31st Presidential Inauguration

Inauguration Highlights

Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., was inaugurated the 31st president of the College of the Holy Cross at an installation ceremony at the College on Friday, Sept. 15, at 3:30 p.m. in the Hart Recreation Center. A reception followed under a tent on the lawn of the Hart Center.

The installation ceremony was attended by faculty, staff, students, alumni, and delegates representing approximately 140 colleges and universities from across the nation. Several speakers welcomed the new president including: Worcester City Manager Thomas Hoover, Very Reverend Robert J. Levens, S.J. (from the Society of Jesus), Professor Helen M. Whall (from the faculty of the College), James D. Long (from the employees of the College), Tarah M. Auguste '01 (from the students of the College).

Rev. John W. O'Malley, S.J., professor of church history at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., delivered the inauguration address. It was followed by the presidential inaugural address given by Fr. McFarland.

The schedule of inauguration activities also included:

A Liturgical Celebration on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. in the Saint Joseph Memorial Chapel. After the liturgy, students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees joined Fr. McFarland at an "upscale barbecue" outside of Kimball Hall.

A Panel Presentation about the Holy Cross Mission on Friday, Sept. 15 at 11 a.m. in the Hogan Campus Center. Holy Cross: Holy Cross: A Jesuit Liberal Arts College By Tradition and Choice Stephen C. Ainlay, Ph.D. Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean Professor of Sociology

Asking Questions Through Fiction Isabel Alvarez-Borland, Ph.D. Professor of Spanish Three Years Later: A Muslim Journey through a Jesuit Institution Jawad Ahsan, '01 Economics Major International Studies / Middle Eastern Studies Concentrator The Challenge to Live Intentionally Renee Fay-LeBlanc, '96 Biology Major; Watson Fellow 1996-1997 Currently at University of Vermont Medical School

Mission and Creative Tensions Philip C. Rule, S.J., Associate Professor of English Advisor, Alpha Sigma Nu

A "Fun Run/Walk" with Fr. McFarland completed the celebration on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 9:00 a.m. The 2.5 mile course began at the Hart Recreation Center and continued around the Fieldhouse and the Hill residence halls. A Health and Wellness Fair was part of the festivities. More than 300 students, faculty, staff, alumni and Worcester residents participated with Fr. McFarland.

Inaugural Address Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J.

I too would like to recognize our distinguished guests who honor us by their presence today: Most Reverend Bishop Reilly, City Manager Hoover, Fr. Provincial Levens, Members of the Board of Trustees and the Platform Party, Delegates representing Colleges, Universities, Schools and Learned Societies, Members of the Holy Cross Family, including, faculty, staff, students and alumni, family members and honored guests.  It is good to be with you here today.  I am delighted to be able to share this moment with my family and so many old friends from Gonzaga University and Boston College, from St. Anne’s, St. Athanasius and St. Peter’s parishes, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and St. Peter’s College.  I am pleased that you are all here and can meet this wonderful community at Holy Cross, who have been so kind and welcoming in my first months here.

The institution I take over is in outstanding shape; and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the person who is most responsible for making it that way: Frank Vellaccio.  I could go on and on about Frank’s extraordinary dedication to Holy Cross and how much he has done for the College.  But all you need to know is that at 2PM yesterday he was in surgery, and by 4 he was leading the faculty into the chapel for the inauguration mass.  Frank never had a ceremony like this to celebrate his presidency.  He stepped in in a crisis and stabilized the institution and moved it forward.  Now, apparently with great equanimity, he lays down the presidency.  (I wonder at that.)  He certainly has our deepest admiration and gratitude for all he has done.

There is a certain irony in my coming before you to assume this office of president, since I am of that generation that drove college presidents to distraction, the infamous Cornell Class of ‘69.  I suspect this is payback for all the times I battled those in authority.  I hope that now that I am in their position I can handle it with the same grace and understanding they showed me.

Yesterday, on the Feast of the Holy Cross I spoke about our mission to live with the contradiction of the cross, holding in tension conviction and openness, unity and diversity, the sacred and the secular, in a way that is creative, lifegiving and enriching for both sides.  Today I want to look at it from another perspective and examine how we are drawn into that mission and how we experience it.  To do that, I will use another passage from Scripture, the story of the Transfiguration.  Many of you are familiar with that story; but let me review it for everyone.  Jesus has just told his disciples that he is destined to suffer, be rejected and be killed, and then to come back to life.  The disciples cannot accept this; they go into deep denial.  So Jesus takes his three closest followers and leads them up a high mountain.  There he is transformed before their eyes, and they see him in transcendent glory.  In this way he gives them a glimpse of the deeper meaning of what he is about to do and of its immeasurable value, strengthening them for the challenges that lie ahead.

Up here at the top of Mt. St. James, or Pakachoag Hill (see we can be multi-cultural here), I would assert that we also have a glimpse of transcendence; and that is what equips us to embrace the cross.  There are a number of ways in which this happens, when we are taken out of the ordinary plane of our daily existence, to have our minds and hearts expanded, to grasp in some way the beauty and power of truth.

To study under a great teacher like Helen Wahl who can open a whole new world of ideas to us, who can inspire us to explore, to question, to search, and to create, and who challenges us to do and to give more than we thought possible;

To learn to think deeply about difficult and vexing problems and find the skill, dedication and intensity to do original research;

To discover that there is real joy and satisfaction in the life of the mind and that there are rewards that do not show up in your paycheck -- all of that has an element of transcendence.

We see this, for example, in someone like Tarah, who found her passion for political science and international affairs while studying last year in Cameroon; and plans to go back to Africa next year after graduation to study emerging democracies there.  And we can find it in the thirty or so students who presented their summer research last week, showing not only a sophisticated grasp of the underlying science, but also the excitement and satisfaction of discovering significant new knowledge and sharing it with the scientific community.

