Boarding United Airlines Flight 175 on the morning of September 11, 2001, James Hayden ’76 was days away from a silver wedding anniversary with his classmate and college sweetheart Elizabeth (Fox) Hayden ’76.

Later that morning, five hijackers crashed Jim’s plane into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing all on board. What should have been a time of celebration for the inseparable couple became one of horror.

In many ways, Jim and Liz’s love story was shaped by Stonehill—where they met, grew together, formed ideas and opinions, and later got married. They carried these lessons throughout their lives as they had children and raised their family.

When tragedy struck on 9/11, Liz, her daughter Elizabeth ’04, a Stonehill sophomore at the time, and her son, John, experienced immense suffering and pain. What followed for Liz was a journey to redefine meaning, restore faith and hope, and ultimately find a way to honor Jim and his life’s legacy.

A Gentle Sense

Jim and Liz met during their freshman year at Orientation. Liz first noticed their height differential. “He was tall and lanky, six foot, three, whereas I was five, three.” She liked that Jim had “a gentle sense of humor. There’d be a tilt of the head and a smile that was emblematic of something he said.”

Dating all four years, they lived on campus—Boland Hall and Chatham House for Liz and O’Hara Hall and Georgetown House for Jim. “This will sound very boring, but we spent a lot of time in the old Cushing-Martin Library. Friday night would be Brother Mike’s, and Jim often came over to Boland to hang out there,” she recalls. “In junior year, when Jim had a car, we’d go down to Newport and walk the beach. Sometimes we’d go to George’s Café on Belmont Street in Brockton or occasionally to Jack in the Box on Main Street.”

Failing Grades

The couple’s academic paths never overlapped. “It would not have been good for us to be in the same class, as we were competitive on that front.”

Liz was surprised at how unprepared Jim was academically for college. She explains that Jim had come from an urban public high school where he was able to do well with little effort but lacked fundamentals in college writing.

“First semester, freshman year, as we were headed across campus, we ran into Jimmy Hayden, a sophomore, who handed Jim a notice and said, ‘I think this is meant for you.’ It was a mid-semester academic warning from the Registrar’s Office. The warning was heeded, and Jim pulled off decent grades. Fortunately, in those days, your freshman GPA did not count. Thank goodness.” By the start of sophomore year, Jim became serious, taking off in business as an accounting major.

Initially, Liz considered sociology, with the idea of possibly becoming a social worker. She eventually declared child development as her major, leading to a career in education.

[Jim had a] gentle sense of humor. There’d be a tilt of the head and a smile that was emblematic of something he said.

Guiding Prayer

Faculty and Holy Cross religious played an important part in their student lives. Liz fondly recalls breakfasts with Campus Minister Rev. John McCarthy, C.S.C. in the old Student Union Building.

“In my four years as a student, I don’t think I missed more than a handful of those breakfasts. Fr. McCarthy was a great mentor and role model,” says Liz. He introduced her to the Prayer of St. Francis—which remains “the prayer” for her. She has relied on the opening lines, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

Rev. Thomas Feeley, C.S.C. was one of Jim’s favorite professors. “There was the ever-present cheerfulness of Fr. Feeley and a gentleness as well. Jim shared those qualities—ones that are not often present in senior management, but ones that served Jim well in his career as he treated all his co-workers with honor and respect.”

Life-Changing Lessons 

“Even prior to my own experiences with the topic on 9/11, perhaps my most meaningful course was Death, with Professor of Religious Studies Peter Beisheim. While I was at Stonehill, my brother lost a child, and given that context, the course resonated. I loved it.”

In a class called Man the Unknown, with then Professor of Religious Studies Bartley MacPháidín, C.S.C. ’59, Liz studied Viktor Frankl’s memoir of life in Nazi death camps and lessons for spiritual survival, Man’s Search for Meaning. “It was the most significant book—it prompted me to really question values and purpose in life,” she notes.

In a U.S. history class, she learned that just knowing the facts was not enough, as Professor James Kenneally expected students “to consider conflict and consensus and how to hold ideas in juxtaposition to each other and being able to find pragmatic resolutions that may not be perfect but are still beneficial to others.”

