March 12, 2020 — Fr. Scott R. Pilarz, SJ, president of the University of Scranton, passed away on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, from complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was 61.
Fr. Pilarz was born in Camden, New Jersey, on July 31, 1959. He attended Camden Catholic High School and graduated from Georgetown University in 1981 before entering the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. He received his master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University and went on to earn both a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology from the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his formation, Fr. Pilarz taught English and drama at Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore. He was ordained a priest on June 13, 1992, before heading to City University of New York where he earned a doctorate in English.
After teaching English for a year at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Fr. Pilarz became a professor of English at Georgetown University from 1996 to 2003. He then became president at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he served for eight years, expanding the university by both bricks and mortar and admissions. He was also pivotal in creating programs that enhanced the school’s Catholic and Jesuit identity.
In 2011, Fr. Pilarz became president of Marquette University in Milwaukee where he served for two years before returning to Washington, D.C., to become president at Georgetown Prep. One of his greatest memories there was leading a group of students to see Pope Francis during the pontiff’s visit to Washington in 2015. As Pope Francis walked by the huge crowd, Fr. Pilarz shouted, “I’m a Jesuit!” The pope stopped in his tracks and came over to greet Fr. Pilarz and the students.
In 2018, the University of Scranton beckoned once again, and Fr. Pilarz returned as president for a second term, making him the second-longest-serving president in the school’s history. He again leveraged the university’s strengths and responsibilities as a Jesuit institution to be a source for positive change in the community and beyond. He also led programs for students and faculty to address key issues such as racism and the abuse crisis in the church. It was also in 2018 that he announced his diagnosis with ALS, committing to continue on as long as possible while also raising awareness about the disease.