If you look closely at artistic depictions of St. Ignatius throughout history, you’ll notice a few details most have in common. First, the priest who co-founded of the Society of Jesus is often dressed as a pilgrim, staff in hand. Second, in many of the statues and paintings, one foot is raised in the air, signaling motion.
This might seem insignificant, but in the story of the Jesuits, it’s an important detail. In his Letter to Mateo Sebastián de Morrano, St. Ignatius writes of “a Society that needs to have, so to speak, one foot in the air ready to hasten from place to place, according to our vocation and the Institute which we follow in our Lord.” Since their founding in 1540, Jesuits have been radically mobile, going where help is needed. So much so that the idea of setting roots too deep—even at first when they set up schools, or in this instance, in the form of a piece of art with two feet planted too firmly on the ground—can be cause for unease.
Santa Clara University’s 29th President, Kevin O’Brien, S.J., is no exception. From Canada to Florida to Syracuse, Philadelphia, Boston, India, Bolivia, Mexico, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and now the Bay Area, O’Brien has stayed in motion, going where help is needed. And that hasn’t changed since starting his new role as President on July 1. His travels in the first months have taken him across the country and internationally to Africa. On campus, O’Brien is known by some as the walking President, moving from meeting to meeting during the day or in the evenings, at a slower pace, enjoying the campus scenery during a stroll or going to a soccer game. He even delivered his first campus communication as President during his walk from the Jesuit Residences to Walsh Hall.
Fr. O’Brien did, however, take a moment from movement one evening this fall to sit down with Santa Clara Magazine and reflect on the present and future of Santa Clara. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.