Jim and Liz at their Stonehill graduation.

Golden Times

After graduation and marriage, Liz and Jim both quickly got jobs, she as a teacher at Chelmsford Public Schools, and Jim at Deloitte, Haskins and Sells.

“We were golden. Both employed, we rented an apartment in Canton at the base of the Blue Hills for $150 a month. We had Elizabeth in 1982 and John in 1984. We were a close, loving family. Jim traveled a lot for work, and we lived in England for several years in the early ’90s.”

Busy careers notwithstanding, dining at the table as a family was a nightly event for the Haydens. “With homework finished, we enjoyed being together. It was a time to catch up, a real social element. Jim was a great listener,” she recalls. “With the children, he wasn’t dogmatic or judgmental. He had a knack for asking questions that made them think.”

September 11, 2001

The vice president and CFO of Netegrity, a Waltham computer company, Hayden, 47, rose early on September 11, 2001, for a business trip to Los Angeles to meet with investors.

That morning, the Hayden household had a predictable work and school routine, as Jim prepared to travel, and Liz had a fifth-grade class to teach.

Within two hours, while at the photocopier at her school, a colleague said to Liz, “We are at war.” And in minutes, Liz saw the indelible images on television.

“My instant reaction was, ‘It’s Jim’s plane.’ Immediately, I rejected the thought. Being the analytic type, I considered, ‘What is the probability, with all the planes flying across America, that it would be Jim’s flight?’ During the next confusing hours, word came through that Jim’s plane couldn’t be located. I convinced myself that it must have put down in Ontario.”

It took Liz an incredible amount of time to get over the “absolute shock” of 9/11. Only many months later, when she and the children went away on a planned vacation during school break—and Jim did not fly in from a work destination to be with them—did it begin to penetrate that he was not coming home.

Jim and Liz at her sister’s wedding.

On their wedding day, Jim and Liz pose in front of The Chapel of St. Joseph, The Worker in The Sem.

Having It Out With God

Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Liz says, “There is a pit in my stomach. Every year it rolls around, I tend to tell myself that it will be like any other day, but it never is. It is hard.”

In the wake of that loss, Liz found that her religious faith, which had been so nourished during college, had been severely tested, indeed fractured. As she once wrote, “The God of my childhood died on September 11.”

Given the role that faith had played in her and Jim’s lives, the doubt she experienced after 9/11 taxed and challenged Liz. In response, she read insatiably, exploring different philosophers and theologians on meaning and purpose in life.

“I wanted to have it out with God and really struggled with it. I kept reading because I wanted to find the answer, and if I could find one somewhere in these books, then I thought I could get over this hurdle,” she recalls of her grief.

Looking for answers in books ultimately didn’t work for Liz. What did make a difference, she notes, was the “loving-kindness” of so many people—at Stonehill, at Harvard Elementary School, where she taught fifth-grade mathematics, and even from new acquaintances who found ways to guide her.

Healing Over Time

“I came to feel that God was putting people in my pathway that were meant to be there for me. They were so empathetic—there in front of me, helping me,” she notes.

In particular, she points to the care and consideration she received from many members of the Stonehill community, including then President Mark Cregan, C.S.C. ’78, current President John Denning C.S.C., who at that time was director of Campus Ministry, Campus Minister Genaro Aguilar, C.S.C., Dean of Academic Administration James Lee, Professor of Accounting Debra Salvucci, and Sr. Jeanmarie Gribaudo, C.S.J. ’87.

“The way they took care of my daughter, Elizabeth, was such a burden off my shoulders, a relief. I knew she was in good hands. Because of that environment and their support, she thrived there,” she says.

Healing her damaged relationship with God and regaining abiding faith took time. Throughout that ongoing process, she kept returning to her years at Stonehill, where she had learned to question and see parts of the whole.

“Life has a way of bringing abstractions to reality. When the hijackers took my husband’s life, along with 2,996 individuals, I was shattered. The essential questions I had pondered during my college years were no longer abstractions but a reality that tested my core beliefs,” she says.

