Portrait of a Presidency

"Through the years, together we have worked hard to pursue our mission and to become the best we can possibly be.”
—Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J.
31st President of the College of the Holy Cross
October 2011

For the 11,000 young men and women who have been Holy Cross students over the course of Fr. McFarland’s presidency—from the academic year that began in 2000 through the end of the 2011 fall semester—he has been “their” president.

Most are now among the 30,000-plus members of the Holy Cross alumni family—a group whose bond with their College has been shaped and strengthened by critical strategic decisions made during an eventful 12 years.

And for the 1,000 Holy Cross faculty and staff, a number of whom have worked alongside him during his entire tenure, the years with him have been marked by significant changes to the campus landscape, new perspectives and lasting memories.

As you may glimpse in his official portrait, previewed for the first time on the cover of this issue, our College has been blessed with a visionary and highly intelligent leader, a humble man, an inspiring and caring educator, a scholar and nationally recognized expert in ethics in the information age. Our 31st president is a priest who has presided at weddings and funerals, whose homilies are quoted and remembered. He is a Jesuit who sees God in all things, who has a scholarly and critical outlook, and a drive for the more, the magis. Look again more closely at the portrait, and you may also glimpse that the serious demeanor belies a fine sense of humor, expressed in his rich, resounding laugh … his cheers (and, occasionally, jeers of frustration at a referee’s call) from the stands of Fitton Field and the Hart Center … and his pure joy upon hearing about someone else’s success and good fortune.

In the past 12 years, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., has worked—as he always emphasizes—together with a committed Board of Trustees, talented colleagues among faculty and staff, devoted alumni and friends and extraordinary students to help build a foundation that has both honored Holy Cross’ history and mission and set the stage for our future.

As he departs Mount St. James, the community he so loves has joined together to bid him Godspeed in numerous and varied ways, while reflecting on how Holy Cross has grown, changed and prospered during his tenure. From the naming of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture in his honor (see Page 6), to tributes by students at the halftime of a December basketball game to his last Midnight Breakfast in Kimball, to impromptu and more formal farewell gatherings—the well-wishes and memories have flowed.

Throughout, and, as Fr. McFarland himself notes on the eve of leaving campus to his successor (see Page 27), it is the people he has met in the greater Holy Cross community that deserve praise and gratitude for 12 years of accomplishments.

The respect and gratitude have been mutual.

Talking about his presence on campus and attendance at a multitude of events, games, student presentations, Paul Maloney ’12 observes: “He really wants to be part of the community rather than overseeing the community. And when that mentality comes from your leadership, it just transcends all aspects of campus.”
Senior Vice President Frank Vellaccio, who, along with Jacqueline Peterson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, has been part of Fr. McFarland’s leadership team since he arrived in the summer of 2000, views his impact on campus from an even longer lens.

“The effectiveness of Fr. McFarland’s leadership is best reflected in areas where there is a complex relationship between understanding the numbers and strengthening the mission,” says Vellaccio. “That’s particularly true in terms of the Integrated Science Complex and financial aid for our students. The decisions in these two areas during his presidency required his sharp grasp of balance sheets and long-range planning assumptions combined with his keen understanding of what is required to teach undergraduates science and to keep Holy Cross accessible and affordable.”

Peterson, who arrived on campus in 1997, says that his leadership style is also distinguished by an ability to listen and connect with students.
“I vividly recall my very first meeting with Fr. McFarland when he arrived at Holy Cross as president.  He wanted to know what I had identified as the needs for improvement from listening to students,” Peterson says. “The operative word was listening. When I think about his leadership style, it is the invaluable quality of truly listening and being present with others.”

