Inauguration Speech

September 8, 2006
The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A.
President, Villanova University


For the past fourteen years, my life has been in the theatre. In many ways this doesn’t seem too different, and so, I would like to welcome you to my production of A “Late” Summer’s Night Dream.

There are many people who have journeyed here to celebrate with us and I would like to take a few moments to acknowledge them. This may not follow protocol, but first and foremost, I want to thank the man who passed the university medallion to me. Father Dobbin, you have provided Villanova with eighteen years of outstanding leadership. Your accomplishments are too numerous to name but know that this community is grateful for all you have done. You will hold a special place in Villanova’s history.

On a personal level, Ed, thank you for your guidance and commitment to making this transition a rewarding and positive experience for me. As the President Emeritus of the university, I know I can always call upon your knowledge and expertise. Father Dobbin, your presidency has transformed many minds and hearts. On behalf of the Villanova community, thank you!

Now back to protocol: Cardinal Rigali, thank you for being with us today. Since 1796 the Augustinians have been a part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As you meet the challenges of leading this Catholic community, Villanova will continue to play a vital role in the Catholic educational ministry of the archdiocese.

To the Presidents and representatives from other institutions, welcome to Villanova. While on some levels we compete with one another, your presence here today is a testament to our shared educational mission. And as you have supported us, we pledge our support to you. I want to give special thanks to presidents Santagati, McGinniss and Gutmann for being here today.

I want to thank Jack Drosdick and the Board of Trustees for the trust they have placed in me. I look forward to working with you to build Villanova into an even more prominent institution of higher education.

My Augustinian brothers, you are my friends and my second family. Villanova holds a special place in our history. Many friars have served the university and made countless sacrifices to keep it viable. Our numbers are smaller but our spirit is strong. I am humbled to be the thirty-second friar to occupy this position. I promise I will uphold our legacy and I ask for your help to keep me on track.

While I cannot see all of you, there are many friends, former students and alumni here and in cyberspace. You have invited me to marry you, baptize your children and bury your family members. You have given me a very special place in your lives and you hold a special place in my heart.

To my faculty colleagues (or should I say former colleagues) and the members of the staff, I have become a better priest, teacher and administrator though your commitment, support and challenge. I ask that you continue to do the same for me as the university’s President.

A special thanks to the theatre department: I will miss all of you, the craziness and your inspiration.

To the students, I am a testament to what a Villanova education can do for you.

To my family, thank you for being here. While the clan rarely gets together, I am grateful that you made the effort to come.

I want to give a special thanks to my Uncle Pat and Aunt Eileen. Over the years, you have been a wonderful source of support and I thank you for making me a part of your family.

To my brother Michael and my sister Patti – my older brother and sister. My interest in theatre comes from Michael and my desire to be a teacher comes from Patti. Our other sister Denise passed away in 1995. She holds a special place in our family and taught us to love and how to be committed to something. So, as only a younger brother can say: they made me do it.

Finally, I want to thank my mother. She is not in good health and this trip from Michigan has been quite an effort for her. I left for Villanova in 1970 to begin a journey and Mom, you and Dad stood by me at every turn. Thank you for everything and you have my love, always.

And now, what you all have been waiting for…

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, Let there be light: and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. Thus evening came and morning followed the first day.

The book of Genesis opens with a dramatic and ominous scene that rivals any Hollywood movie. A formless wasteland, a mighty wind and a booming voice establishes universal order out of primordial chaos. God begins by creating the smallest creatures and, on the sixth day, crowns his achievement with the creation of man and woman. It is the well-known version of Creation from a people who experienced their God as a majestic presence. This is a thrilling way to see ourselves. Like the Creator, we can be all-powerful, invincible and supreme. But, we also run the risk of becoming untouchable. Rather than think of ourselves as all-powerful wizards or magicians, I ask that we embrace the second story of Creation.

At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, while as yet there was no field shrub on earth and no grass on the field had sprouted, for the Lord God had sent no rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the soil, but a stream was welling up out of the earth and was watering all the surface of the ground, then the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life; and so man became a living being.

In this faith expression of a nomadic people, God is portrayed as a potter who molds the body out of clay. The artist God digs into the earth and from this material he shapes, molds and sculpts his creation. He gives it life by embracing it and breathing into it. The form comes to life through the very breath of the Creator. As in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, this limp form is given strength through the touch of God.

As I begin my service as Villanova’s President, it is this story of Creation that I hope will focus a way for us to see our world and execute our mission. It is through this method of creation that we must educate. We continue God’s creation by the way we shape and mold one another. Education is the breath of life that enables us to discover our potential and move in new directions. During this moment in Villanova’s history, we must evaluate how we mold and frame this community. How do we fashion each other as we take our place in a global community?

The Augustinian principles of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas are the tenets of our creation and the central theme of this inauguration. The words were not chosen to be a new brand for the university; rather, they were chosen because they are the foundation of what we are as Villanovans. They are the central images Augustine found in scripture and became the agenda of his life and work. They are the principles he used to draw people into a community. They are the foundation upon which the Irish friars formed Villanova. They are the ideals that continue to challenge us today and they are the values that will propel us into the future. Every decision we make must be framed within these values.

