A Noster Modus Procedeni
Inauguration Address of Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.
Thirteenth President of Le Moyne College
April 24, 2009
Very Reverend Provincial Ciancimino; former Presidents of Le Moyne College, Fr. Haig and Dr. Smarrelli; Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities President, Fr. Currie; Rector Fr. Dolan and Jesuits here at Le Moyne College and from across the country; Reverend Monsignor Yeazel; Board of Trustees Chair Cotter, Vice Chair Benson, and other Trustees; Board of Regents Chair Spina and other Regents; Alumni Association Board President Boynton and members of the Alumni; members of the Clergy; Religious Sisters; Rabbi Sherman and Religious of other faiths; past and current Presidents of the University of Dayton, Brother Fitz and Dr. Curran; other College Chancellors, Presidents and Delegates; U.S. Representative Maffei; New York State Assemblymen Barclay and Stirpe; Mr. Doktori representing Governor Paterson; Onondaga County Executive Mahoney; Syracuse Mayor Driscoll and other elected officials; Dr. Deutscher and other mentors; friends and former colleagues; benefactors; distinguished invited guests; Le Moyne faculty, staff, administrators, and students; and dearest members of my family, thank you all for gathering here today to share in this inauguration. We are joined by thousands of others across the world who are with us in spirit and prayer as we give thanks and celebrate Le Moyne College.
I want to express my gratitude to Honorary Inauguration Co-chairs, Michael & Noreen Falcone; Inauguration Committee Co-Chairs, Joan Cincotta and Mike Holland; to the members of the Inauguration Committee, Lisa Peters first among them; and to the hundreds of people who invested so much time and energy in the events that have unfolded during this spectacular week. Because of your efforts our College has enjoyed a series of magnificent celebrations that touch on each aspect of our distinct mission. Thank you for the generous donations which have, among other things, supported this week’s events and provided Le Moyne with a beautiful new mace.
Among the most special groups here this afternoon are our students. You are the purpose for our founding, and for our continued existence. You young dolphins inspire us and give meaning to all that we do. We also have in our audience top scholars from our Upward Bound program, hailing from high schools all over Syracuse. The promise of the future—as expressed through the hope, courage, and intelligence of all of these fine young persons here with us—is indeed one of the greatest treasures of our nation.
A first-generation college student, I stand here before you today only because so many people, including so many of you, have believed in me, have supported me, and have invested heavily in my development. Those who have invested the most are the members of my family.
It is a joy to share this day with my mother, Florence, and her sister, my Aunt Linda. Also here representing my family are my brother, Joe; his spouse, Susan; and their children, Emily and Austin. Making a significant sacrifice by having to do work in advance, miss last class meetings, and seek to change schedules of their first final exams in order to support their father, my amazing children, Vitina and Freddie, both students at the University of Dayton and of whom I am enormously proud, have come to listen attentively to yet another of their dad’s addresses. They are accompanied by my spouse and partner, Dr. Frances Pestello. For nearly three decades Fran and I have shared both life and work as she, too, is a sociologist and an accomplished educator, scholar, author and administrator. Fran, Freddie, and Vitina, thank you for your love and support, for enhancing all that I am, and for enduring my passionate devotion to my vocation.
Many have written me expressing their regrets at not being able to be with us today. Among them are two who have played a central role for our College: Most Reverend Bishop Moynihan and our last permanent president, Fr. Beirne. I know how much we would have all loved to share this celebration with both of them, but each is recovering from recent surgery. Fr. Beirne continues to support and advance Le Moyne and has been an active participant in the OneLeMoyne process.
Our Proud Past
I am humbled to be inaugurated today as the 13th president of this fine Catholic Jesuit college and am honored to be taking on a leadership role in shaping the contours of our future success. We at Le Moyne College have so much for which we are both proud and grateful.
Our pride originates with our very namesake. Le Moyne College was named in honor of Jesuit Missionary to the Iroquois Confederacy, Simon Le Moyne, a French priest who first visited this region in 1653. He soon acquired renown as a gifted diplomat whose presence was requested among the Hurons, Mohawks, and Onondagas. Fr. Le Moyne was the first to observe the value of the salt water in the wells and springs of Onondaga that later brought settlers to this area, which came to be known as Salt Point.
Nearly 300 hundred years after Fr. Le Moyne left this part of the country for the last time, the Jesuits embarked upon another historic project in the region. In 1937 Syracuse consecrated its fifth Bishop, Rev. Walter A. Foery. One of Bishop Foery’s most compelling priorities was to establish a Catholic college in Syracuse. Simultaneously, the Maryland-New York Province of the Society of Jesus was hoping to add an eighth college within the Province. In June of 1941 Bishop Foery formally invited the Society of Jesus to found its 27th American college here in Syracuse. The Jesuits accepted but the Second World War intervened, delaying the project for several years.
At this institution, the first Jesuit college to be founded as co-educational, classes began in the fall of 1946. In the summer of 1948, the school was consolidated and moved here—to this land where we are gathered this afternoon. And in 1951 Le Moyne graduated its first class of 259 students, some of whom are here with us today. Many of our early students were war veterans, a population which we are even now preparing to welcome back to our classrooms. From our founding in a simple downtown storefront we are now sprawled over the beautiful bluff we refer to as “The Heights.” And to this day our presence is quite unique in this region as the only Catholic college in Central New York.