We find transcendence also in the moral realm.  To understand that a truly good and satisfying life is rooted in a firm set of convictions and principles and pursuing them with integrity and courage, not just chasing after the immediate little pleasures and honors that life tempts us with;

To broaden one’s awareness and expand one’s heart so as to know and identify with the experience of the poor, the forgotten and the dispossessed;

To learn to analyze, critique and question one’s own culture, practices and institutions and to care enough to get angry and challenge injustice; these too lift us up to find transcendence.

We see that, for example, in the three Holy Cross graduates who just went to Mexico to spend a year in service to the poor there, and in the large and very visible contingent of Holy Cross students at the School of the Americas protest last November.

And of course we encounter transcendence in the spiritual realm as well.  To open one’s mind and heart to eternal realities and to have a safe and supportive environment to explore and appropriate one’s own beliefs and traditions while coming to know and appreciate those of others;

To lift one’s mind and heart to God in worship and prayer;

To enter into the hidden mystery of God’s presence through prayer, retreats, and other spiritual programs; these touch the very source of transcendence.

That is certainly reflected in the many students and other members of the community who make the Spiritual Exercises and find them such a challenging and deeply moving experience.

These are some of the ways we encounter transcendence here, and they are truly transforming experiences.  People come out of Holy Cross very different because of them, with a deeper and more reverent grasp of their own humanity, better able to appreciate and relate to others, especially those who are different, and more attuned to the spiritual realities that give life its direction and meaning.

But there is more to the story.  The disciples, once they got over their terror and shock at the vision, wanted simply to stay there and enjoy that glorious presence.  But Jesus would not allow it.  They were still missing the point.  They had to come down off the mountain, because he still had his mission to fulfill.  The first person they met as they came down was the father of a boy who suffered from severe seizures.  In response to the father’s pleading, Jesus healed the boy.  Those disciples who had been left behind and had not had the experience on the mountain had tried to help; but they were powerless.

We too have to come down from the mountain.  The experience of transcendence is not given just for our own enjoyment.  It is meant to be shared, in particular by giving us the power to be a healing presence in the world, as Jesus was.

We do not have to go far to find opportunities to do that.  In our own community here on campus, we have our share of brokenness.  That includes illness and depression, confusion and lack of purpose, as well as irresponsibility, prejudice and harassment.  We can’t expect to heal others if we cannot heal ourselves.

But we also need to reach out to the wider community.  There are so many in our neighborhood and our city who do not have the good fortune, the talent or the support to enjoy the privileged time that we have.  We need to bring the grace of healing to them, treating them always with reverence and respect, being good neighbors, and doing community service, which so many of you do,.  For example, there are the hundreds of students who volunteer in the community with SPUD and similar programs, teaching, caring for the homeless, the disabled and the poor, working on community development, and so on.  And it is not students only.  Jim Long and his people have donated an enormous amount of time and material providing landscaping for rehabbed housing as part of the Matthew 25 project and on other community improvement projects.  I might add that the staff here has made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up their parking places the last two days so that we can accommodate all our guests.

Finally, because we live in a society that, at least in its public discourse, both popular and intellectual, is indifferent to, and even contemptuous of transcendence, we have a very important calling to bring to that society the depth of our humanism, our moral principles and values, and our religious convictions.  We need to be there were people’s attitudes and values are formed.  We need to be a strong voice in the political, social and moral debate on the critical issues of our time, in health care, technology, economic justice, international relations, and a host of other areas.  We need to have a strong and visible presence in professional life, in law and medicine, education, engineering, information technology, and so on, bringing a witness of integrity, service, and compassion, and a commitment to the common good.

The good news is that we do that very well.  We list among our proud alumni politicians like the late Robert Casey, governor of Pennsylvania, who are friends of the poor and disenfranchised and who are willing to take unpopular stands on controversial issues; lawyers who stand up for those society has rejected and condemned (Edward Bennett Williams of course comes to mind), physicians who reach out to those abandoned by the system and who work for community health, businesspeople who are ruled by honesty and fairness and who use their resources and expertise to make their communities better, teachers who truly care about their students and help them grow personally and morally as well as intellectually, and others not so easily characterized by a profession, who have consciously stepped outside the mainstream to work with the homeless, refugees, the disabled and other forgotten people.

Our purpose here at Holy Cross, as it always has been, is to produce people who believe in something, in something worthwhile, and who believe strongly enough that they will hold to it and live it out, even in the face of distraction, temptation and opposition.  That belief requires an experience of transcendence, the apprehension of something great that is worth believing in, a love and appreciation of one’s own humanity, a strong sense of moral principles, a more personal encounter with the divine mystery.

It is up to us to create the conditions that make that possible.  For us that means, first, a rigorous, challenging, student-centered academic environment, marked by personal care and active learning, and focused on the core of learning, the liberal arts and the sciences.  Second, we must maintain our commitment to the personal growth and development of our students, with a humane and supportive residential environment, high standards of behavior and responsibility, and a strong and caring community.  Finally we must continue to emphasize the specifically religious dimensions of our mission, exploring and developing our Catholic intellectual heritage, fostering interreligious dialogue and supporting moral and spiritual development.

Many people today look to education for credentials, for technical training, for the guarantee of a good job.  They want to learn e-commerce, biotechnology, sports management, or video production.  Those are all legitimate aspirations; but they are not what we are about, even though our graduates have done very well in those and many other specialized fields.  We are committed to producing strong and purposeful leaders, leaders committed to the common good, leaders who, transformed themselves, become a transforming presence in the world.  In a society that is increasingly shallow, compartmentalized, divided and self-absorbed, that is a very important contribution indeed.  It is a great project, and I look forward to joining you in it.