The delights of truth invite us to learn – Veritas. Augustine was a lifelong student in search of truth. The academic identity of Villanova must remain the pinnacle of our creation. It is the clay in our hands and it is where we begin to sculpt.

As a Catholic university infused with an Augustinian spirituality and pedagogy, we engage in a discourse with the world around us to search out the truth in all disciplines. Remaining committed to the Gospel values, we cannot be afraid to encounter and debate the challenges from voices of disagreement.

We must emphasize a holistic approach to education and acknowledge that there are many aspects of the university that contribute to the process of creation. It is our responsibility to form the total person: Intellectually, Emotionally, Spiritually, Culturally, Socially and Physically. The center of the university needs to be an intellectual center. Our library needs to be refashioned to become a storehouse of knowledge from which everything radiates. Our classrooms must come to the residence halls and our residence halls must inform the classroom. Our expressions of faith should enliven our work. Our student life programs need to be extensions of our academic endeavor. Our playing fields transformed into arenas of learning. Our social events should foster respect for people. And we need to build, and I mean build, a center where culture is appreciated and explored. This is a place where we can shape the body, probe the heart and elevate the soul. Villanova prides itself as a liberal arts institution of learning, a place where humanity is examined with an open but critical mind. Therefore, in our search for truth we can never renounce the liberal or ignore the arts.

Be of one heart and one mind – Unitas. In the fourth century, Augustine recognized that it is with others that one finds God. In the nineteenth century, the Irish Augustinians envisioned that education would fortify a community and, in the twenty-first century, we acknowledge that within community we can achieve our true potential. Villanova creates and fosters community. It dwells in our spirit and tradition but it takes time, energy and commitment for it to be formed. We need to build ways to support it. We must carefully examine how the physical plant contributes to the development of community. Classrooms must be designed to promote dialogue and global understanding and our buildings must be constructed with environmental sensitivity. We need to continue upgrading residence halls to support a living atmosphere that brings people together in friendship within an intellectual climate. We must continue to build bridges between our campus and the surrounding community. Our neighbors are invited to share in our academic, athletic and cultural life. Villanova has something to offer them and they have something to offer us; we must treat them and their property with respect.

In our search for community, it is important to remember that we will never achieve new levels of understanding if we are only with people who think, act and believe the way we do. We must acknowledge where each of us has been and the different experiences we bring to this community. For 164 years, Villanova has been a place that has empowered people to ascend to new heights. There are over eighty-five thousand alumni from all walks of life. They are in places and in careers they never imagined the day they arrived at Villanova. Many have been the first in their families to attain a college education. It was in this environment that they discovered something new about themselves and achieved the skills they needed to take different paths. The stories are numerous and span our history. Beginning with one of Villanova’s first students, the son of Irish indentured servants who became a leading Philadelphia merchant, to a young Hispanic woman who came to Villanova five years ago from a section of Manhattan known as Alphabet City who is now pursuing a graduate degree in Math and Statistics.

Villanova was founded to be a community where people are able to mature. We must continue to advance this mission. We need to herald a diverse community of race, class and geography. We need to welcome people of different faiths, orientations and experiences. We need to stop referring to ourselves as “Vanillanova.” We are not and can never be one flavor but rather we should see ourselves as an immigrant population who come from a variety of families, experiences and places in order to build this new home, to unite in a culture of giving, to acknowledge the blessings we have received and to ensure that others will share the same. This is an Augustinian community; this has always been and must remain Villanova’s objective.

The delights of truth invite us to learn, but the demands of love oblige us to teach. – Caritas. Throughout his life, Augustine wrestled with love and, like many of us, he searched for it in a myriad of ways. He believed that love was the glue that linked all aspects of life. We realize that love is a difficult ideal and can create positive or negative effects. It can be the source of exhilaration and of pain. It can manipulate or liberate. But in the process of creation love is always the source of life. How can you create and not love what you have created? Artists need to share their work with others for every work contains a part of the soul. It is a course of action that demands self disclosure and beckons people to discern meaning for themselves.

Love requires us to care about the life and direction of another. It has the power to break the shackles of ignorance and isolation. For a faith community, love must be the driving force of all actions. We cannot say that we are in search of truth, that we desire to form community, and not be willing to serve one another. Our belief in the concepts of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas requires action. They should never be simply words we speak or engraved on a seal. We must take them into our hands and knead them into all we do and, like the artist, we must share our soul with others. One of my requests was that this inauguration celebration would include a day of service, a time for us, in love, to share what we have with those around us. I call each of us to make every day such a day.

From the day I was selected to serve in this role, people have been asking me to share my vision for the university. It is not complicated. I want Villanova to be Villanova. I don’t want us to be anyone else. We know what we do well and we must strive to do it better. In our search for truth, we need to strengthen our community in cross-disciplinary dialogues grounded in love that will serve to advance all of Villanova, not just one part. As President, I will do my best to empower you and, as an Augustinian, I promise to serve you. Among the many roles of a President, one is to be the face of the university. I am proud and willing to be the face of Villanova, but you – the administration, faculty, staff, students and alumni – you must be her heart, her mind and her soul. Let us be the artists who gather, shape and fashion our unique images of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas. Let us blow our breath into the life of Villanova. Let us Ignite the Heart, Instruct the Mind and Illuminate the Spirit. Let us Create!