Fr. Leahy Installed As President

Leaders of state and church congratulate 25th president

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

In a two-day celebration marked by buoyant spirits and mild autumn weather, the Boston College community formally inaugurated and welcomed William P. Leahy, SJ, as its 25th president Oct. 17-18.

Acknowledging tributes from Gov. William Weld, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles M. Vest, Boston Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law and other speakers at the Oct. 18 inauguration ceremony in Conte Forum, Fr. Leahy outlined his views on the future of Boston College and its position as a leading Jesuit and Catholic university.

"We must be that rare and necessary university that combines excellence in the laboratory, classroom and residence hall with concern for ultimate questions about life and our world," Fr. Leahy told the audience of approximately 1,000, after receiving the symbols of office - the Presidential Medallion and University Charter - from Board of Trustees Chairman Richard F. Syron and University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ.

"We should seek to be a meeting place between faith and culture, especially between the Catholic Church and our society," Fr. Leahy added. "It is important that we honor the Catholic intellectual tradition, which does not see a divide between human mind and heart, between reason and faith, between the world of substance and the world of spirit."

The hands of University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, are visible placing the Presidential Medallion on William P. Leahy, SJ, at the Oct. 18 installation ceremony. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

Representatives of Boston College alumni, students, faculty and staff also welcomed Fr. Leahy at the event, and letters of congratulation from President Clinton and Pope John Paul II were read to the audience. The Boston College Symphony Orchestra, University Chorale and Boston Brass Ensemble performed several musical interludes during the ceremony.

The inauguration celebration began under brilliant skies on Oct. 17 with the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit on O'Neill Plaza [see photo below], for which Fr. Leahy was principal celebrant, and continued that afternoon with a symposium "Remembering a Past - Imagining a Future: Catholic Higher Education" in Robsham Theater.

Other events included a tribute to Fr. Leahy from student performance groups; a pre-ceremony luncheon attended by college and university representatives from across the country, Boston College trustees and trustee associates, and special guests; and an inaugural ball at the Copley Plaza Hotel.

Challenges ahead

In his remarks at the inauguration ceremony, Fr. Leahy noted the changing landscape of American higher education and the challenges faced by Catholic colleges and universities in particular.

Fr. Leahy, flanked by Jesuit Institute Director and Canisius Professor of Theology Michael Buckley, SJ (left), and University Chaplain Richard Cleary, SJ, celebrates the Mass of the Holy Spirit on O'Neill Plaza Oct. 17. The Mass was the first event in the two-day inaugural celebration. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
"The Catholic higher educational network currently suffers greatly from the absence of a coherent, convincing theory of education, as well as articulate, persuasive proponents of it," Fr. Leahy said. But, he added, "responding to challenges and needs is not new for Boston College; it has been doing so ever since its establishment ... We are certainly committed to ensuring that Boston College be the strongest university it can be and also remain faithful to its religious and educational heritage.

"Also, we must examine and respond to human culture from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian moral and prophetic tradition, and speak with a voice that is countercultural when that is necessary."

Fr. Leahy added, "Striving to be [such a university] is altogether a great work, but great works, as our religious traditions tell us, are what we on this earth are called to do. And great work is certainly the only work appropriate for a university truly dedicated to excellence."

Presidential, papal greetings

Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, opened the inaugural ceremony following a procession of administrators, faculty and invited representatives from academic and professional institutions and organizations. Fr. Neenan read the letter from President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton congratulating Fr. Leahy on his appointment.

Boston Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law and Fr. Leahy share a light moment during the installation ceremony. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"The responsibilities and challenges of leadership are always great, but the knowledge of a job well done can be among life's most meaningful rewards," President Clinton wrote. "As you begin to address the tasks of your new position, I am confident that you will prove worthy of the important trust that your colleagues have placed in you."

Cardinal Law later read a congratulatory message he had received from the Holy See, in which Pope John Paul II praised the "tradition of a distinguished scholarship and Catholic faith which has marked Boston College from its foundation." The pope encouraged the University to "renew its commitment to the investigation and understanding of all aspects of truth in their essential relation to the Supreme Truth, who is God himself."

The pontiff also called upon Boston College to "fulfill its important ecclesial mission by contributing to a much-needed integration of knowledge and a more profound appreciation of the full measure of our human vocation and destiny as revealed in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ."

"Worthy guardian"

Weld was the first guest speaker to appear after the invocation by Massachusetts Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Howard McLendon '75, praising Fr. Leahy as "a worthy guardian of [Boston College's] tradition."

Weld commended Boston College as an institution where students "encounter rigorous intellectual challenges and profound ethical lessons," and whose graduates "realize their ideas and act on their convictions, both in public service and in private life.

"They are, in short, good citizens," Weld said, "and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is grateful for their contribution to our common life."

New England Jesuit Provincial William Barry, SJ, welcomed Fr. Leahy on behalf of the Society of Jesus' New England Province, which he noted is now headquartered at the original site of Boston College in the South End.

"May you have many enjoyable and profitable years as president of Boston College," said Fr. Barry, a former rector of the University's Jesuit Community, "and may you find God, and help others to find God, on this hill overlooking the great city of Boston."

The Inaugural Ball was held at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, capping inaugural festivities. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Vest noted the common goals and characteristics MIT shares with Boston College, despite the differences in their orientation. He described challenges college presidents face, such as increasing public questioning of the value of higher education and the necessity of making it affordable while maintaining services. Vest pointed to Boston College's Jesuit and Catholic identity as a strength upon which to draw in facing these challenges.

"In this era of change, complexity and restraint, each university and college must focus on what it can do best," he said. "Boston College has a wonderful and unique tradition of quality and service, and under your guidance I believe this tradition will be enhanced in the years ahead."

BC welcome

Prior to Fr. Leahy's installation, five representatives from the University community each offered a brief greeting: Associate Dean for Enrollment Management and University Registrar Louise Lonabocker, Rattigan Professor of English John L. Mahoney, Alumni Association President Richard O'Brien, Graduate Student Association President Joan Agretelis and Undergraduate Government of Boston College President Mea Quinn '97.

Cardinal Law gave the benediction, saying he was "profoundly grateful for Boston College's contribution to the parish, the Church and the world." He said he shared with Fr. Leahy "the conviction that not only are faith and reason not mutually exclusive, but ... the confidence that faith can take us beyond where reason can go in affirming God, the dignity of the human person and the demands of human solidarity."

Following the recessional, Fr. Leahy met with well-wishers on the floor of Conte for over an hour. Audience members and participants in the ceremony also attended a reception held in the concourse.

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