New St. John’s Jesuit High School President Shares Desire to Serve

St. John’s Jesuit High School recently appointed retired Air Force Colonel Mark Swentkofske to serve as the school’s twelfth president. We spoke with President Swentkofske, an SJJ alumni, to learn about his hopes for the future.

Tell us a little about yourself. I was born on February 12, 1966 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am the middle child in a family of five children. I attended Catholic grade schools and entered Marquette University High School in the fall of 1980. I enjoyed playing football, basketball, baseball and jumping events on the track team. I was also a member of the conclave student government.

In the summer of 1982, I moved to Toledo after my father accepted a position with Toledo Trust. I joined the junior class at St. John’s and played varsity football, basketball and baseball. I graduated in May of 1984 with an appointment to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Due to a serious knee injury playing football for the Falcons, I was medically turned back a class. I graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. I also earned a Master of Science Degree from the National Intelligence University in 1999. I have two adult sons: Marcus (26 years old) who lives in Washington D.C. and Danny (24 years old) who lives in Tampa, Florida.

Tell us about your background, serving in the military and post-military. After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1989, I attended technical training to become a USAF intelligence officer. I served on active duty for thirty years with three combat deployments, five overseas assignments and eight assignments within the continental United States. I retired from my military career at the conclusion of 2019. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to command an Air Force squadron, work at the White House and serve as an Attache at the United States Embassy in Beijing, China.

What are your hobbies? I am an avid golfer. I enjoy playing and watching golf in person. I also enjoy outdoor sports, especially downhill skiing, biking, and walking. I enjoy reading, particularly biographies and auto-biographies of historically significant personalities. I also enjoy spending time with my two sons.

What are some of your favorite things about Northwest Ohio? It’s filled with friendly, caring, respectful people with knowledge of diverse subjects and pride in America.

What about some of your favorite local spots? Mr. Freeze Ice Cream, Tony Packo’s, Midwest Sports, Inverness Club and the Metroparks Toledo.

What influenced your decision to accept the position at St. John’s Jesuit? My education in high school had a profound impact on me as a man of faith, but it also instilled in me a strong desire to serve and share my God-given gifts with others. I am indebted to many influential teachers, coaches and friends who helped me along the way. In this spirit, I wanted to serve young people and give back to the place that had given so much to me. The timing could not have been better to allow me to accept this humbling opportunity to continue a life of service.

How does it feel to be back at your alma mater? Amazing. I feel very humbled. I also feel grateful for my years at SJJ and to be in a position where I can help other families in Northwest Ohio not only afford this experience but provide an opportunity that will be life changing.

What are your hopes for the future of St. John’s?

In a world that currently faces significant cultural, economic, social, and ideological challenges, I want St. John’s to remain a guiding light for educating young men in Northwest Ohio. To sustain this, my hope is that collaborative, forward-thinking school leadership continues to develop. It is in creative problem solving that we will keep graduating men of character.

What are your challenges for the future? Providing a Jesuit education that provides SJJ graduates with lifelong opportunities to succeed in a world that is always changing and needs men who serve others first. This all requires resources – financial, professional and the gift of one’s time and expertise. Securing those resources is a challenge in any time and market condition. Convincing people that SJJ is a solid investment in the future – not only of the future of young men – but a solid investment in the future of our community, nation and world can be a challenge, but it’s certainly a challenge worth accepting.

How would you like to see St. John’s influence the Toledo community in the future? Our mission as a Jesuit school has always been to educate and develop young men as Christian leaders with Ignatian spirituality who desire to give back to their communities. St. John’s has always been steadfast to this mission during changes in leadership and changes in our world. I recognize the Toledo community has high expectations of SJJ and our graduates which I intend to exceed.

Parochial schools have seen an uptick in enrollment post-COVID. To what do you attribute this? As a Catholic school, we employ a faculty and staff who view their roles at SJJ as a ministry and a calling. We do not have jobs at SJJ – we have been called to a vocation of service to our young men. There is a sense of commitment to our students from all those that serve them in every capacity from our food court to our classrooms that we are here to educate the whole person – mind, body, and spirit.

In the wake of Covid-19, families saw us return to in-person learning as quickly as possible to do this. I believe SJJ continues to demonstrate an agility and accessibility that appeals to many families.

What makes you most proud of St. John’s Jesuit? When I interact with anyone from the greater Saint John’s Jesuit family (students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, board members, donors, and friends), I always have a positive interaction that is highlighted by mutual respect, intellectual curiosity, humor and humility. These same people are always leading in their homes, churches, communities, and places of work. They want to be helpful and positive rather than critical and negative. I absolutely love SJJ people!

How do you see the future of private Christian education in an increasingly secular culture? At St. John’s, we have a large Catholic student population. We also have a substantial number of young men who practice other faiths or are non denominational. These backgrounds come together to create an incredibly diverse and enriched middle and high school experience that is based on appreciation for others and finding God in all things. As long as families place value on such a diverse experience and desire the freedom to be able to choose a faith-based school that best fits their students, parochial education has an important place in our community.

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