Vice President of Administration and Finance Michael J. Lochhead, who received his MBA from Boston College and worked at another Jesuit institution, the University of San Francisco, before joining the Holy Cross staff in 2004, agrees that Fr. McFarland’s continual focus on mission was not only distinctive, but directive.
“During his tenure, the importance of ‘mission’ permeated the institution so much that when NEASC was conducting its accreditation review in 2010, the team commented that they had not come across any other college where the mission is so apparent across all aspects of the institution,” says Lochhead. “They saw this as a core strength of Holy Cross. I believe Fr. McFarland was the key factor in making that happen.”
Vellaccio, who has a combined 37 years of teaching and administrative experience at Holy Cross, including two years as acting president, described Fr. McFarland’s deep understanding of Jesuit education as inspiring.

“I always loved and was motivated by the words of the former Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, who said: ‘Our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God … men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors.’ I didn’t truly understand what those words meant until I worked for
Fr. McFarland.”

Rev. Paul Harman, S.J., vice president for mission, says Fr. McFarland has been quick to support and encourage whatever might help to strengthen and deepen the Catholic faith among the majority of Holy Cross students, and to find ways and means to support the faith development of students from the other religious traditions represented among the student body.

“In welcoming new programs and initiatives that have taken place during his presidency, he has always called attention to the ways in which they carry forward Jesuit principles,” Fr. Harman continues. “His interest in dialogue with other cultural and religious traditions flows from his grasp of the contemporary mission of the Society of Jesus. Plus, the establishment in recent years of both the College Committee on Mission and Identity (made up of some 30 faculty, students and administrators) and a Trustee standing-committee on Mission and Identity have provided means for the ongoing promotion and assessment of the Catholic and Jesuit nature of the College.”

Fr. Harman adds: “I believe his own personal hope was always that the Holy Cross community could be a model of commitment and openness, witness and dialogue, faith and critical inquiry.”

Peterson echoes that view. “He has been committed to building a community that understands that we are all better for our diversity; that understands it is part of our mission as an institution to prepare all students for a very global, diverse world,” she observes.

Balancing strategic priorities, overseeing a complex organization and promoting Jesuit and Catholic identity hasn’t always been an easy mix, especially when the past dozen years included the attacks of September 11, 2001, two recessions, and what is still a highly uncertain economy.

When the credit markets were in crisis in 2008, Lochhead says Fr. McFarland made an unforgettable impression.

“He was a bit like Tom Brady from the New England Patriots—calm, cool and collected as the pocket was collapsing around him, then delivering a precise strike,” he recalls. “Fr. McFarland was very discerning in listening to the various proposals for cost-saving opportunities and continually insisted that we not sacrifice quality in pursuit of bottom-line savings. I found him to be a very steady hand during this difficult period.”

Lochhead ticks off other numbers that paint a picture of the presidency. Since 2000, the College endowment increased 61 percent. The operating budget increased 62 percent (or 27 percent in “real” inflation-adjusted terms). Holy Cross earned operating surpluses that totaled $47 million. The College’s debt rating from Moody’s was upgraded in 2002 to a highly regarded “Aa3,” where it has since remained.

Beyond the numbers and the physical changes on campus (from new buildings to renovations to other capital improvements as itemized on the preceding pages), the enhancements to curricular offerings during this presidency have been remarkable. Timothy R. Austin, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, highlights both the high-profile Montserrat and the incremental improvement to the educational infrastructure in his essay on Page 26. In addition, the list includes (among so many other initiatives) the Donelan Office of Community Based Learning; the Ciocca Office of Entreprenurial Studies; month-long study abroad programs; and three new majors: Italian, computer science and Chinese.

And the work extends beyond the gates on College Hill, most notably with the opening of the Nativity School of Worcester in the fall of 2003. To date, six successful classes of boys from Worcester’s most vulnerable neighborhoods have graduated from the all-scholarship Jesuit middle school. Nativity graduates attend 12 different colleges and universities—including Holy Cross.

Mirroring the priority Jesuits worldwide have for environmental issues, Fr. McFarland was a founding signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. Two years later, the College announced a goal of reducing its carbon emissions 20 percent by 2015. By fall 2011, the reduction has amounted to 28 percent. Holy Cross aims to become carbon-neutral by 2040.