I wanted to have it out with God and really struggled with it. I kept reading because I wanted to find the answer, and if I could find one somewhere in these books, then I thought I could get over this hurdle.

Take The Orange Line

As part of her lengthy quest, Liz attended a weeklong silent retreat where she met Jesuit spiritual director Rev. William Barry, the author of With an Everlasting Love: Developing an Intimate Relationship with God. In conversations with him, she mentioned her interest in volunteering. He suggested she take the Orange Line down to Jamaica Plain to visit Nativity Preparatory School, a Jesuit middle school serving boys of all faiths from low-income families residing in Boston.

And there, Liz fell into open arms.

For close to a decade, she taught students, mentored teachers, developed curriculum and worked on special projects at Nativity.

“The staff of that school embraced me. I absolutely loved being with the kids,” she says. “It opened my eyes to the world and the suffering of so many people. Although I have had immense tragedy, I also have had immense blessings.”

Full Circle

For Liz, this idea of experiencing both tragedy and blessing relates back to being a student in Fr. MacPháidín’s class, where she studied meaning and purpose in life.

“It came full circle for me. We always have a choice, and we should live intentionally, aware of the decisions or choices we make,” she says.

This is why she decided to make a $2 million gift to establish an endowed academic chair in Jim’s memory at Stonehill. The Hayden Chair will lead the College’s bold push for a more equitable world through its new Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice. 

“I did not want to succumb to hate. Wanting to prove good could overcome evil, I resolved to fight for justice and to create a more humane world,” Liz explains.

“Jim was an optimist and a man of peace. His perspective was global. Perceptive and with good judgement, he had an ability to bring people together and to engender trust,” says Liz. “If he gave you his word, you could rely on it. I know he would be honored by this bold idea to address diversity and inequity and to promote social justice at Stonehill and beyond.”

The James E. Hayden Chair for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Social Justice

WHEN LIZ HAYDEN ’76 heard the presentation at a Board of Trustees meeting in 2019, the idea for a Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Social Justice at Stonehill appealed to her immediately because, as she recalls, “we can all be a catalyst to create a more just and compassionate world.”

Conceived by a 33-member team of faculty and staff led by Associate Professor of English Laura Scales as part of a Bold Ideas for Academic Innovation and Excellence initiative, the proposal recognized the need for greater faculty diversity and for a more robust examination of race and racism in the College’s curriculum.

“In a time of great inequality, suffering and marginalization, we need to better understand these challenges and how to cultivate social justice in response, especially in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. These matters must be addressed in our communities and in the colleges and universities that we love. The Center gives us a way of assessing what those challenges really are, and that would have been Jim’s approach,” Liz says.

According to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DeBrenna LaFa Agbényiga, “The Hayden Chair will lead the Center, which is located in the Martin Institute, and it will be a home for innovative and interdisciplinary teaching, research and public dialogue. With the collaborative efforts of faculty and staff, the Center will seek to diversify the faculty, infuse the study of race and ethnicity into the curriculum, recruit and retain more students of color, and create opportunities for interdisciplinary work in the fields of race, ethnicity and social justice.”

A search is under way for a distinguished scholar who will join the Stonehill faculty as the inaugural Hayden Chair in the fall 2022. As Chair, that scholar will hold a tenured faculty position and serve as director of the Center.

Three Faculty Fellows are working with a student-faculty committee to plan the Center’s inaugural events. The Hayden Family Lecture will be held in the 2022-2023 academic year.

The Faculty Fellows are Assistant Professor of Political Science Anwar Mhajne, who specializes in international relations and comparative politics, with a focus on gender, religion and Middle Eastern politics; Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Eric LeFlore, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist specializing in community-based solutions to human wildlife conflicts in South Africa; and Program Director in Latin American and Caribbean Studies Kirk Buckman, who is also assistant professor of political science, specializing in comparative politics and political economy.

An interdisciplinary cluster hire of at least three tenure-track faculty members with scholarly expertise in U.S. and comparative studies of race, ethnicity and social justice will follow the appointment of the Hayden Chair. These faculty hires will allow intentional and coordinated planning of curricular innovation across disciplines.