By Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Members of the Xavier Nation gathered in force in Atlanta in March, mostly to cheer on the Musketeers. But when we weren’t at the basketball games, we had the chance to reflect a little bit down there as well. And on the eve of the Sweet 16 game against Texas, we had quite a lot to reflect on.
You may recall that it had been 14 years since Xavier was last in the Sweet 16 (when we faced Texas ironically). It was hard for us not to think about all the changes that we’ve seen around Xavier in these last years. We’ve renovated and renewed some of our oldest buildings—Hinkle, Schmidt and Alumni (Edgecliff) Halls.
We’ve torn up old city streets and laid down the gardens, sod and walkways of the academic and residential malls. We’ve built two new dorms and renovated three. The stately and sparkling Gallagher Center stands more or less where the University Center once stood. And then, of course, there is the Cintas Center—the home of Musketeer basketball and much, much else as well.
But it isn’t just the buildings and the campus that have changed. We’ve built an alumni association as well, now 50 chapters strong. We’ve renewed and reinvigorated our core curriculum with special emphasis on ethics—the signature academic experience that undergrids all our undergraduate programs here. And, assisted powerfully by the Cintas Center, we’ve built a reputation for leadership and engagement around the city and around the region.
But with all this building, there is a number of things—and important things—that haven’t changed. Our commitment to the care of the whole student, for example, the lynchpin of Jesuit education. That hasn’t changed. Nor has our desire to see to the formation—indeed, to the transformation—of our students intellectually, morally and spiritually. The sense of Xavier as a community, the tremendous commitment of our faculty, the opportunity for young people to stretch themselves through their Xavier years into the lives for and with others to which they are called. None of these things have changed. Nor, please God, will they. None of these things have changed, but standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them now, is a spirit as renewed and renovated as any of our buildings. And that is a Xavier pride, a Xavier optimism, that is the inward spark or spirit that all we have done here in the last 14 years shares in common.
Indeed, we had much to reflect on down there in Atlanta. But one thing more as well.
As the architect of all this continuity through change, this steadfastness in transformation, my predecessor as president, James E. Hoff, S.J., had recently been diagnosed with cancer. By Atlanta, the word was getting out and so Fr. Hoff’s time in Atlanta was a good time for many people to seek him out to say “Thank you,” “We’re with you,” and “You’re in our prayers.” In the last several weeks, Xavier University itself has sought to find adequate ways to say thanks to Fr. Hoff for all he has done since coming here as president in 1991.
We inducted him into the Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame in April as the grand finale of the men’s basketball banquet, and that seemed to be a good way to thank him for all that he had done in terms of all the athletic programs and accomplishing the great dream of the Cintas Center.
We bestowed on him the St. Francis Xavier Medal, the highest award that the University can give, at our recent Commencement to thank him for all he has done here for every member of the Xavier University community, and students in particular. Jim was able to say a few words of thanks back when he preached the Homily at the Baccalaureate Mass the night before Commencement—and this at the invitation of the graduating seniors who were the last group of freshmen that Fr. Hoff welcomed to campus as president. And all of us would trade all of these words for that one thing that we all really want, but that God alone can give.
And even though this letter looks back to a great deal of accomplishment, it looks forward with an uncertainty. But I thank you in closing for all that you do for Xavier and for your prayers for Fr. Hoff as well.