When we consider our history, we find several enduring themes that are still a part of our identity. Fr. Le Moyne’s trusted role as a diplomat in some ways foreshadowed the remarkable levels of trust, pride, and loyalty which Le Moyne College inspires in this region. His contribution to the salt industry is echoed in the many sustained linkages which exist between Le Moyne College and the Syracuse economy. These linkages include everything from internships and voluntarism to highly sought-after graduate programs. Another theme we still find today is that of the foundational passion and personal commitment of Bishop Foery, who believed so fervently in the mission of Le Moyne College. This sense of personal commitment is still very strong on our campus.
Indeed, there is much to celebrate. While we are forever indebted to those who founded the College, we also treasure those who have dedicated their lives to serving Le Moyne and we deeply appreciate all who continue to support and participate in our work. We are inspired by the tens of thousands who have been educated here and gone on to do so much good—right here in Syracuse and in so many places around the world. We are pleased to be a part of this beautiful region. And we are perhaps most profoundly grateful for our foundational connection to those men whose remarkable spirit fosters such dedication, generosity, and excellence: our Sponsoring Order, the Society of Jesus.
Empower and Prepare
Celebratory moments such as this often lead to reflection not only on a specific organization but also on the endeavor to which it is committed. If we turn our attention in this direction, the question that begs to be asked is: What should we in higher education seek to accomplish? That is an important question that bears repeating. What should we in higher education seek to accomplish? Clearly we in higher education do many things that directly contribute to the advancement of civilization but I believe that, at its best, higher education is a process that prepares and empowers. It readies each student to live a life that is meaningful and purposeful, one that is deeply satisfying, that makes a difference, one where a person does important things and does them well.
Let us consider a few of the elements that are central to a life that is well-lived. Such a life would be blessed by a range of loving, healthy, intimate relationships. It would include being a positive force and a contributing member to the communities in which one lives, works, and plays, as well as leaving the world a better place in a multitude of ways. A meaningful life entails finding one’s vocation—not simply a job—but knowing where one’s passions and talents lie and vigorously applying one’s gifts to find satisfaction and joy as well as to earn a living. It is marked by lifelong learning, grappling with the big questions, pursuing truth and artistic beauty, deepening one’s faith and understanding of the divine, taking seriously the fact that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and acting accordingly. And it also means being prepared for dealing well with the adversity that life inevitably holds.
Soldiers of Christ
The Jesuits serve as models for us all in living meaningful lives. The intellectual, literary, scientific, spiritual, and political contributions made by this transnational brotherhood are rich, broad, and impressive. Jesuits have served as leaders in virtually every field of knowledge and across a range of noble professions.
Although it quickly became the first teaching order of the Catholic Church, St. Ignatius envisioned the Jesuits as an apostolic order. As such, he felt that the Society was ill-suited to a set of prescriptive rules. Instead, Ignatius believed that the Jesuits should be guided by “a noster modus procedendi”—a way of proceeding. This is what most distinguishes this erudite Order—their way of proceeding.
As applied to education, the Jesuit way is grounded in cura personalis—a genuine care and concern for one another. It strives to prepare men and women for and with others. The result is potent. As I noted in my first address as President (OneLeMoyne, September 24, 2008):
The International Commission of the Apostolate of Jesuit Education (ICAJE) in the document The Characteristics of Jesuit Education, [notes that at Jesuit schools] . . . . teachers and administrators “are involved in the lives of the students—taking a personal interest in the intellectual, affective, moral and spiritual development of every student, helping each develop a sense of self-worth, and to become a responsible individual within the community.” (Paragraph 43) And, touching on what many regard as the hallmark of our approach, “In Jesuit education, the criterion of excellence is applied to all areas of school life.” (Paragraph 107)
Jesuit education strives to fulfill the promise of higher education: preparing each student to live a meaningful life through an emphasis on excellence, rigor, leadership, and service. This is why Jesuit education is uniformly held in the highest esteem. And, in this revered tradition, this intense preparation is precisely what we here at Le Moyne College do better than anything else. We prepare our students to craft a life of meaning and purpose. It is the heart of “the Le Moyne Way,” our particular expression of the Jesuit way of proceeding.
The Le Moyne Way
Our entire community grasps the importance of our work in fostering a life of meaning for each student. Staff speak frequently and passionately of their own intentional efforts to serve as role models and guides to students. Faculty approach this mission from within the context of their respective disciplines, constantly seeking new and creative ways to engage students and to assist each student in realizing his or her true self.
This is a place where character and integrity matter deeply, where ethics and values are taken seriously, where each individual is important and where all are encouraged to be fully, authentically themselves. Here a person’s relationship with God is explicitly explored. And, in the finest Jesuit tradition, we fundamentally commit ourselves to sustained intellectual inquiry and reflection. Le Moyne is a place where we challenge ourselves and our students to excellence, and we seek to define that excellence within our wider mission and purpose.
