Fit to Lead
Valley Forge Military Academy and College gains a bold new leader in U.S. Marine Corps Col. John C. Church Jr.
by Phil Gianficaro

As a plebe at the U.S. Naval Academy, he was drowning, academically speaking—that is, until a caring arm plucked him from the brink.

“I wasn’t setting the world on fire in the classroom,” recalls U.S. Marine Corps Col. John C. Church Jr. “I struggled mightily. Then one day, one of my classmates came into my room. He eventually became a Navy SEAL and an emergency room physician. He opened my chemistry book and said, ‘Make sure you know this, this and this.’ I asked how he knew this. He said, ‘I just know.’”

What most impressed Col. Church about that moment, and the lesson he holds in his heart like a nugget of gold, is not his classmate’s degree of intelligence but the degree of his classmate’s willingness to help.

Col. Church will foster this philosophy of selflessness, of helping improve the lives of others, among countless other qualities derived over a long and meritorious career in the military and academia, when he becomes president of Valley Forge Military Academy & College (VFMAC) on July 1. When he succeeds former president Stacey R. Sauchuk, Ph.D., Col. Church will inherit the reins to an international leadership institution established in 1928, that has grown to include an all-male boarding and day middle school (grades seven and eight) and high school (grades nine through 12), as well as a private, co-educational, accredited two-year college.

Currently an assistant professor in English and communication at Immaculata University in Malvern, Col. Church is no stranger to VFMAC; he previously served the institution as a professor of leadership and, later, dean of the college. Such experience makes him uniquely qualified to lead VFMAC into the future.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity for three reasons,” Col. Church says. “First of all, I still maintain friends from my tenure there before; I’m grateful for those friendships and happy to work with them again. Second, I truly love working with cadets. … And third, I’m excited about leading Valley Forge to the next level.”

From among the many qualified candidates, Col. Church was chosen for a rather simple reason, according to William R. Floyd Jr., the outgoing chairman of the board of trustees at VFMAC.

“He was the best,” says Floyd, a VFMAC alumnus and 20-year member of the board of trustees. “He exudes energy, leadership and charisma. Another key attribute of his is humility; I saw that when he was at Valley Forge before. People could sense that he’s able to connect with students, parents and staff. We needed to have a leader who recognizes there are a lot of benefits to the military, but that we’re also running an educational institution. Col. Church understands both.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d rank him a 15.”

In Col. Church, VFMAC will benefit from his wealth of accomplishments and experiences in the military and academic theaters. As a combat engineer officer, he commanded Company C, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Lynchburg, Va., from where he led a deployment to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. With the 4th Civil Affairs Group, he served in Kosovo, completed two tours of duty in Iraq, served in Afghanistan, and taught civil affairs to soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

Col. Church’s personal decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, with two gold stars, and the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.

Col. Church has also taught at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the U.S. Naval War College, George Mason University, Temple University, Holy Family University and Rosemont College. A doctoral student in mass media and communication at Temple, Col. Church has earned a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the War College, a master’s degree in communication journalism and public affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor of Science degree in political science from the U.S. Naval Academy.

He looks to build upon VFMAC’s long tradition of fostering personal growth through a comprehensive system built on the five cornerstones that make it unique: academic excellence, character development, personal motivation, physical development and leadership.

While Col. Church is returning to VFMAC, he does so not as a classroom instructor but as an administrator. How does he plan to connect with the students of both the academy and college on a personal level?

“Good question,” he says. “As president, I have a different view, as an administrator, and I’m responsible to the institution at large. So, I will seek out the students. I might say to a couple of cadets, ‘Let’s go for a run so you can tell me how things are going.’ Or I might drop in the weight room or the library and talk to students. I do know I will connect with them. You have to connect with them.”

Perhaps the best example of the type of man VFMAC is getting in Col. Church can be imparted in the following story: When Col. Church’s wife, Mary Kay, a retired Marine Corps major, was expecting their second child, he was deployed to Iraq. He was certain they would be having a daughter. Mary Kay emailed her husband to say she was going into labor 10 days earlier than her due date. Two days before her email, Col. Church learned that several friends with whom he served were killed in battle overseas.

“I got back to Mary Kay and asked her that if we had a son instead of a daughter, if we could name him Travis Joseph,” Col. Church recalls—Travis, in honor of Army Capt. Travis Patriquin, who was killed by an improvised explosive device, and Joseph, in honor of Marine Corps Maj. Joseph McCloud, who died in a helicopter crash.

It seems Floyd was correct in his assessment of Col. Church: on a scale of one to 10, he is a “15,” indeed.

Valley Forge Military Academy & College
1001 Eagle Road
Wayne, PA 19087

Photography by Jody Robinson