LeMura inaugurated as Le Moyne’s 14th president

Dr. Linda LeMura, Syracuse native and Bishop Grimes alum, was inaugurated March 20 as Le Moyne College’s 14th president, officially becoming the first laywoman to lead the college and the first

laywoman to lead one of 189 Jesuit colleges or universities in the world.

Inauguration day began with Mass in the Panasci Family Chapel on campus. The liturgy was celebrated by Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham and concelebrated by Jesuit Fathers John Cecero, provincial of the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, and Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Numerous members of Le Moyne’s Jesuit community and diocesan clergy joined the celebration as well. 

“I still remember the first time I saw Linda in action at a meeting of deans,” said homilist Father Charles Currie, SJ. “I could see then that she was very, very special. She’s become even more so every year since. She’s taken the AJCU [Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities] presidents by storm — and it wasn’t even on the basketball court.”

Father Currie also drew on the towering example of Syracuse native Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. The “greatly loved and esteemed” former president of Notre Dame, who passed away Feb. 26, led the university to become one of the finest insitutions of higher learning in the nation.

“Current Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins is now on notice that there’s a new Father Ted Hesburgh about to make her mark,” Father Currie said, to laugher and applause from the congregation.

Numerous civic and academic leaders were on hand for the inauguration ceremony in the Henninger Athletic Center that afternoon. Fourteen speakers offered messages of welcome and congratulations to the new president, including Dr. John Smarrelli, president of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., and former interim president of Le Moyne, and Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud (who quipped that, unlike the other speakers who mentioned Dr. LeMura’s prowess on the hardwoods, he would not be talking about basketball.)

Following her missioning by the Society of Jesus and investiture, Dr. LeMura offered remarks to the crowd.

“Never has a Jesuit education been more needed, more relevant, and more essential — and not just here, in Central New York, but for our country and our world,” she said. “What we offer here at Le Moyne is an educational experience that is as visionary and rigorous as it is unique and distinctive. And that’s what our students come to this campus looking for: that’s what they were looking for in 1946, wearing their skinny ties and pill box hats; and that’s what our students — in their blue jeans and baseball caps — are demanding today.”

She also recalled loooking at the cornerstone of Grewen Hall on her first day on Le Moyne’s campus in 2003. Carved into the stone is “1947,” the date of the building’s construction, and “AMDG,” the intials of the Jesuits’ motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, “For the greater glory of God.”

“I was moved by this cornerstone, by the tension between historical time and the eternal, between the crucifix atop the building and the clock beneath it,” she said. “I thought, this is a place where ideas and prayer interplay; those who study here will understand what the character Henry Drummond declares in the play Inherit the Wind, ‘an idea is a greater monument than a Cathedral.’ In other words, we pray when we think.”

Dr. LeMura’s full address appears below. Check back for additional coverage and photos.

 

 

 

Le Moyne College: The Primacy of Faith and the Power of the Intellect

Inauguration Address of Linda M. LeMura, Ph.D.

Fourteenth President of Le Moyne College

March 20, 2015

 

As I look out at this remarkable gathering, I find myself searching for some word or phrase grander, deeper, more profound than “Thank you.”  I can find none. What a privilege it is, and what an honor, to be standing here before you as the 14th President of Le Moyne College.  

Welcome to our many distinguished guests.  Among you are leaders in higher education, government officials, members of the clergy, representatives of civic organizations, friends and neighbors, and of course, our students, staff and alumni of Le Moyne.  I am grateful to you all for attending, whether you travelled from afar or just walked down the hill.

I wish to thank Board of Trustees Chair Ms. Sharon Kinsman-Salmon and Vice Chair Dr. Robert Turner and the members of the Board of Trustees, Regents and the alumni board for their confidence in me.  Also, I thank Bishop Robert Cunningham, Father Provincial John Cecero, The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities President Fr. Michael Sheeran, Fr. John Bucki, rector of Le Moyne’s Jesuit community and all members of our Jesuit community.

