Inaugural Address of Michael J. Graham, S.J
President of Xavier University
September 8, 2001
I have come to believe that there have been a small handful of important moments in Xavier's past, moments or eras when the institution has defined and redefined itself.
The first, of course, was the era of our founding. As you may know, the Athenaeum of Ohio was founded by Bishop Edward Fenwick in 1831. But his successor, Bishop John Purcell, invited the Society of Jesus to assume the responsibility for the college less than a decade later, and so they did in 1840, promptly changing its name. Xavier began as the first Catholic institution of higher learning in Ohio and in the Northwest Territory with high hopes and a two and a half story multi-purpose building next door to the Cathedral and to the bishop's residence. Even then, the Jesuit founders of the school noted the need for a practical adaptation in their famous classical curriculum and so instituted what they referred to as the Mercantile Program, where the students enrolled paid $24 in tuition per year. Clearly, that was another era.
The second era, in the early part of the last century, clearly represented a re-founding. Ninety years ago this September, on September 19, 1911, St. Xavier College purchased almost 27 acres from the Avondale Athletic Club for the princely sum of $85,000 and built a new suburban campus. A diamond jubilee campaign, launched in 1915 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Jesuit takeover of the college, was Xavier's first capital campaign. Its goal was $75,000. That, too, was another era. By 1930, Alumni Science Hall (now Edgecliff Hall), Hinkle Hall, Elet, Schmidt and Albers Halls and the Schmidt Fieldhouse and athletic fields had been completed. This is the venerable heart of our current campus.
In one way, what is most striking about this cluster of buildings is Elet Hall, built as a dormitory. Something new was being ambitioned here at St. Xavier College: boarding students who had come from beyond the immediate Cincinnati area. Perhaps it marked as well a hope that Xavier's impact would likewise reach out in progressively wider circles. Certainly it was the hope of President Hubert Brockman, whose name is now stamped on the freshman dorm. Fr. Brockman remarked in 1929, "it is my ambition to make this Catholic college an outstanding one in the city and state. I have no doubt either that it is on the way to being known throughout the country. Already the Associated Press carries many items about the college throughout the country. They are beginning to want news about Xavier." In the following year, Fr. Brockman's exuberant boosterism expressed itself yet again as he signified his belief in Xavier's grand destiny by changing its name from St. Xavier College to Xavier University.
The third important historical era in our past was, unsurprisingly, the period following the second world war and extending through the presidency of Fr. Paul O'Connor, from 1955-1972. The extraordinary building boom that occurred in that era saw much of the rest of our current campus built, from the three residence halls (Brockman, Husman and Kuhlman), to the University Center (now gone to make way for the Gallagher Center), to Bellarmine Chapel, Alter Hall and the McDonald Memorial Library. But far more than mere buildings marked the many changes in that era. Xavier established a graduate division in 1946, and, a decade later, established a new division of business administration that in turn became a college in 1961. Enrollment grew from 525 full-time students and 1,100 students in the evening school in 1945 to a total of 6,143 students in 1972, 60% of whom were part-time graduate or evening students. By September 1969, the day school had become fully co-educational. Finally, for the first time in its history, laymen were added to Xavier's Board of Trustees in 1972.
You and I, however, find ourselves now midway through what I would call the fourth important era in Xavier's history.
I presume you know its narrative well. Since 1990, we have added the Lindner Family Physics Building, closed a portion of Ledgewood Avenue and created the academic and residential malls, restored Hinkle, Schmidt and Edgecliff Halls and Bellarmine Chapel as well, built two new residence halls and a student recreation park, and acquired the venerable art deco F&W Publications building across Dana Avenue. Currently, the Gallagher Student Center is rising on the site of our old University Center and we look forward to being in it before the end of this academic year and look forward even more to the enormous impact it will have on our University climate and culture. And . . . . And . . . . There was something else as well. I'm forgetting what it was. Oh yeah, that's right: there's the Cintas Center as well now, isn't there?
