As the sun rises across Northwest Indiana, light shines through the stained glass windows in the Chapel of the Resurrection. When the light illuminates the center Munderloh Window, depicting the dawning of the New Day in Christ our Lord, Valparaiso University prepares for a new chapter in its history.
José D. Padilla, J.D., Valparaiso University’s 19th president, looks to the Christian ethos in those windows as he prepares to further the legacy of the nation’s “Greatest Lutheran University.”
President Padilla was drawn to Valpo after he saw his beliefs reflected in those of the University: the freedom to pursue truth, the integration of passion and purpose, the marriage of faith and learning, and the duty to serve and welcome others.
“I pursued this job because Valpo’s values are my values,” President Padilla says. “Our faith in God underpins every lesson learned, every question asked, and every goal embraced.”
Throughout his tenure in higher education, President Padilla has followed his faith through service. His favorite Bible passage (Micah 6:8) signifies his core convictions of acting justly, loving mercifully, and walking closely with God.
“Leading Valpo will allow me to practice my Christian faith in the campus community,” Padilla added. “This will enable me to join Valpo’s tradition of embracing the intersection of faith and learning.”
From its Lutheran beginnings in 1925, Valparaiso University’s mission and vision has remained consistent through the interaction of religious faith and liberal arts education. By imbuing students with a sense of vocation, Valpo fosters an environment that leads to spiritual maturity, intellectual rigor, and fulfillment of students’ purposes.
President Padilla seeks on build upon the foundation set by past University leaders to remain faithful to the institution’s Lutheran tradition and the founders’ vision.
“There are invisible waves that can be felt walking through campus,” President Padilla says. “The echoes of O.P. Kretzmann and other University giants who laughed, learned, and taught on these grounds. My commitment is to remain faithful to their legacy, so that 100 years from now, the University’s Lutheran values are just
as impactful and resonant.”
President Padilla’s ties to the Lutheran heritage began at birth. He was born in the land of Martin Luther — Augsburg, Germany — on a U.S. Army base.
Now serving the Midwest’s premier Lutheran university, President Padilla is able to connect with both his birthplace and the region where he was raised. Although he was born abroad, much of his childhood was spent Toledo, Ohio. He completed his bachelor of education from his hometown university and then followed his passions to the University of Michigan Law School.
When he began his career practicing law in Chicago, he found a new calling in the Windy City — family. He met his wife, Hilda, at a political fundraiser, and the two were married in 1986. Hilda grew up in Durango, Mexico, before her family immigrated to Chicago. She is a real estate broker and entrepreneur.
President Padilla and Hilda have two grown children, Jacob and Camille. Jacob is a college lacrosse coach at University of Detroit Mercy. After serving as a political communications consultant, Camille now owns a software startup.
Many of President Padilla’s favorite pastimes revolve around his family members. He loves fly fishing with his kids, watching sports (including college lacrosse) as well as historical and political shows and movies, cooking with his favorite chefs (Hilda and her mother), writing, and reading. He enjoys spending time with Coach, his Wheaten terrier-poodle, who is known to make unattended food disappear.
President Padilla and Hilda are both excited to be a part of the Valpo family. As they drove through downtown Valparaiso, they were eager to discover local restaurants and support small businesses that make the campus and community special. While they anticipate many outings in the community, they are most passionate about developing relationships with the people that make Valparaiso University the incredible place it is.
“I’m excited to be part of this community and to get to know the students, who are the heart of this campus,” Hilda says. “I believe there are no coincidences and that we are where we are supposed to be. I’m looking forward to helping José succeed as president, and I believe all of his professional life has led to this moment.”
President Padilla’s career in higher education stemmed from his personal vocation to serve his country, fellow citizens, and university students who seek life-altering transformation. Before joining Valpo, he served as vice president, university counsel, and secretary of the University of Colorado System. Previously he served 15 years in senior leadership roles at DePaul University in Chicago, putting his faith into practice daily as vice president, general counsel, and secretary.
As he prepares to lead the University forward, President Padilla will rely on his past experiences and look to his faith for continued guidance. The significance behind the Munderloh Windows — the creative work of God the Father, the redemptive work of God the Son, and the sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit — remind him of the tradition on which the University was built and upon which it continues to flourish.