I welcome back to our campus former Le Moyne presidents Fr. Frank Haig, Fr. Kevin O’Connell and Dr. John Smarrelli.  My welcome extends as well to Congressman John Katko, Governor Cuomo’s representative, Mr. Anthony Vilardo, New York State Assemblyman Mr. Al Stirpe, Onondaga County Executive, The honorable Joanie Mahoney, Syracuse Mayor, the honorable Stephanie Minor and our other elected officials.

I thank the inauguration committee, and in particular co-chairs Dean Dennis DePerro and Ms. Lisa Peters, for the herculean effort required to bring about the events of the past two days.

To the faculty members of Le Moyne College, and the Executive Board of the Faculty Senate in particular, you are scholars of the finest caliber, teachers who inspire our students with your energy and insight.  I am honored to represent you and the work you do.

Finally, please indulge me while I thank my family; my husband Larry, our daughter Emily, my siblings Lena, Joanne, Armand, Joe and Lisa and their beautiful families, and most especially to my mom, grazie e vi amo tutti.  None of this would have been possible without the love and support from all of you.

The road that led from my childhood home, at 701 North Townsend Street in Syracuse to this stage on the Heights is only 4 miles long – four miles, three advanced degrees, 15 years of teaching and research, 10 years of administrative work, over 40 publications – and 500 years of Jesuit tradition.  That’s how long it has taken for me – a 54-year-old woman from the North Side – to reach this moment.

And yet, as winding and steep as that road may seem, as unique and even improbable as this moment may seem, in many ways, my journey to the Heights echoes that of many of our students and their families.  In fact, my story, and the story of my family, is also the story of Le Moyne College.

I am the daughter of immigrants, both of whom came to Central NY without riches, without formal education, not speaking English, and very little in the way of material security.  Yet, they had faith.  We read in the letter to the Hebrews that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  My parents had that faith – faith in their family, in their children, in this country, faith in the future and faith in the spiritual truths made manifest by this institution.

Le Moyne College bears witness to the faith, the hope, and the imagination of people like my parents.  At one time they were German, Irish and Italian immigrants. Now, perhaps, they are Vietnamese, Sudanese, Mexican, Dominican, Indian, Pakistani, Bhutanese, or Somali.  What connects the generations of our students – whether they are from humble origins or from great wealth and privilege, immigrant or native born, whether they are the first generation to pursue higher education or the last in a long line of scholars and professionals – what connects them all is their belief that education is an act of faith, an expression of certainty and confidence in the face of an unknown future.

When Le Moyne College opened its doors in 1946, Syracuse was booming: it was at the beginning of a period of prosperity and growth that defined not just life in upstate New York, but the very fabric of American culture in the 20th century. 1946 marked the beginning of the postwar economic boom, the baby boom, and an educational boom.  Downtown Syracuse was, for many of us, the center of fashion and commerce.  Shopping at local department stores like Addis’s, Dey Brothers or Edward’s was an event – women wore pillbox hats and white gloves; men wore fedoras and skinny ties. The Landmark Theater, with all its gold and velvet, brought a touch of Broadway to Salina Street.  Syracuse was thriving with industry – Crouse-Hinds Company, General Electric, Carrier Corporation, General Motors, and Bristol Meyers and the industrial base was expanding. 

Returning veterans were using the GI bill to join a growing middle class and the number of college bound students would increase exponentially over the next 20 years; Sounds good, doesn’t it?  What better time to open a Jesuit College in a city populated by Catholic immigrants fueled by the American Dream?

But 1946 does not mark the true beginning of Le Moyne College. Bishop Walter Foery’s call for a Jesuit college in Syracuse NY came earlier, at a darker time in history, as America was finally climbing out of the Great Depression and just months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  It was a dream sustained throughout WWII, and in the face of great doubt.  Who could tell when the war would end, and what the country would be like?  Was there really a need for a new college in Syracuse, when the city was already made famous byanother University sitting on another hill?  How would immigrant Catholics afford a college education for their children?  Why not locate the newest Jesuit College in Albany or Rochester, or even in the wilds of the Adirondacks?

These were powerful arguments against us.  Yet, despite material concerns and incalculable worries, Le Moyne College became a reality.  I want us all to remember that the need for a Jesuit, Liberal Arts College was conceived during dark times and despite serious doubts. In other words, Le Moyne College itself is a creative, faith-filled response to crisis and uncertainty.  

