President John Denning, C.S.C.- Inaugural Address

September 20, 2013


I extend a warm welcome to everyone here at Stonehill today, delegates from other colleges and secondary schools, alumni from every class in our history, my confrères in Holy Cross, parents, friends, trustees, neighbors and members of my own family.  We are so glad that you have joined us on this joyous day of convocation and inauguration.

First, I want to extend my congratulations to my confrère Fr. Rick Gribble on receiving this year’s Hegarty Award.  Fr. Rick embodies the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross. An educator in the faith, he is a gifted and talented teacher, a diligent and tireless researcher and scholar. He is also a man who gives generously of himself outside the classroom whether it is working with his students, participating in Dancing With the Stonehill Stars, cheering on our Cross–Country & Track teams, celebrating the Eucharist at not only neighboring parishes but in our residence halls as well.  It truly is a well-deserved recognition of Fr. Gribble’s commitment to Catholic higher education, our students and the mission of Stonehill College. 

As we know, Stonehill has always been a student-centered college. And, for our newest students, the members of the Class of 2017, I pray you find here a new home…a home that supports, challenges and encourages you in every way so that you become engaged learners who take great advantage of all that the College offers you. Most of all, I hope that by your own leadership and engagement, you help to transform and strengthen this institution and the broader community.  

As I begin this ministry, I take a moment on behalf of our students, our current faculty and staff to offer our thanks to the many hearts and hands and minds who have given of their sweat and toil and who have sacrificed so much to make to Stonehill what it is today.  I speak of the first Holy Cross Religious, the lay men and women, faculty members and staff, who collaborated with the Congregation and, of course, our loyal alumni so many of whom are here this afternoon.

Together, they built this institution brick by brick from its earliest days in 1948 through today. By their efforts, they have changed the lives of countless young men and women who have benefited by their education at Stonehill and we are so grateful for the work they have done during these past 65 years to make Stonehill what it is today.

A number of weeks ago, I had breakfast with a Catholic social activist who advocates for critical issues of justice.   We met on the same day that marked the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. As we were speaking, she said that, during the 1963 march, she was actually in Selma, Alabama, all of 23 years of age and barely a year out of college.  She was going to work with a Catholic parish on education and literacy issues.  I asked her, why she went?

She replied, “there was a need” … “maybe a little Catholic guilt, but I was asked to go and there was a real need.” She then said, “I was initially terrified. It was a scary place and time.”

The Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, remind us that “for God’s Kingdom to come, disciples must have the competence to see and the courage to act.”  I think of those words in light of my conversation with the social activist and how she demonstrated both the ability to see the needs and the courage to act on behalf of neighbors and justice. 

I couple this with one of the four enduring principles of Catholic social teaching --solidarity--which professes that we are responsible for and to one another.  With increasing global awareness, we can’t help but recognize that the principle of solidarity transcends nations and cultures.

This is an important aspect of the type of Catholic liberal arts education we provide our students at Stonehill.  That is, to see the real and true needs of our world and to find the courage, strength, grace and wisdom to work with other men and women of good will to address them while living in a spirit of solidarity with our neighbors. 

What is refreshing is how this is happening among our students and how it deepens their own learning. Whether their subject area is business, science, healthcare, the arts, education, law, the humanities, our students receive an education that enables them to see the real needs of our world and of our neighbors. In addition, they discover ways in which to address those needs and challenges with creativity and effectiveness.

Our founders chose two words to serve as the motto of the College:  Light and Hope, Lux et Spes.  They tell us much about the type of education we hope our students embrace and also the kind of academic community that we are and hope always to be.

A community characterized by the virtue of hospitality, that extends welcome to all, where we recognize we have much to learn and celebrate from encountering people from other cultures, faiths and ways of life, where each person is treated with reverence.  

A community where there is a vibrant discussion about issues of morality, ethics, theology and how Catholic thought contributes and enriches those discussions. A community that at its core places great value on student learning and academic rigor.

The engagement our students have with professors, coaches, campus ministers, student life staff and others on campus offer them moments to look at life a bit differently.

We want our students to experience that flash of knowledge, that light of wisdom that says I need to think differently or to act in a way that speaks of the person I am and the one I hope to become.

 For the past 14 years, I have witnessed how Light and Hope become realized in our community.  It happens:

  • when faculty partner with students to conduct research that benefits science, the arts and the humanities,
  • when community-based learning  invites students to develop connections between their classroom learning and their experiences in the broader community,
  • when our students obtain internships that allow them to apply their studies as they master practical skills,
  • when, through study abroad and service immersion programs, students live and learn from those who maybe materially poor or who come from vastly different cultures,
  • when our students advocate for social change and awaken many at the College to the moral necessity of being environmental stewards of creation,
  • when students confront intolerance and bias incidents on campus with courage and integrity,
  • when in Learning Communities students have the opportunity for sustained reflection on a substantial and timely teaching question.
  • when students, as well as faculty and staff, serve as educators to the broader college community about issues of diversity and inclusion,
  • when students celebrate and contribute to the arts through theatre, sculpture, painting, graphic design and photography, 
  • when graduating seniors integrate what they have learned during their four years at Stonehill through a capstone project, 

The promise of a Stonehill education is that these transforming moments are available to all of our students, so that a Stonehill education helps to further both the common good while enabling students and alumni to live lives of professional fulfillment and purpose. I hope that our students are profoundly engaged in learning which transforms their lives, that helps them to think both critically and creatively…and where they acquire a life-long love of learning.

I believe our students, our faculty, my confrères in Holy Cross, our staff and alumni truly inspire hope for a better tomorrow. They do this by the lives they lead, the work they perform, the learning they further, and the commitments they make.

As I embark on my tenure as the tenth president of the College, I am so strongly and deeply encouraged. I believe in Stonehill’s wonderful story, especially our mission of providing for each student a learning experience that transcends the classroom for the good of the broader community and fosters a hunger to build a just and compassionate world.

Now in our 65th year, we are still a relatively young institution and, while we have made many strides forward in that time, our best years are still ahead of us. I base my confidence on the spirit of dedication I see across our campus and the deep pool of talent among those who teach, mentor and represent the College at all levels. 

That makes for a powerful combination and I am honored to have been entrusted with the responsibility of leading Stonehill College. Looking ahead, together we can develop and strengthen our strong academic reputation, deepen our commitment to diversity, ensure affordability, and enhance our Catholic character.

I look forward to working with all of you on these and many other issues. And I pray Mary, Queen of the Summit, look upon us with love and that God’s spirit animates all that we do here at Stonehill College.

 Rev. John F. Denning, C.S.C. -  Friday, September 20th, 2013