But all of these outward changes are, as we used to say in the Catechism, merely the outward signs of indwelling grace. This building renaissance has been matched, and more than matched, by a renaissance of culture and commitment. Whether it is our renewed core curriculum; the ethical center of gravity provided within that curriculum by the Ethics/Religion & Society initiative; the Xavier University Service Fellowship Program, the several academic service learning semesters we have launched in Nicaragua, Over-the-Rhine and Nepal; or the virtual explosion of campus retreat and worship opportunities through freshman getaways to approach and encounter retreats and the 10 p.m. Sunday night student Mass that always helps me begin my week properly - Xavier's campus has become more vibrant academically and more committed to service from a perspective of faith than perhaps at any time in its past. In these ways, and in others as well, we give particular promise of living up to the initial Jesuit vision for the school of John Elet and others, translated now across the years, and in an era when we have nearly as few Jesuits on campus as we did to begin with in 1840. But I said that we are only midway through an era. We have not yet, by any stretch, concluded it. Obvious building projects remain, whether renovations like those needed by Alter Hall and the Sports Center or new buildings entirely like a classroom building, or some that will probably be a little bit of both, like a renovated and renewed library. And then there is the matter of our endowment. A little more than a decade ago, at a similar gathering, Fr. Jim Hoff took all our breath away when he announced his ambition to build the endowment to $100 million. Though we have not yet achieved that goal, we are in striking distance of it. Yet, our operating budget is likewise nearing $100 million, and those who know about these things say that a healthy endowment should be double your budget. I'll leave it to you to do the math, to set the goal and then to draw your breath_
But beyond these important physical and fiscal projects - or, better, within them, inside them, and in-spiriting them and giving them life - what will we do? What will we become? What goals will we choose? What do we want to be? I have said often and I say it again here, these past years under the leadership of Fr. Hoff have brought us to the place where we can dream dreams, hope hopes, see visions, anticipate mountain tops that we could not possible have attempted or challenged ourselves to a short decade ago. But which dreams? What goals? Whose hopes? And where are the peaks we shall scale next?
The answer to those questions, I believe - indeed, I am convinced - will be found in a re-dedication to our mission. That mission has been variously expressed over the years. One example that I have always enjoyed comes to us from the student newspaper in 1918: "for over three quarters of a century, St. Xavier College has been taking the rough diamonds that came to her hands, polishing them and sending them out to their proper places in the world. She has looked to practically every phase of the mental, moral and even social life of her â??boys' and has done her utmost to make the time they spend with her as full and complete as it can and should be." More succinctly, President Paul O'Connor once put it this way, that "a Jesuit education is not satisfied with a merely learned man. It proposes to train a man in virtue and character." Both of these are good examples of how that most famous of contemporary Jesuit educational mottos, "men and women for others," has been variously expressed. But there are others. Fr. Jim Hoff focused our minds, focused our hearts and focused our energies when he asked us to imagine with him students who would say at graduation that they received a superb education at Xavier and couldn't have received a better one anywhere because they knew that they were intellectually, morally and spiritually prepared to take their place in a rapidly changing global society with a desire to work for the betterment of that society. Adopting and adapting parts and pieces of that mission, I now spin it this way: that Xavier's mission is to form students intellectually, morally, and spiritually, with rigor and compassion, towards lives of solidarity and service - men and women for others by any other words.
But what, indeed, is a mission? And what does it mean to have one? It seems to me to say that something, anything at all, possesses a mission - whether it is a person or a club or an organization or a nation or a university - is to assert that it is not in and of itself complete, but that it is oriented outside of itself, pointed beyond itself and that it can only be fulfilled by achieving something that has been given to it to do, given as it were, from above itself and beyond itself. To have a mission is to be consumed by something that might be but is not yet, to create something, to build something, to cause something new and important to happen. It is to go through life - not idly, not drifting from place to place and project to project - but with a purpose and in a direction, from something, toward something else. And to go with a sense of urgency as well because what you do is significant, because, without you, it might just not get done. To have a mission is to find your own purpose within the broad purpose of your mission, and to gain at least a part of your own identity in the grand identity of that for which you bend your will, bend your dreams, bend your heart and the best efforts of which you are capable.
As a Jesuit, Catholic University, Xavier University's mission comes from beyond itself, comes from the long tradition of the noun "University" as that noun has been modified over the years by the adjective "Jesuit," as that adjective itself has developed within the Church since the time of Ignatius Loyola. Much might be said on the nature of the mission of a Jesuit Catholic university. The apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, for example, reminds us that four "essential characteristics" should mark all Catholic universities: a Christian inspiration of the entire university community, and not just individuals; on-going reflection on the steadily increasing store of human wisdom in the light of the Church's own wisdom, grounded in faith; "fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;" and, a commitment by the institution as such to serve the people of God. I take these marks as givens but not at all for granted. Recent Jesuit documents and declarations elaborate these characteristics and expand upon them. And so, we would insist that the mission of a Jesuit university as Jesuit also entail a dedication to human dignity as viewed from the perspective of faith, emphasize a creative companionship with lay colleagues, demand a focused care for students, proceed with thoughtful engagement of the gifts and insights of women, and include always a reverential, respectful dialogue with other faith traditions and with the surrounding culture as well. Yet, whatever else we might say the mission of a Jesuit, Catholic university, two over-arching goals seem to me to be primary.
