May 9, 2013
Dear Alumni, Parents, Patrons and Benefactors,
Once again -- and hard it is for me to believe -- we at Gonzaga find ourselves at the end of another academic year. In just a few days, our newest graduates will have marched in one of three commencement ceremonies (Law, Grad, and Undergrad); but the end of this year is distinctive, for me, in several particular ways. It will signal the conclusion of our remarkable Law Centennial and University 125th Anniversary celebrations, which have reconnected us to so many of our alumni, parents and friends; it will also signal the end of my fourth year as president. As I shake the hands of our undergraduates this Mother’s Day, a special part of me will graduate with them as well: together, these students and I began our journey at Gonzaga together. Just as they are now reflecting upon what the last four years has meant for them, I thought I would share some reflections about what I have learned across four years and where I believe Gonzaga is today.
A Remarkable Community
For all but two of the past twenty-six years, I have lived on, or relatively close to, the campus of Gonzaga University. When I first visited campus, in 1982, there were still cars running up and down Boone Avenue in front of the Ad Building main entrance. Most of that which has been built on campus since the 1960’s, I have witnessed under construction. I remember watching the foundations of Jepson School of Business being poured, and the steel girders of the Foley Center being welded together from my room in St. Catherine/St. Monica. But the fundamental blessing of my time -- the experience which has shaped me personally and informs my work daily -- has been the opportunity to learn from, and work among, the Jesuits and their Lay Companions in this unique and important mission. Some of those who were here when I began have since joined our Creator in Heaven: Fr. Art Dussault, Fr. Regimbal, Marilyn Stanton, Fr. Pat Ford, Sr. Mary Garvin SNJM, Fr. Tony Lehmann, Harry Sladich, and Professor Bud Hazel among them. Others have retired. But many remain, and are with us still, and remain in active work or ministry. Our faculty and staff are the essence of the University, and they inspire us.
Gonzaga has seen some amazing students over the years, and this tradition most certainly continues. The students who attend Gonzaga today are increasingly stronger in terms of academic preparedness, ethnic and economic diversity, and national representation. For the third year in a row, Gonzaga has seen a student make the Finalist level of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship; many students each year are now presenting original research at professional conferences. Reflective of our social justice mission, Gonzaga this year was ranked first in the nation for alumni serving in the Peace Corps - an incredible accomplishment. Thanks to a growing Alumni Mentor Program and increased attention by Career Services, the percentage of students who are finding employment immediately out of college is increasing. And as we look to next year, it is clear that the strength of Gonzaga’s reputation will again bring us an exceptional class.
When I started as president, I announced three themes which would guide our work over the first few years: (1) To be an exemplar of Jesuit, Catholic education in the U.S.; (2) To strive for educational excellence in all of our programs; and (3) To assure the institution of long-term viability and sustainability. As I look back over four years of effort, many signs of progress and achievement in each of these are visible. Over the past two years, we launched and concluded two major campus initiatives: one, to define and describe our Jesuit, Catholic identity, resulting in a Statement of Affirmation; the second, to refine the institution’s Mission Statement. Both have allowed us, with greater clarity of purpose, to begin creating mission-driven goals for the next seven years.
Gonzaga is now widely recognized not only for its on-campus programs, but its cutting-edge delivery of online education at the graduate level, as well. We are a major partner in the delivery of education to marginalized refugees of African wars who live, displaced, in sub-Saharan camps - a project of the Jesuit Refugee Service known as “Higher Education at the Margins.”
There are so many signs of continued strengthening in our academic and co-curricular programs that it literally boggles the mind. From an explosion of innovation and entrepreneurial activity in Engineering and Computer Science, to specialized accreditation in Counselor Education, to the awarding of major grants to support student research in the sciences from Howard Hughes Medical Institutes, Gonzaga continues to grow in its academic strength. Such endeavors and initiatives are born out of the effective collaboration between great faculty and excellent deans, under the exemplary leadership of Academic Vice President Patricia O’Connell Killen. Dr. Killen is ushering us through a period of significant change with respect to leadership; two new deans have been hired in each of the past two years (Jane Korn in Law, and Stephen Silliman in Engineering & Applied Science), and three new deans will come on board this summer (including Dr. Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak in the College of Arts and Sciences). Further, I am very proud of the wonderful, ongoing work that seeks to align the Core Curriculum around our fundamental strengths and beliefs regarding what is truly distinctive about a Jesuit education. I am confident that the revised Core, once it is complete, will allow us to do better, deeper, and stronger work with our undergraduates.
