By Tanya Connor
Contemplation, discernment and self-emptying were themes Jesuit Father Philip L. Boroughs, the 32nd president of the College of the Holy Cross, sounded at his installation Sept. 14.
He was elected president in May 2011 and assumed office last January, succeeding retiring Jesuit Father Michael C. McFarland. Last Friday P. Kevin Condron, chairman of the board of trustees, inaugurated him.
Preceding the installation, at a Mass for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Father Boroughs was “missioned” by Fathers Myles N. Sheehan and Patrick J. Lee, Jesuit provincials of the New England and Oregon provinces, respectively. (Oregon is Father Boroughs’ home province.)
Bishop McManus, other clergy and the congregation then extended their hands over him in blessing.
The cross is where “we, as a believing community, learn the mind and heart of Christ, who poured out himself for us,” Jesuit Father Paul Harman, vice president for mission, said in his homily. “It is an invitation to a new way of living. …
“Sometimes we take up the cross and lead rather than follow … carry the cross in comfortable directions of our own choosing … and sometimes we have made the cross a mark of self-righteousness, rather than a summons to love and to serve. …
“At a Catholic college, taking the cross seriously means the hard work of forming a community in the patient search for knowledge and truth,” struggling with questions about evil and suffering, listening to other religious traditions, and “entering the broken world of the poor and powerless,” he said. Above all, it means rejecting what is superficial and “going to that place in our thoughts and imagination where life meets mystery, and where the only way forward is contemplation and wonder.”
“We are here … to give witness that you are accepting an important mission from the Society of Jesus – a mission which is part of your life-long commitment to serve Jesus ‘under the banner of the cross,’” he told Father Boroughs. “You are being asked to carry forward the Jesuit educational tradition.”
Later, as representatives from colleges and universities around the nation processed to the installation ceremony, students wearing T-shirts with names of Holy Cross presidents lined the drive. The ceremony included music and greetings from representatives of the college, city and state.
In his inaugural address John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, said sources of Holy Cross’ strength are its commitment to the liberal arts, the community, and its spirituality. Father Boroughs was vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown.
“Ultimately I am here today because of the Society of Jesus,” Father Boroughs said in his presidential address. He said the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, educated him and welcomed him into their apostolic brotherhood, a community captured by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, their founder.
Father Boroughs referred to part of “The Weeper,” Holy Cross Professor Robert Cording’s poem about St. Ignatius, read at the installation.
“He wept … because he’d suddenly feel entirely empty, and utterly grateful, all the doors of his heart … swung wide open, able now to receive and find room for all the world’s orphaned outpourings and astonishments.”
“It was Ignatius’ inner freedom to surrender himself completely to God and to detach from all those limiting self-understandings and compulsions which had earlier dominated his life, which allowed him to rest in radical emptiness and graced gratitude,” Father Boroughs said in his prepared address. This enabled him to experience “the world’s orphaned outpourings and astonishments.” He marveled at the beauty and possibility of creation, and saw need and suffering, but also God at work.
St. Ignatius and his fellow Jesuits began what is now a 465-year educational tradition, Father Boroughs said. He said Jesuit Father Diego Ledesma listed goals of this education, which Holy Cross was founded for: to offer students skills for practical living, to contribute to their communities as citizens, to develop the mind and to help individuals achieve their ultimate end of union with God.
With the present transition “we are called to pause and assess where we are and what God and this moment in time are asking of us,” Father Boroughs said of the college community.
“Institutionally, our commitment to build a college contemplative center will offer us a dedicated place for prayer and reflectivity,” and an opportunity to develop programs for students, faculty, staff and alumni, Father Boroughs said. It may also stimulate conversation about dehumanizing “rhythms of life,” and help people discern academic expectations and integrate spiritual, artistic, athletic and social co-curriculars, he said.
“Our ability to engage thoughtfully the ongoing implications of a struggling global economy will require us to redirect aspects of our financial plan for the foreseeable future,” he said, speaking of listening, discerning, and imagining new ways of operating.
Father Boroughs also spoke of inter-religious understanding, justice and Middle East violence, and asked, “how might our educational experiences engage and advance our appreciation for diverse religious traditions and spiritualities?”
He spoke of the upcoming election and sensitivity to needs nationally and abroad.
“We can choose to act with such integrity and ingenuity in making difficult decisions that others see in us ways of linking prayer, reflectivity and discerned choices that inspire and energize,” he said.
Father Boroughs cited a diary entry of a student at a Methodist college in the 1850s: “Oh that the Lord would show me how to think and how to choose.”
Writing about this in his recent book, “College, What it Was, Is, and Should Be,” Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor, said, “That sentence … sounds archaic today. … And yet, I have never encountered a better formulation … of what a college should strive to be: an aid to reflection, a place where young people take stock of their talents and passions and begin to sort out their lives in a way that is true to themselves and responsible to others.”
Father Boroughs concluded, “For us at Holy Cross, this … isn’t an archaic formulation, but a living one … grounded in our Ignatian practice of being ‘contemplatives in action.’ May this moment of new beginnings that we celebrate today, help us to listen, discern, choose and act to create a future with peace and hope.”