By Ryan Blystone, Inside USD
Seán Farrell is USD Athletics’ associate director of development. He is responsible for managing and directing all fundraising activities for the athletic department and development staff. A business finance alumnus from the University of Notre Dame, Farrell previously served as director of development and major gifts for Father Joe’s Village. He also worked at Notre Dame as director of regional development. He spent nearly two years working with the Notre Dame Haiti Program, helping coordinate logistics at the field hospital in Haiti after the disastrous 2010 earthquake. Inside USD asked him about his background and priorities to help USD Athletics.
You’ve had some great experiences that connect you to previous schools and employers. How do these experiences lend themselves to your work as USD’s athletics fundraiser and development director?
During my 16 years at the University of Notre Dame, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented individuals, from whom I learned this wonderful profession of development. I could not have had better role models than Dan Reagan and Dave Morrissey, and was equally blessed to have worked with leaders in the world of college athletics — Jack Swarbrick, Kevin White, Bill Scholl, Bubba Cunningham, and Jim Phillips to name a few. In my brief time here at USD, I have found very dedicated professionals in the department, from administrators to coaches, to executive assistants. (USD Athletics administrators) Ky Snyder and Shaney Fink have created an environment that’s conducive to success and I look forward to being a part of it.
Your background with Notre Dame includes time spent as a student and as an employee. What are a few of your fondest memories and experiences there?
Oddly enough, and even though I had raised a lot of money during my 16 years there, I would have to say that two memories which stand out are only tangentially related to fundraising. The first turned out to be quite an emotional experience. Years ago, a student could gain admittance to medical school after three years at the university, and upon graduation from medical school, they would be granted their Notre Dame diploma. I met a retired physician in San Francisco who shared with me that his one regret in life was that he had never notified the university, back in the early 50s, and thus had never received his diploma. When I presented him with his diploma during our next lunch meeting, neither of us could speak for a few minutes. The second was when I organized a golf trip to Ireland with the men’s golf team and a group of donors. To witness the interaction between the talented young men and the group of mostly middle aged “hackers” was beyond rewarding.
Father Joe’s Village is a wonderful organization dedicated to helping the homeless and the unfortunate. Father Joe Carroll is also USD alumnus. What was the greatest takeaway from your time there?
In February, Franklin Antonio, one of the founders of Qualcomm, made a $2 million commitment to fund the Franklin Antonio Public Lunch Program for people who line up each day at noon for a meal, which in many cases might be their only meal of the day. Mr. Antonio’s selfless commitment to help his neighbors in need, with no expectation of anything in return, is a testament to the human spirit. This program traces its roots to the very first interaction Father Joe had with the homeless population in downtown San Diego — handing out sandwiches with no questions asked.
Haiti’s devastating situation, especially in recent years, is heartbreaking. You were one of many people go there and do what you could to support their people and the community. What’s been the greatest impact on you?
Paul Farmer, who spoke at USD a few years ago, said that some question if there is any real impact, or value gained when people visit Haiti on a medical mission lasting only one week. He countered that the real value was the impact that the mission had on the providers, when it forever changed them. While I was in Leogane, Haiti, for nearly three years with the Notre Dame Haiti Program, I witnessed these transformative process countless times, and certainly experienced it firsthand. Dr. Farmer’s point was that when people returned to their own communities, they had a different perspective on life and the human condition, and were more willing to be engaged in projects to try to make a difference.
While you are new to USD Athletics, you’re probably not new to what needs exist for college athletics. What are some priority areas that you’ll focus on this year?
While there are some specific projects on the drawing board, the entire department exists to enhance the experience of the USD student-athlete. A great Catholic university exists to tend to the needs of the spirit, mind and the body. As the NCAA commercial always points out, more than 90 percent of student athletes won’t go on to participate in their sport on a professional level. The lessons learned on the court, or on the field of play will be utilized in many ways during the course of one’s life, for the betterment of all.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do in San Diego?
I have always been close to the world of athletics as a participant, and while still a bachelor, and not having the demands of most, I am not far from a running trail or golf course on the weekend. I finished my fourth Boston Marathon in April and I am always looking forward to a new challenge to test the body andthe mind.