Founder's 2021 Presidential Speech

“A university is in large part defined by those ‘intangible qualities which make for greatness.'"

- Justice Anthony Kennedy

Mr. Daleo, Archbishop Caccia, Joanne and Manny Chirrico, Joe Moglia, members of the Board of Trustees, the President's Council, the Parents' Council, honored Founders of the University, and faithful Rams--whether by graduation, marriage or adoption, welcome to Founders 2021. As you know, this is one of the greatest feasts on the University's crowded calendar – right up there with Commencement, Jubilee and Homecoming. The Founder's Dinner! It is an event that is part canonization, part reflection on the past, and part a feast of rededication to the values, goals and ideals that Fordham holds dear. Therefore, it is no wonder that we look forward to it with such eager longing every year. (And let’s be honest. After the past difficult eighteen months, we have been looking forward to this evening with especially great longing, anticipation and excitement. God is good.)

"The intangibles that make for greatness." When he received the Stein Prize from the Law School in 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy used these words to speak about the characteristics that are the signs of distinctive greatness for a university, qualities that define it and distinguish both it and its graduates from all others. "The intangibles that make for greatness." These, my friends, are words to conjure with and to reflect upon. And that is what I have been doing since I first heard them. But not in a purely abstract or disinterested way. Far from it. Over and over again, I have found myself asking: “What are the “intangibles” that make for Fordham’s greatness? What are the “intangibles” that define it, drive it, set it apart and animate everything that does every day?

With your permission, I want to focus on those qualities of heart, mission and identity that endow the Jesuit University of the Capital of the world with its true greatness. Again with your permission, I will proceed from a belief that Fordham is animated by lessons learned from our saints and heroes. From Dagger John Hughes, that lion of a man who founded the University in 1841, we inherit grit, determination, an unfailing commitment to the marginalized and a firm belief in the power of education to change lives and enrich the nation. From the City that has always been our home, we derive kinetic energy, a sense of adventure and urgency in all we do, and a deep belief in the beauty, power and inclusiveness of the American promise and the American Dream. From this evening's new Founders we learn the luminous importance of character, for Manny, Joanne and Joe are people of character. They have lived their lives with faith and integrity and have used their many sparkling gifts to build up the human family. From the waves of students who have walked, run, written and read their way through their college careers in the course of the past 180 years, we inherit a firm belief in the power of bold hope.

It is, however, from our Jesuit approach to education that we have received many of the "intangibles" that have made for Fordham's distinctive greatness. To get a handle on them, you really need an Ignatian dictionary, for it is from such a dictionary that we have drawn words and phrases that are not only a part of our everyday vocabulary, but also the principles, promises, aspirations and beliefs that define us. That touch our hearts. That describe the deepest desires of our souls. That inspire and challenge us. You know them. You live by them. We say that it is our deepest desire to educate “men and women for others”; we challenge our students to be and to become ever fully with every passing day men and women whose lives are marked by “character, conscience, competence, compassion and commitment to the building up of the human family”; we encourage our students to make their own the words of the Prayer for Generosity: “Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous”; and we hold up to them the ideal of living with the sense of responsibility that is the hallmark of “bothered excellence”; to underscore that, we speak of the “Magis”, that sacred restlessness that inculcates in the heart of every Ram the drive to seek both the greater glory of God and ever greater service of others.

At the heart of all that we do, however, is the greatest of all of the intangibles that account for Fordham's distinctive greatness: its commitment to “Cura Personalis”. But what exactly is that? It is hard to define. After all, it is a phrase that is more poetic and evocative than prosaic and precise. For all that, the lived experience of Cura Personalis is both powerful and easy to identify. In fact, it has a sacred power about it. At its heart, it describes a powerfully pastoral approach to education. It challenges us both to treat each student as a gift from God, and to see each student as the most important student ever to enroll at Fordham. It also challenges us to educate the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. To treat each student with reverence, respect and with – yes, great love. It grounds, directs and informs everything that we do. It also has an incredibly strong transformative impact on our students. Surrounded with care, our students grow in confidence. Confident, they grow stronger with each passing day. They emerge from their experience empowered and transformed. They also emerge with a challenge: the challenge to take responsibility for themselves and for the world, and to transform the world by caring for others in the same empowering way they were themselves transformed here at Fordham.

My dear friends, this evening we not only celebrate the feast of the most recent saints that we have enshrined in our pantheon. We also celebrate the public launch of the Cura Personalis Campaign, a campaign that will make it possible for the University to continue to redeem the promise it has made to its students for 180 years: the promise to provide them with the kind of personal, empowering and transformative care that has always been our hallmark. The campaign is seeking $350 million in the course of the next two years for five vitally important spheres of University activity: Access and Affordability, Academic Excellence, Student Wellness and Success, Athletics, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I am happy to tell you that, thanks to the generosity that you have already shown, we have already raised $170 million toward the $350 million goal. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. But, honestly compels me to warn you (as if you needed to be warned) that I come to you in my familiar role. A humble Jesuit (yes: an oxymoron), I come to you as a beggar, and as an advocate for your younger brothers and sisters. I also come to you as the son of a son of two Irish immigrants whose life was transformed by his exposure to the intangibles that make for Fordham’s greatness. Therefore, with all the fervor that I can muster, I ask you to help us achieve and surpass the goal we have set for this new campaign. But why am I turning to you for help? The simple answer is that in the nearly quarter of a century that I have spent in your service, you have trained me to do so. Whenever I have sought your help, you have outdone yourselves in generosity. (Of course, there is no surprise there. For, you see, you were formed by and now possess the intangibles that make for Fordham's greatness, and that distinguish Fordham from other universities. Therefore, you are men and women of the Magis. You are men and women for others. You are men and women of character, grit, determination, integrity, expansiveness of heart, and restlessness of spirit. You are men and women whom the Lord heard when you said the Prayer for Generosity! And so, I turn to you to enable Fordham to make the kind of rich transformative experience that you received here available to your younger brothers and sisters.)

My dear friends, tonight is Fordham’s feast. Let me end with a final toast that pulls all of our hopes together: To Fordham: may she always be what she was founded to be: that daring and dangerous school where character has been formed, talent has been nurtured and hope has been born for 180 years. To Fordham!

Joseph M. McShane, S.J.
President, Fordham University