Less than a month before its merger with the University of Sciences takes effect, St. Joseph’s University announced Tuesday that its president was taking another job.

In a surprising turn, Mark C. Reed, who has served as St. Joseph’s president since 2015 and has led the merger initiative, will become president of Loyola University Chicago, another Jesuit university, which is larger than St. Joseph’s and has both a medical and law school. He starts Oct. 1.

Reed will remain at St. Joseph’s through Aug. 15, the school said. St. Joseph’s Provost Cheryl McConnell then will step in as interim president as the university launches a search.

» READ MORE: St. Joe's merger with USciences is approved by Middle States Commission on Higher Education

“This opportunity at Loyola was unexpected,” Reed said in a message to the campus. “I have every confidence in the university’s unfolding plans and trajectory.”

In fact, it all came about in the last two weeks, said Jim Norris, chair of St. Joseph’s board of trustees. Loyola had asked Reed to be part of the search when it started, and he declined, said Norris, the retired managing director and head of international for Vanguard. Then, when Loyola was at the end of its search, Reed got a call “saying, ‘We’d like you to be our next president,’” Norris said.

“It’s very clear that this is not something Mark was looking for,” Norris said.

But in the end, Reed opted for the opportunity to lead one of the nation’s largest Jesuit universities with nearly 17,500 students — about twice the size of the merged St. Joseph’s and USciences. Norris said in his statement to the campus community that Reed’s new job is actually “recognition that the broader Jesuit university community has seen the transformation underway at Saint Joseph’s under his leadership.”

Reed, who was in Chicago for Loyola’s announcement Tuesday, was not available for comment.

Loyola, however, posted a livestream of the announcement with remarks from Reed on its website.

“While we are sad to leave St. Joseph’s, a place that we love, Kate and I, along with our two daughters, are absolutely thrilled to be joining you in the spectacular city of Chicago,” Reed told those gathered for the announcement at Loyola.

Valerie Weil, interim president of USciences, said she wished Reed well.

“We are supremely confident in the abilities of ... McConnell to lead the new, merged institution confidently, capably, and in a way that continues to advance the programs and educational experiences for all of our students,” Weil told The Inquirer in an email.

Paul Katz, former president of USciences who retired in July, also said he was impressed with McConnell.

“None of us are irreplaceable,” he said. “I think they’ll do just fine.”

» READ MORE: Two years in, St. Joe's president making the grade

St. Joseph’s merger with USciences, which has been approved by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, is scheduled to take effect June 1. Reed was to become president of the combined institution, which will retain the name of St. Joseph’s.

“I’m sorry to lose Mark,” said Ann Green, an English professor and faculty chair in the humanities. “He did a great job in seven years, and I was hoping we’d have him for a few more.”

A 1992 St. Joseph’s Prep graduate and Huntingdon Valley native, Reed was the first lay president in the university’s history as well as the youngest — he was 40 when he was hired. At the time, Reed, who was senior vice president for administration and chief of staff at Fairfield University in Connecticut, also a Jesuit institution, said he was happy to take the opportunity to come home.

Within two years of his leadership, the school got its largest gift in its history and returned to firmer financial footing. The university under Reed’s leadership also has launched a school of health studies and education and entered a relationship with the Barnes Foundation to oversee the neighboring property. The school’s endowment, now at more than $400 million, also has more than doubled under Reed, Norris said.

In February 2021, St. Joseph’s and USciences announced that they were looking at a potential merger to help them grow and thrive in an increasingly challenging higher-education market. Combined, the institutions will enroll more than 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, employ nearly 450 faculty, and have an endowment in excess of a half-billion dollars, an operating budget over $300 million, assets of $1.2 billion, and nearly 95,000 living alumni.

Under the merger, both campuses, which are less than five miles apart, will be retained. St. Joseph’s campus, which straddles the Philadelphia/Lower Merion border, will be known as the Hawk Hill campus, and USciences in West Philadelphia will become the University City campus.

The news of Reed’s departure took St. Joseph’s campus by surprise.

“This was a very well-kept secret,” said Michael McCann, chair of St. Joseph’s biology department.

He said he did not anticipate it would affect the progress on the merger.

“If it had been earlier, I would be worried,” he said, also noting his confidence in McConnell. “I think we are far enough along.”

Norris said while Reed was instrumental in the merger early on, McConnell and David R. Beaupré, vice president for finance and administration, have been the most involved.