At a moment in history when war loomed and the world seemed to be spiraling toward a bleak future, the Jesuits affirmed the primacy of faith and the power of the intellect.  A Liberal Arts education, as imagined and articulated by the Jesuits who founded Le Moyne, was a call to service in a time of need, and it remains so today. A Jesuit education is not meant to be a luxury, or the capstone to a life of leisure.  A degree from Le Moyne College is intended to be the armor that will allow students – from all backgrounds and means – to thrive in a sometimes dangerous, always challenging world.  A Le Moyne College education opens doors for those who want access to the riches of culture and the benefits of hard work; it invites students to live lives of service, faith, intellect, and integrity. 

So much has changed in Syracuse – and really, in many communities – since the founding of Le Moyne. Those distinctive, local businesses, for example, were replaced by what was seemingly newer, bigger, and less “small town.” Little did we realize that some day we’d miss those touchstones. In an irony lost on very few creative entrepreneurs, we now hear members of our community longing for the unique fabric and flavor of the cities they grew up with. Mayors, legislators, urban planners and architects are trying to recreate and rebuild what was lost. At Le Moyne, we don’t have to rebuild. While moving boldly forward – in the sciences, the social sciences, in the arts, in business and the humanities – we honor our heritage. We remain a touchstone.

Never has a Jesuit education been more needed, more relevant, and more essential – and not just here, in Central New York, but for our country and our world.  What a Jesuit education honors, above all else, is the sacred nature of each individual; it honors the unique talents, skills, and potential of each student.  This is what the Jesuits have defined as “cura personalis,” the care of the whole person – body, mind, and soul; care for each student, in all his or her wonderful, individual complexity.  As the noted Jesuit scientist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  What we offer here at Le Moyne is an educational experience that is as visionary and rigorous as it is unique and distinctive.  And that’s what our students come to this campus looking for: that’s what they were looking for in 1946, wearing their skinny ties and pill box hats; and that’s what our students – in their blue jeans and baseball caps – are demanding today.

I have so much respect, so much admiration, for today’s students. And for Le Moyne College students in particular. I believe that we are in the midst of the next so-called “greatest generation,” a generation whose courage and tenacity, imagination and innovation will help to heal this broken world.  Despite the technology that surrounds and defines them, our students long for experiences that are as genuine and organic as they are cutting-edge and hi-tech.  

We often find young people gazing at some electronic device – texting, trending, tweeting, posting and blogging – and occasionally, we blame them for it.

But let’s consider for a moment – as our students gaze into those tiny screens – what is it they are looking for?  They want to connect, to discover, to be surprised and excited; they are looking for knowledge, for direction, and sometimes, they are even looking for insight.  Pope Francis reminds us that “Young people are just as attracted to the truth as they are to convenience and expediency.” Students come to Le Moyne College searching for something profound, something both inspirational and intimate.  They want an education worthy of their curiosity – one that honors their unique humanity, that guides them through the uncertainty of the future by connecting them to the cultural, scientific, and intellectual riches of the past.

I read recently how, after the earthquake in Los Angles in 1994, when all the lights were out, residents called the police to report a strange light in the darkened sky. They were seeing, for the first time, the glow of the Milky Way.Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1836, contemplated just such a revelation. He wondered, “what if the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the memory of the city of God which had been shown!”When the lights went out, just such a wonder was revealed.

What was once the latest in miraculous technology, the light bulb, now blinds us to the eternal light of the stars.  Writer Isaac Asimov once lamented that “the saddest part of life is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” As we are propelled forward into a future of equally miraculous innovation, we need occasionally to clear away the noise and glare of the immediate so that we can remain equally focused on what is transcendent, eternal, and true, on what St. Augustine described, hundreds of years before Emerson, as “the City of God.”  A Jesuit education is rooted in the present moment – without losing sight of the ever present; it balances the necessity for light – against the universal need for illumination.  If the goal of higher education is to inspire new acts of creativity, new frontiers in science, new technology, new ideas and new policies, all of that innovation must be framed by truths that are lasting.  De Chardin reflected on just this interplay between the immediate science of innovation and the lasting creativity of invention when he wrote, “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