On our campus, every student is invited to join in a lifelong quest, a quest shaped through relationships with other students as well as with our faculty and staff, and undertaken in partnership with our broad base of incredibly loyal alumni. We strive to prepare each student, intellectually and spiritually, to ask the grand questions in life, and to think about the implications of those questions in their own life and in their community. We introduce them to the complexities of Catholic social thought, as well as to the important contributions of other major faith traditions. Along the way, our students also gain crucial skills for the workplace, a lifelong commitment to learning and service, and a broad understanding of human knowledge.
We encourage our students to seek a deeper understanding of life’s truths well beyond the classroom, through expressions of faith, through performance and fine arts, athletic contests, community service, research, and a host of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. No matter the context, people here are actively and self-consciously reflecting upon how the Catholic, Jesuit mission of this College resonates in their own work.
At Le Moyne, words and phrases like ”service,” ”justice,” and ”a preferential option for the poor” are commitments to a way of life, a way of knowing, and a way of being in the world. These words do not constitute empty promises, nor are they a mantra for feeling “good.” We draw upon the vast array of human knowledge, art, music, and other expressions in order to help each student discern his or her own gifts. We seek always to learn from one another, and to teach and model the finest aspects of humanity to all seekers after truth and knowledge. In doing so, we work actively to transform the world into a more just place.
The results of this Le Moyne approach to education, the Le Moyne Way, are truly impressive. The intelligence, integrity, work ethic, authenticity and character of Le Moyne College graduates are our hallmark.
Today and Tomorrow
At the beginning of the academic year, as we embarked upon our collective future, I issued a clarion call for campus-wide dialogue resulting in appropriate institutional action. Together, we have dedicated ourselves to the opportunity we refer to as “OneLeMoyne.” In this process we unite in various groups to listen and speak in the manner of cura personalis—respecting and appreciating each person’s gifts and insights. We have gathered frequently to address the question that pulsates at our core: “At Le Moyne College, what must we become?” I am inspired by both the quality of the process and your response to this critical question. It was in the course of listening to the answers which were posed that I have gained important insights into how Le Moyne has proceeded in the past, and developed a vision for how we will proceed in the future. Together, we are in the midst of determining the direction of our beloved college.
As the vision-creation phase of the OneLeMoyne project begins to draw to a close, one thing is certain: Le Moyne is on a path to achieve national recognition as a premier Jesuit College. With our focus on academic excellence in the Jesuit way we have recently received impressive professional accreditations; we are attracting and hiring first-choice faculty, administrators, and staff; we are implementing innovative programs that appeal to students and that prepare them for professional success; our students are receiving impressive postgraduate placements and scholarships; interest in Le Moyne among prospective students has, in this challenging year, jumped to an all time high; and, generous people of means, the McDevitts first among them, are choosing to invest mightily in the dream at the heart of the Le Moyne Way. I am confident that others will look back on this extraordinary year and see that it was only the beginning.
Moving forward, our vision for Le Moyne College will build upon a set of central imperatives that we will be more fully developing over the course of the summer. These imperatives have emerged from the OneLeMoyne process. As we continue to study global and national developments and trends, we will act in both large and small ways to move our College to higher levels of national recognition for academic excellence and student engagement. We will simultaneously act to enhance student life, increase diversity, foster practices of environmental sustainability, and build upon our strong tradition of service and civic engagement.
Perhaps most centrally, our Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity will be expressed more energetically and fully on this campus. We are already accomplishing a great deal, as is evidenced by this very ceremony today, in the area of lay collaboration with the Society of Jesus. As encouraged in Decree Six of the recent General Congregation, we will see even more lay-Jesuit collaboration in the days ahead. And I eagerly anticipate many productive years of partnership with Bishop Robert Cunningham, whose appointment to the Syracuse Diocese was just announced this past Tuesday.
As we achieve greater excellence, because Le Moyne faculty, staff, and administrators work unassumingly but with great diligence, achieving so much, yet often unrecognized, I will seek to ensure that our culture is one that values its own gifts—so many and so diverse—more fully and broadly.
In closing, let me state boldly and emphatically: the world needs Le Moyne College and our graduates now more than ever before. This need is grounded in the challenges of these immediate times and in the larger context of the 21st century. In our very presence in the Central New York region, we are solid, trusted, and enduring. We share in many partnerships, give freely of our analytical gifts and skills, raise penetrating questions, build connections, generate exciting ideas, and produce well-educated men and women of exceptional character. We face the future with hope. We remain courageous and true to our convictions. We believe that a meaningful life, crafted in dialogue with God and with others in community, is a worthy and important goal—the unifying thread that supports our way of proceeding.
I ask that all present here this afternoon join me in pledging to work diligently to ensure that at Le Moyne College, our way of proceeding, today and tomorrow, is one where spirit, inquiry, and leadership powerfully converge to model excellence, deepen faith, spur the intellect, build character and form confident citizens leading meaningful lives committed to transformative justice. I can think of nothing more worthy of the efforts of all who belong to this magnificent academic body.
May God bless you.