First and foremost - and in part because of the lofty reputation earned by generations of Jesuits as the school masters of Europe and elsewhere - a Jesuit university must have a profound reverence for and a dedication to the life of the mind. A university that does not aggressively cultivate, support, nurture and reward intellectual pursuit and academic excellence is not worthy of the term Jesuit. This is not to exclude other dimensions of the human person - the moral, the ethical, the social, the physical, the spiritual - because our students come to us whole and entire, and whole and entire is what you and I hope to be as well. The long Jesuit tradition of "cura personalis" - the care of the person - demands such a holistic approach. And yet, at a Jesuit university - not a Jesuit parish or a Jesuit retreat house or a Jesuit high school but at a Jesuit university - intellectual excellence must enjoy a particular pride of place as the first among equals. And the virtues that contribute to intellectual excellence - rigor, honesty, discipline, freedom of inquiry, courage to follow an idea and its consequences wherever they may lead, and a humble submission of one's opinions and ideas to the give and take of rational discourse - these virtues must be especially praised and cultivated. All other activities of the university - all of them - must lead to and flow from this pivotal valuing of the intellectual enterprise as such.
But the second over-arching goal of any Jesuit university exists alongside the first, informing it and shaping it, just as that first goal shapes and informs this second one - and this over-arching goal is the necessity to be committed to a justice that springs from a perspective of faith. As Jesuit superior general, the Reverend Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, remarked at Santa Clara University a little less than a year ago, "for 450 years Jesuit education has sought to educate â??the whole person' intellectually and professionally, psychologically, morally and spiritually. But in the emerging global reality, with its great possibilities and deep contradictions, the whole person is different from the whole person of the Counter Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, or the twentieth century. Tomorrow's â??whole person' cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world. Tomorrow's whole person must have, in brief, a well-educated solidarity." Solidarity is a rich word within the Roman Catholic social tradition, a word coined in the Church's effort to discover a middle path between the radical collectivism of Marxism and radical individualism of liberal capitalism. It denotes a habit of being, if you will, a way that people are and stand with one another as they take on each other's cares and concerns as if they were their own. People who stand in solidarity with one another act upon their vocations as sons and daughters of the one God and share the circumstances of their lives; they take the advantages that they have been given and place them at the service of others who have not been similarly blessed. Because they come to justice through the community of faith, they come prepared for the long-haul struggle that is inevitable in shaping a world that is both more human and more divine.
Kolvenbach's call to a well-educated solidarity is, as the Jesuit Howard Gray notes, "a complex invitation. Solidarity with the human race means a practical awareness that only by working together can the human family meet effectively the challenge of world-wide hunger, ignorance, disease and violence. But solidarity also means involvement of one's heart and a compassion for those near at hand who have been short changed in our society. Solidarity also means a commitment to change the economic, political, and social structures that enslave, dehumanize, and destroy human life and dignity. As with the academic excellence that springs from intellectual rigor, so too with the drive for justice and solidarity that faith demands: all other activities of the university - all of them - must lead to and flow from this central commitment of the heart and soul to faith's justice.
Men and women for others, indeed. But disciplined, thoughtful, critical and careful men and women for others; men and women who are as well-versed, as well-schooled, and as well-trained as they are for others. Men and women who bring, not just a passion for the good though passion is needed, but real resources to bear on the political, social, moral, ethical and very real problems all around them: a sense of history, the freedom of philosophy, the majesty of mathematics, the superstructure of science, the tools of business; the hands of a nurse, the head of a scholar, the heart of a teacher, the tongue of a linguist, the eye of an accountant, the ear of a counselor, the imagination of a poet. And the soul of a saint, as impatient for the better, the higher, the truer, the more lasting and the more noble as the immortal will always be - must always be - impatient with the mortal.
This impatience for what might be in the face of what is already - the Jesuit magis, or more - returns us very near to the place where we began. For it will be by a deeper commitment to our highest ideals, by a more profound appreciation for and appropriation of the interplay between intellectual excellence and faith doing justice that we will realize at Xavier University the promise of the present moment that we find ourselves now midway through. By renewing Xavier University in light of the mission that always hovers ahead of us, just beyond our reach, we will take our place among the generations of those who have built before us that which has now come into our care that we might pass on to those who will come after us something well worth receiving and celebrating.
