Even before he began serving as president in January, Michael Engh, S.J., put a premium on listening. On Friday, April 24, he was formally inaugurated as the 28th President of Santa Clara University and welcomed to the SCU family. Officially invested with the office of president and wearing the chain bearing the University seal about his shoulders, he reminded those assembled, “You may honor a new president, but we celebrate Santa Clara University.” He expressed thanks and then, in his inaugural address, posed a few questions, including: “What better use of our talents can there be than to engage minds, hearts, and consciences on behalf of human dignity and the common good of our planet?” In recalling the ideals that shape Santa Clara, Fr. Engh offered a vision that seems well tuned to the historic moment.
A liturgy for the frontier
Two days of inauguration festivities began April 23 with a late-afternoon inaugural Mass in the Mission Church. The service was grand in scope, sweetly personal, and brightened by moments of levity. Bishop Patrick McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose was the principal celebrant. John McGarry, S.J., provincial of the California Province of the Society of Jesus, delivered the homily and co-celebrated the Mass, along with Fr. Engh; Gerdenio M. “Sonny” Manuel, S.J., rector of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community; and Kevin F. Burke, S.J., acting president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. The liturgy included a Missionera chalice from the de Saisset Museum, a century-old chalice from Fr. Engh’s mother’s family, and a chalice created for his ordination as a priest in 1981.
“To serve is what counts,” Fr. McGarry said in the homily. He recalled that the University was founded in the first place because the Jesuits served by coming to the frontier of California. “Where is the frontier in the mission of Santa Clara University today?” he said. “Where is the frontier for you, Mike, as you live from the gospel you preach, as you take up the mantle of leadership as President of this institution? (You don’t have to answer that right now!) I suspect the answers to those questions will unfold in the months and years to come.” At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop McGrath drew chuckles from the congregation when he noted that normally the bishop would have the last word. “But being that this is a Jesuit celebration, I know that’s impossible,” he said. A smiling Fr. Engh took the podium and acknowledged the origins of the college. He turned toward Bishop McGrath and said, “It was your predecessor, José Alemany, that gave the Jesuits a dilapidated mission, and we’ve done the best that we could with what we got.”
The Mass was followed by a reception in the University’s Mission Gardens. Later, at a President’s Club Dinner, Santa Clara student Hector Vega ’10 spoke about the experiences that brought him to Santa Clara three years ago and how the community-based learning opportunities in particular have transformed him. Born in northern Mexico, Vega didn’t speak English until his family moved to San Jose in 2001; he came to Santa Clara bearing a National Merit Scholarship but without the documents to make him a U.S. citizen. “It was SCU that placed a mirror in front of me and made me realize that I was worth something valuable,” Vega said. “Know that your efforts carry on to the people you help.”
The inauguration ceremony on the morning of April 24 began with the grand academic procession, led by SCU’s longest-tenured professor, Victor Vari, bearing the University mace. And what a procession: hundreds of faculty in academic robes and the colored hoods of their disciplines, the ROTC color guard, delegates from dozens of universities, and flags from every Jesuit college and university in the United States.
For the invocation, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum entreated, “This school of higher learning—may it always have as well a higher calling.” As the California provincial, Fr. McGarry was charged with “missioning” Fr. Engh to his post. “During this challenging time in history, the commitment of the Society of Jesus to the work of higher education at Santa Clara is more important than ever,” Fr. McGarry said. “Knowing of Father Engh’s deep concern for Catholic higher education, I am happy to entrust this mission to him.”
The official investiture was performed by A.C. “Mike” Markkula Jr., chairman of SCU’s Board of Trustees, assisted by Professor Robert Finocchio Jr., vice chair of the Board. Markkula placed the University chain and medallion around the neck of Fr. Engh. Then, bearing that symbol of his role, President Engh delivered an inaugural address that spoke of building a future in ways large and small, for short term and for a future not our own. He envisioned the University as a champion for environmental justice. “We must strategically link our long-term commitment to justice to the growing efforts to protect our environment and ensure a sustainable future for all God’s people, and for all God’s planet,” he said. By the time he finished, the air was electric. (Read Fr. Engh’s remarks in their entirety by following the link on the right-hand column.)
The SCU Chamber Singers sang the “Alma Mater,” and former California Provincial Terrance Mahan, S.J.—who also taught Fr. Engh as an undergraduate— offered the benediction. Then, once more, the orchestra: a triumphal march from Verdi for the recessional. On the way toward the exit, the new president offered an enthusiastic wave to his parents.
At the reception in the Malley Center guests posed for photos with President Engh and drank sparkling wine and the conversations were abuzz and awonder at how the ideas articulated in that inauguration address would shape the University in the months and years to come. That remains to be seen. And done. But moving from one happy huddle to another, one opinion you heard over and over: President Engh is the right man at the right time for Santa Clara.