With that forward-looking goal, perhaps it is most appropriate to evaluate this presidency by quoting the president himself. In October, he addressed members of President’s Council and ended his remarks with characteristic eloquence, clarity and inclusion:
“Through the years, together we have worked hard to pursue our mission and to become the best we can possibly be. We strengthened our student body, our educational program, our facilities and our faculty. Through it all, we celebrated and emphasized our Catholic and Jesuit values, the foundation of this College.”

How has the work of the last 12 years built a foundation for strategic priorities ahead? Read Fr. McFarland’s essays on various areas—from residence life to athletics to Catholic and Jesuit identity—that Holy Cross will be focusing on in the coming years. Links to his essays—newsletters to President’s Council members—are available in this issue’s Web Exclusives.

Photos by Patrick O'Connor

Next: "My Favorite Moments with Father McFarland" with his executive assistant, Ruth Ann Elias '76.

"My Favorite Moments with Father McFarland"

By Ruth Ann Elias '76 (photo by Patrick O'Connor)

Ask Ruth Ann Elias '76, Fr. McFarland's executive assistant, to share her thoughts on the man who is leaving Holy Cross after a successful 12-year Presidency, and her first words are, "There is really nothing I can say that will accurately tell my affection for this man."

But as she begins to try, the stories she shares show not only the great respect Elias has for Fr. McFarland's leadership of and passion for Holy Cross, but also the depth of the friendship they have formed over the past few years.

Elias already had great love for the College, of course, being a member of the Class of 1976, so returning for a job interview in the President's Office in 2007 was in some ways a homecoming. But the Winthrop, Mass., native says she still had all the nervousness one might expect when applying for a key role with a president of a highly prestigious institution.

"In my interview, Father asked me how I would deal with stress," she recalls. "I said that with intelligence all problems can be solved, but when it gets really bad, I just hide in the ladies room and collect my thoughts for five or 10 minutes. He laughed. That might have been when I had my first clue that we'd get along."

Elias got the job, and found herself in awe of the environment and her boss. "When I started the job, it was a little intimidating, walking down the hall in Fenwick to our offices, past the portraits of all the presidents of Holy Cross through the years. I was very conscious of both their faces and the history I was walking past every day."
She says she got to know Fr. McFarland quickly. "Because I had to ask for help to learn my job, we had a lot of interaction right away. We developed a strong working relationship, and I immediately came to appreciate his intellect, grace, spirituality and sense of humor."

Elias says that anyone who has gotten to know Fr. McFarland recognizes immediately his dedication to further strengthening the academic core of the College and that his deep affection for students is paramount. "Day to day, even though we don't have hundreds of students coming through our office, you can always feel the presence of students, because every decision he's making is for them." Elias refers to Fr. McFarland's willingness to dive into any request the students make of him, including delivering talks, participating in various programs and service projects, even taking a turn on the floor in the Ballroom Dance Team's "Dancing with the Holy Cross Stars" event.

"As the keeper of his calendar," Elias says, "there are many times when he receives invitations from students, but being protective of his time, I'd sometimes have to think about cutting those. But those are the first ones he wants. He never says no."

The two created a routine that Elias treasures. "In the winter months, when it gets dark so early, I would go around the office and shut off the lights and lock up. He stayed later than I did, so I'd bring him his winter coat and gloves, and leave them in his office so all he had to do at the end of the night was slip out his side door and not worry about the office," Elias says, adding that she was charmed one afternoon when Father turned the tables on her. "He had to leave early for something, and he stopped by my desk and said, 'Do you want me to bring you your coat and gloves?' He was joking with me ... and that was a perfect example of his sense of humor."