Long-term institutional sustainability and viability is about positioning the university for stability over the long haul. Being careful and strategic about resource deployment, while pursuing projects and supporting programs that will ensure a contemporary, relevant educational experience is a core dimension of our work. But I must observe that to have accomplished so much over the period of this economic recession is a testament to the dedication of our faculty and staff, and the leadership of Executive Vice President Earl “Marty” Martin. Doing a better job with the precious resources we have been given has caused us to revise the campus master plan and proceeding with the construction of several critical, ecologically sensitive facilities. This summer, we will begin construction on our new University Center -- a state-of-the-art facility made possible through generous philanthropy -- which will significantly improve the student living and learning experience by bringing University Ministry, Global Engagement, Multicultural Education, and Service Learning together with Experiential Leadership, Student Activities, and Campus Dining. Our current knowledge and concerns about environmental sustainability will allow us to construct a facility that is an exemplar for ecologically sensitive practices.
The heart of Gonzaga today, as it has been since the beginning, is the mission of the Jesuits: to work as individuals and as colleagues in the building up of the Kingdom of God. A vibrant community of active Jesuits and their Companions today serves the Church through the apostolic ministry of university education. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the teachings of the Church and the direction of the Society of Jesus through its Decrees, our way of proceeding is informed by the Jesuit charism, which animates our daily work and long-term decisions.
It is such an honor to lead Gonzaga precisely because of its Mission, and I am proud of the ways in which Gonzaga is being recognized as a result. I feel so blessed that we were able to secure Fr. Frank Case, former Secretary to the Society of Jesus in Rome, as our Vice President for Mission, in 2011. This past December, I was invited as one of four Jesuit University presidents to meet with Superior General Adolfo Nicolàs in Rome, to discuss the future of Jesuit higher education in America. Currently, I serve as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. And I am so proud of the work we have done in developing our Statement of Affirmation and working together with the other Jesuit colleges and universities to develop important documents relating to the role of Jesuit education in our country.
If religious devotion and activity on campus is any indication, we are growing stronger. In 2009, when I was first appointed President, I received the role as both chief executive and director of the apostolic work, appointed by the Jesuits to care for the institution as a work of the Society and the Church. In this regard, there is and has been a dimension to the role that is very much focused upon the health and welfare of our community as a religious mission -- attentive to our role in service to the Church. And our students, alumni, and community are engaged! These engagements range from the well-attended daily masses and at-capacity retreat programs, to the introduction of Jesuit chaplains for the College and Schools, to the marvelous gift of the new Grotto, dedicated to our Blessed Mother this fall. Bishop Blase Cupich and I work constantly in partnership across many issues, especially regarding the ways in which catechetical education in the diocese can be supported and enhanced by the involvement of the university. Gonzaga is proud of its strong relationship with the local Catholic community.
Two Expressions of Our Catholic, Jesuit Identity
But it is two expressions of our identity that reflect our active work as a Catholic apostolate most significantly. First: in the care of our students. The context within which we do our work is a real, and vital, sense of community. Over the course of a given academic year, many of our students experience significant pain or loss, ranging from the death of a parent or sibling to very real struggles involving depression, isolation, or addiction. It is not uncharacteristic to find students in their late teens and early 20s dealing with significant challenges involving relationships and the “big questions” of life. These are not new challenges, but the ways in which our staff, faculty and administrators engage with students to address them is a reflection of our Jesuit and Catholic values and beliefs regarding human dignity. We recognize that the way each of us, bound in relationship to one another, acts and responds affects the whole of the university. And I must, in calling this out, give special thanks to my colleague, Dr. Sue Weitz, who will retire as Vice President for Student Life this coming June.
Second, our expression of Catholic identity is found in the ways we wrestle with difficult questions. There have been times when challenging issues which intersect with the teachings of the Catholic Church have arisen. We, as individuals who manifest the Jesuit mission, have been called upon by the Church to engage with the difficult questions -- and always with a view towards how the answers serve the Church and its people. At each and every opportunity, we have engaged the issues not in isolation, but in full view of the ways in which the controversial question needs to be evaluated in light of Church teaching. Often, these are not easy conversations. But as a result, our students and community have emerged from those engagements with a clearer, deeper understanding of the Church position and the obligations that they have -- as Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- to reflect their understanding of these in the decisions they choose to make.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Jesuits at their 35th General Congregation, emphasized the critical work they are known for when he quoted Pope Paul VI with these words:
“Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits.”
The Church has asked the Jesuits to work the difficult frontiers, the difficult issues of our time: to examine where our society has been, and where our society next should go. Thus, we engage in this work as well. The work the University does around the defining questions of culture, faith, government, family and the individual is extremely important, and it has a unique place in the life of the Church. The Church will continue to call us -- a Jesuit university of excellence and relevance -- to go in and work on these sometimes complex and often very controversial issues, so that our students are well-prepared to wrestle with them as they live lives of integrity and faith.
The work of Gonzaga University -- if it is done in a truly authentic and exceptional manner, reflects a deep appreciation for the kinds of learning that can occur in the context of a loving relationship with God, and with others who value this particular relationship as well. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve this work that educates me every day, and I am especially grateful to all of you, for your continued love and support of this great University. In a particular way, I would like to thank and congratulate our parents, especially those whose daughters and sons will graduate this year. As we move into these summer months, may you have some time for rest and recreation, and may Christ’s peace be with you always.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.