the sake of His Kingdom.

Or, as Ferry put it on July 1, 1997:

“My confidence rests in God’s will being done, and that He knows Concordia’s needs better than I do.”