Fr. McFarland's humble bearing is well known. As Elias says: "He really looks past all of the pomp and prestige that someone else might enjoy in this sort of position."
As for her happiest times in the President's Office, Elias recalls Christmastimes past. "I would never miss 'Lessons and Carols' in St. Joseph Chapel. It's a wonderful tradition. And it is always fun sending out Father's Christmas card to alumni and friends," she said, noting that she has visited Holy Cross friends' homes where all his cards are a treasured display.

Preparing for meetings and working with the Board of Trustees-and seeing Fr. McFarland do the same-has also been an enjoyable and gratifying part of her work at Holy Cross. "Three times a year there are the Trustee meetings and every other year the Trustee Retreat. Those are challenging, logistically, and a great deal of organization is needed to get the studies, documentation and materials prepared. But I love those Trustee meetings-both the work involved and the little bit of social interaction we get to do. I've loved watching these people-most of whom are Holy Cross alumni-on the board. They are dedicated to the College, highly accomplished in their fields. Seeing them learn who Father is and appreciating his leadership has been extraordinary."
Asked to share a somewhat sillier moment in the President's Office, Elias was quick with an anecdote involving the bane of any man's existence: Carrying a woman's purse. "Occasionally I've gotten to travel with Fr. McFarland on business. And several times, I have looked down a hotel hallway or made my way through an airport, and realize he is carrying my pocketbook because I had my hands full with something for work! And I don't have just a neutral pocketbook, I have brightly colored bags; nothing that would ever blend in. And I would think: 'There goes the president of Holy Cross again, carrying my bright yellow purse!' "

Elias has also experienced personal growth during her years with Fr. McFarland, who helped her "gain more confidence," she says. "But I think the biggest gift he has given to me is the room to act like myself. And I think I've given that to him as well."

The most difficult times in the job, have been when the College community has suffered the devastating loss of a beloved professor or staff member; or when a student has been seriously ill or injured. "I will never forget the words of comfort and strength he has offered at a funeral when the campus is still struggling with grief," she says. "Or seeing him head out to a hospital to visit a student and meet with a stricken family."

One day, in early January 2011, Elias wondered why Fr. McFarland had been hovering around her desk. "At the end of that day, he finally said, 'Will you come in and talk to me in my office?' I said, 'If you're about to tell me you are leaving, you better have a big box of Kleenex with you!'" Fr. McFarland picked up the box of tissues off Elias' desk. "It was hard to hear he was leaving. Goodbye will be hard, but on the side of my refrigerator, under many magnets, I have homilies he has delivered over the years and his thank you notes to me ... things that are personal and inspirational as well," Elias says. "They are a reminder to me of this man. When he is gone from this office, I will still have his words."

The person who at times has been the closest to Fr. McFarland, who had said that there were no words to describe him, ultimately had no trouble summing up the priest she calls a mentor and friend: "He is first and foremost a Jesuit, in God's service. He is truly accomplished, and he has made a great difference to this place and its people. And I got to experience that every day."

Next: Comments from Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Timothy R. Austin

Guiding and Strengthening the Heart of our Mission

By Timothy R. Austin, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College

When a president steps down, it is natural to seek out high-profile "signature" programs as indices of his success as a leader. In Academic Affairs, we can certainly point to exciting and innovative programs that have emerged during Fr. McFarland's tenure-one of which I shall describe in a moment. But a president's enduring impact often depends on an influence that he exerts less overtly; that is, on his ability incrementally to improve the vital infrastructure on which the institution relies day by day.

At the heart of Holy Cross' capacity to fulfill its educational mission lies its faculty (as Fr. McFarland himself has reminded us time and again). Throughout his presidency, therefore, he has worked steadily with the Trustees to create new faculty lines, to provide our teacher-scholars with the resources they need to create rigorous academic programs and pursue cutting-edge scholarship, and to ensure that faculty members and staff alike are compensated appropriately for the extraordinary work that they do. These efforts-even during the recent period of unprecedented economic challenges-have been critical to the steady enhancement of the College's profile.