I remember the first day I arrived on campus in 2003; I took a moment to find the cornerstone of Grewen Hall. It is a habit of mine, which probably has its origins in the stories of my grandfather Giuseppe.  He would often tell his family about the moment he arrived in New York City from Italy, when he saw the majesty of the skyline for the first time.  He spoke of the Brooklyn Bridge as a miracle, a sign of the magical possibilities that awaited him in this New World.  To his relatives back in Linguaglossa, Sicily, he wrote, “In America, here people walk in the air.”  A bit of a poet my grandfather was!  Without knowing the names of John and Washington Roebling, its engineers, he knew that behind the science and mathematics and even the politics that made the Brooklyn Bridge a reality, were art, philosophy, and imagination – all of which the Roeblings wrought in steel and stone.  From my grandfather I learned to look at the architecture around me and to try to see beyond the structure itself, to the ideas, the hopes and ambitions that inspired it. Carved into the cornerstone of Grewen Hall is the date of its construction, 1947, above that, the initials AMDG, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, the motto of the Jesuits, “For the greater glory of God.” 

I was moved by this cornerstone, by the tension between historical time and the eternal, between the crucifix atop the building and the clock beneath it. I thought, this is a place where ideas and prayer interplay; those who study here will understand what the character Henry Drummond declares in the play Inherit the Wind, “an idea is a greater monument than a Cathedral.”  In other words, we pray when we think.

Grewen Hall is no Ivory Tower. Its brick and mortar simplicity anchors a campus buttressed by cutting-edge science facilities at one end and the newly christened Madden School of Business at the other.  Across from Grewen Hall is the vibrant Coyne Center for the Performing Arts, the equally lively Panasci Chapel, and between them both is the quietly busy Noreen Reale Falcone Library.  And closing the circle are athletic fields and facilities, where the energy of youth finds a place for its full expression.  Grewen Hall is, like the Core Liberal Arts curriculum it houses, at the heart of Le Moyne College.  And no matter where our students subsequently travel, whether to Chennai, India to study emerging economies, or to Thailand on a Fulbright grant, whether they are engaged in research at graduate schools around the country and the world, or whether they remain here in Central New York, as the next generation of leaders, scientists, engineers, executives or teachers, what is represented by that Cornerstone will stay with them.  Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam; their work, their intellect, their creativity, their passion, their faith: they all serve something greater than themselves.  We teach Le Moyne students to be collaborators in creation: they will build the new bridges, new cities, new relationships, and new ideas.

In the years to come, Le Moyne College will continue to adapt and change; it will not be the campus we see before us today. We will deepen our relationships with the nearly 200 Jesuit Colleges and Universities around the world. Le Moyne has already begun to establish creative partnerships with Jesuit universities in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, India and Taiwan. We will strengthen our presence in the region, working in collaboration with local and national industries.

We will collaborate with other fine Universities and Colleges, many of which – I’m very happy to say – are represented here today. In all these initiatives we will make possible, for our students, marvelous new opportunities to study, to reflect, to innovate, and to work.  Le Moyne College will pursue its mission down many exciting new paths, while always honoring its unique heritage. Pope Francis has said that, “The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.” As its 14th president, I am proud to shepherd Le Moyne College down these roads, always toward the good.

Now, it’s time to get to work, time to begin our journey – together – into an exciting, challenging new future. This journey into the need and wonder of the world is at the heart of a Jesuit education. I will leave you all with a promise and a challenge: in the prescient words of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Ite, Omnia incendite et inflammate, Go out and set the world on Fire.”

 

Citations:

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. Activation of Energy. 1963.

Pope Francis. Interview. March 2013.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature: Addresses/Lectures. Boston: James Monroe and Company, 1849.

Asimov, Issac. Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations. Ed. Jason Shulman and Isaac Asimov.

            London: Weidenfield & Nicolson. 1988.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Phenomenon of Man. 1955.

Lawrence, Jermone, and Robert E. Lee. Inherit the Wind. New York: Random House, 1955.

Pope Francis. Interview with Eugenio Scalfari.  1 October 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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