If for no other reason than we cannot do everything, it will be especially important for us to discover the places where our passion for intellectual excellence and our passion for a world just at last in the eyes of God intersect. To be sure, each passion suggests its own priorities and activities, but we will best deliver on the promise of this good University that you and I can make great when we discover the ways in which these twin goals converge. What are the needs of our community, our neighbors, our city, our nation, our world - and how can we let these needs be our teachers and what will we learn from them?
In your imagination, drive a great stake into the X that marks the spot between Hinkle Hall and the McDonald Library, and tie a great rope a mile and a half long to that stake and then draw a circle with it. We are at the center, the exact center of that circle, you and I. We know our own faces well, our own thoughts, our own hopes, our own dreams, our own work. Why not just teach our classes, study our books, write our papers, pray our prayers and think our thoughts? For no other reason than we are not alone in that circle. Who else is here with us, and what are they like? What are their hopes, their questions, their aspirations and their desires? Who is hungry within that circle? Whose dreams have gone up in smoke? Who would like to see a better life, but suspects that none will ever come? Who is so young that they don't know the odds stacked up against them? Who is locked behind a door, afraid? Who will die too soon? Who is doing what she can, patiently, and quietly day by day, unsung and unseen? To make her world and her people a little happier or a bit more free? What can they bring us and what might we bring them? What is the great conversation that might occur between us if we found ourselves around a common table, got past our initial awkwardness and silence, leveled with one another the way friends do, decided that it wouldn't be our last talk but only part of a conversation to which we would stay committed? How would we look differently at who we are and what we do as a result? What might we study then, teach then, learn then, research, report, and write about then?
As I begin to conclude this long talk tonight, let me come at it from a somewhat different way. I have been speaking about the mission of the university, as it were, from above - the view from 20,000 feet, so to speak. But there is also a way that we can apprehend and approach the university and its mission from the ground up, the mission that somehow rises up from all of us who make up Xavier. My career here at Xavier has not been as long as the careers at Xavier of many who are in this room, but it has been long enough. And rich and varied as well. I have taught in the faculty, directed the University Scholars Program, participated in scholarship competition weekends with Admissions representatives, begged favors of the Physical Plant staff, worked with housing officers, lived on University residence hall corridors like a Student Development professional, raised money with the Development staff, planned marketing strategy, special events and alumni receptions with Bob Hill, Mary Lynn Junker and Joe Ventura and their staffs in marketing, special events and alumni affairs. I have planted perennials and pulled weeds with Walter Bonvell and his great group of grounds keepers. I have come to know this place well, and its people especially well. My admiration for who you are and what you do is bottomless. You are as extraordinary, as talented and as hard-working, as committed, competent and caring a group of people as a president could wish for.
A moment ago, from a number of persons and in a variety of ways, you called me to service. Allow me now to return the favor. Because, for better or for worse, for who knows why and for who knows how long, Xavier University will be the lens through which you yourself can work to change the world. And for you who do not live here or work here but who are our alumni, our trustees, our family, our friends; I remind you of the words of Daniel Webster in the celebrated Dartmouth College case: "Dartmouth is but a small college, but there are those who love her." Not as small as Dartmouth was is Xavier now, but I make bold to say that she is no less loved. And by you. Your call to service is the same, for your vocation from God is the same. Share with all of us the efforts you have to offer that all our efforts might magnify each other and lead us somewhere together that none could go alone.
A university is a noble place, my friends, nobler by far than any one of us who lives and works here, and we are a noble lot indeed. And a university is a strong place, able to reach father, dig deeper, and lift higher than any one of us here by ourselves might dare to reach or dig or raise. And a university is a long-lasting place; perhaps because its stock in trade itself is dipped in the stuff of eternity, its life will far outlast your life or mine. But this university is just not a university; it is our University now, our Xavier now, and our moment now, yours and mine. We will not be here forever, but we are here now. Intellectually, morally and spiritually; rigor and compassion, solidarity and service; learning, virtue and character: these would be mere words and Xavier's mission would be merely more words if they did not rise up somehow from our own common character. Let us rise up then, you and I - rise up as the hopes within our hearts rise up, rise up the ways these visionary words rise up within our souls, rise up and out of this broken but blessed world of ours like the prayers our hearts send ever up to heaven. Let us rise up now, you and I, and make of this special place something far more special still.