PROVIDENCE — While the Hon. Ronald K. Machtley, president of Bryant University, and his wife, Kati Croft Machtley are devout Presbyterians, the couple has done much to support the Catholic faith life — especially the Catholic Chaplaincy program — at the Smithfield university.
The committed Christians, whose faith is the motivating principle in their lives, were the catalysts for the construction of a dedicated space on the campus for all students of faith to gather together to explore their spirituality, practice their faith and celebrate in fellowship with one another.
The university’s Interfaith Center was completed in 2010 and named in the Machtleys’ honor.
They also promoted the development of campus ministries which have been established to make Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains available to all members of the university community as sources of support, guidance, spiritual development and integration.
But by the time the incoming freshmen at the dawn of the Interfaith Center became seniors, the continued availability of Catholic chaplains to minister on campus was in doubt.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin informed the university’s president in the summer of 2014 that due to the demands faced in the diocese he would be unable to continue assigning a priest chaplain to the campus.
Upon learning this Machtley immediately contacted Father Joseph Pescatello, indicating the university would do whatever was necessary to maintain the presence of a Catholic priest on campus.
Father Pescatello and Father Robert Marciano reached out to brother priests Fathers Christopher Murphy, Michael McMahon, Victor Silva and Carl Fisette, all of whom pledged to celebrate Mass on campus to support the spiritual needs of the students.
This year, the university, through the assistance of a generous donation from two Catholic families, hired Rebecca Burgess, a theology graduate of Loyola University, to serve as a coordinator for the Catholic community at Bryant.
“Ron and Kati have always been supportive, not only of the Catholic community at Bryant University, but for the Catholic Church,” said Father Pescatello in his nomination of the Machtleys for the Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Friend of the Diocese.
“They have tremendous respect for the Church and the role the Church plays within the society and the world.”
With the majority of Bryant students identifying as having been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, Machtley said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic that he and Kati wanted them to be able to continue practicing their faith while away from home.
“We have tried to make sure that all of our students have a spiritual, religious opportunity on our campus,” Machtley said.
“We’re a non-denominational campus. We know 62 percent of our students have grown up with the Catholic faith and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to continue that. It’s so important in those four years of college, where they’re establishing routines, and establishing their protocol and what’s important, that they not lose that connection with the Church.
Machtley, who previously served as a United States congressman for the State of Rhode Island from 1989 to 1995, and was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is a 1970 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He went on to earn a law degree from Suffolk University Law School in 1978 and served on active duty in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a captain from the U.S. Naval Reserves in 1995 after 25 years of service.
He and Kati have been married for the past 46 years and are the proud parents of two children, Erin and Todd, who have graduated from college and now are married parents enjoying successful careers.
Kati, who earned a B.S. in Nursing from the University of Maryland and an M.S. in Nursing Education from the University of Rhode Island, has a career in higher education that spans from 1974 to the present. She has served as a nursing faculty member at three different universities, including Salve Regina, and has served as chair of the Bryant University Interfaith Prayer Breakfast since 1996.
“We found that when we first got to Bryant there wasn’t a lot for our students,” she said.
“It was pretty much academic and social, but there wasn’t a spiritual component. So we felt like it was necessary to somehow infuse that spirituality into the campus life. We started by making our very small chapel a consecrated area; it was a room in our social center. When Father Joe came, the people attending Mass increased dramatically, so we had to move to a larger room. It was then that our trustees agreed that it was time to build an Interfaith Center.”
The Machtleys say it is a tremendous honor for them to be recognized for their support of the Catholic tradition on the Bryant campus.
“It is a wonderful and very humbling recognition for us,” said Ron Machtley.