James F. Conneely, the first man to lead Notre Dame of Maryland University as president in the school's 116-year history, announced Friday that he is stepping down for family reasons.
Conneely, who has served as the school's president since July 2012, will return with his family to their former home in Kentucky, where he previously worked as a vice president for student affairs at Eastern Kentucky University.
The school's board of trustees said Friday that Joan Develin Coley, a former president of McDaniel College in Westminster, would serve as the school's interim president.
"I have had to make a difficult career decision for family reasons," Conneely said in a statement. "I am very proud of the progress Notre Dame has made during my tenure."
Conneely was only the second layperson to lead the university, which was founded in Baltimore as a Catholic women's college in 1895. Today the school educates about 3,000 women and men. It allows men into certain undergraduate and graduate programs and also, through its women's college, it offers the only single-sex undergraduate program in the state.
Conneely, a Long Island, N.Y., native, received his bachelor's degree from Saint Bonaventure University, a master's from Alfred University in New York and a doctorate from Georgia State University. He has worked in higher education for 30 years.
Coley will take over as president on Aug. 12, according to a notice posted on the university's Facebook page. A native of Philadelphia, Coley studied at Albright College and earned a master's degree and Ph.D. in education from the University of Maryland.
"He has been an outspoken advocate for us on issues involving women's education and on those of service and social responsibility," Patricia J. Mitchell, chair of the school's board of trustees, said of Conneely.
It's unusual but not unprecedented for men to lead women's colleges. Three all-women's colleges in Massachusetts have hired male presidents in the past, with mixed results. When Mount Holyoke College appointed its first male president in 1937, the decision was met with considerable opposition that was eventually overshadowed by World War II.