This having been said, it is surely Montserrat (the College's living and learning program for all first-year students) that stands out as the single most influential change to the College's academic landscape since 2001-a change as striking as the mountain range from which it takes its name. It is fitting, therefore, that his presidency should have extended at least halfway into the 2011-2012 academic year, since this is the first year in which every student on campus either experienced Montserrat as a first-year student or is experiencing it as you read this essay.
Bold curricular and cocurricular initiatives like Montserrat do not come about without energetic but diplomatic support from the highest level, and throughout the lengthy discussions that determined what form Montserrat should take, Fr. McFarland combined steady encouragement with characteristic patience, recognizing that the key decisions belonged to the faculty and would take time to emerge.

Let me finish on a personal note. Even after five years of working quite closely with Fr. McFarland, I am still surprised almost daily by his detailed awareness of the professional and personal accomplishments and challenges of each member of the Holy Cross community individually - whether student, faculty member, or staff member. You can certainly see this pastoral cast to his leadership style in the close attention he has paid to matters of compensation and inclusion. And the same spirit surely informs the goal of creating personal relationships that characterizes Montserrat. While nobody would question Fr. McFarland's commitment to the ideal of the magis, therefore, I think many would see his commitment to cura personalis as an equally, if not more, important characteristic of his leadership at Holy Cross.

 

Next: "Reflections on Leaving Holy Cross" by Fr. Michael C. McFarland

Reflections on Leaving Holy Cross

By Fr. Michael C. McFarland

Fr. McFarland with his successor, Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J. (Photo by Dan Vaillancourt)

 

Goodbyes are hard. This one is especially wrenching. There is so much I have come to love about Holy Cross, including the uncompromising commitment to excellence, not just in educational achievement but in all aspects of the College, the devotion to service, and the strong sense of community that has spawned so many lifelong friendships. But most of all I will miss all the wonderful people I have come to know and cherish here, including the many bright, energetic and caring students, the talented and dedicated faculty and staff, and our loyal and passionate alumni. I have also been blessed to work with administrators and Trustees who care deeply about the College, have always given their best and been tremendously helpful and supportive.

Together we have been able to accomplish a great deal in the last decade. Not only have we improved the campus infrastructure with several new buildings, including the spectacular Integrated Science Complex, with new playing fields and landscaping, and with many other physical improvements; but we have done a great deal to strengthen our fundamental identity as a highly selective, liberal arts college fully committed to its Jesuit mission. We have increased the number of faculty, lowered the student/faculty ratio and the standard teaching load and added new academic programs in environmental studies, various aspects of international studies, and community-based learning. A major curriculum review resulted in Montserrat, a program for all first-year students that integrates a rigorous, year-long seminar built around fundamental questions, with a community living experience that brings intellectual, social and religious formation into the residence halls. With a strong commitment to need-based financial aid, the percentage of low-income students and students of color has more than doubled. The chaplains have added new retreats, Christian Life Communities, service and immersion programs and other opportunities for prayer and reflection. The Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture has developed a dazzling variety of colloquia, conferences, lectures, panels and other events that explore the intersection of faith and reason, both within Catholicism and across other cultures and religions. All of this was made possible through the very successful Lift High the Cross Campaign, fueled by the tremendous generosity of our Trustees and many other loyal benefactors.

While there is much to celebrate, however, there is no room for complacency. Holy Cross still faces many challenges, from affordability, to fierce competition from other institutions, to the daunting requirements for forming the next generation of faith-and-values-based leaders in a complex, dynamic global society. The Trustees and the administration have been working for more than two years on a new strategic plan that will address these challenges over the next decade, along with a comprehensive fundraising campaign to support it. Holy Cross is fortunate to have a gifted new president in place to lead this effort. Fr. Philip Boroughs has the vision, the experience, the knowledge and love of Holy Cross, and the personal qualities needed to move the College ahead so that it can fulfill the mission that is so crucial and meaningful to all of us.