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Michael E. Engh, S.J., Becomes Santa Clara University's 28th President

Friday, Apr. 24, 2009
Inauguration day

SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 24 - Amid colorful banners and reminders to protect the needy in the global quest for sustainability, Michael E. Engh, S.J. became Santa Clara University's 28th president Friday morning.

Speaking of the need to take time to "consider all living beings," Engh issued a proposal for Santa Clara to become a leading center for "just sustainability," to ensure that socially and economically marginalized people further harmed in the worldwide "green wave" toward conserving resources.

"I propose that we seriously consider becoming a major center for discussion of environmental justice, and for examining the ethical dimensions of how we treat the physical world," he said.

Attended by about 1,500 guests, Engh's inauguration took place at the school's Leavey Event Center, part of two days of understated but buoyant celebration of the Jesuit university's first new leader in 20 years.

Weaving in themes of sparing the environment, listening to and protecting the poor, and educating students to do both, Engh reminded his audience of students, staff, faculty, visiting university officials and politicians that it is often the poor who suffer the most in the battle over scarce resources.

"Who hears the voice of the needy and listens to their concerns about exploited lands and economics? Who is the voice for the defense of the assaulted world?" said Engh, dressed in a black gown with the red hood of his doctorate alma mater, University of Wisconsin at Madison.

With its Catholic and Jesuit roots and its location in Silicon Valley, the 158-year-old Santa Clara University is well-positioned for this role, suggested Engh.

"We can lead and participate in the Valley's fast growing interest in sustainability, green energy, and environmental protection," he said. "We must strategically link our long-term commitment to justice to the growing efforts to protect our environment and ensure a sustainable future for all God's people," he added.

Missioning and Investiture

Fr. John P. McGarry, provincial of the Society of Jesus in California, sent Engh forth by "missioning" him to his new post, saying "I entrust to him the task of maintaining the university's Jesuit Catholic mission." (The president of Santa Clara University is always chosen from among the Jesuit order of Catholic priests.)

A.C. (Mike) Markkula Jr., chairman of Santa Clara University's Board of Trustees, performed the official investiture, placing the university chain and medallion around the neck of Engh, who received a standing ovation.

"Your leadership is one of service, service above all to the students of Santa Clara University, and its faculty and staff, and service to the community, both local and global," said Markkula, who was assisted by vice chair Robert Finocchio Jr.

The Ceremony

The inaugural ceremony opened with the traditional procession of faculty wearing the robes and colors of their own alma maters. The group was led by SCU's longest-tenured professor, Victor Vari, professor of Italian, who carried the university's ceremonial mace. The mace, an ornamental staff carved out of basswood, symbolizes the continuing authority of the president, tracing back to medieval times.

Faculty was followed by a procession of leaders, alumni, or representatives of more than 100 universities nationwide, in order of their institution's founding. Santa Clara University history professor Barbara Molony led the procession, representing her doctorate alma mater Harvard University, founded in 1636.

At the inauguration, various representatives welcomed Engh, such as Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Carl Guardino who asked Engh to "help us to measure richness in service to others" and "to walk more humbly." Several speakers offered Engh, a native of Los Angeles, advice on how to become a successful "recovering Los Angelean."

The Santa Clara University Orchestra performed the processional, recessional, and other music for the occasion under the direction of Emily Ray from SCU's music department. The university Chamber Singers also performed the National Anthem, the Alma Mater and the traditional spiritual Witness, under the direction of Thomas Colohan of SCU's music department.

Engh's inauguration and reception at the Malley center capped two full days of events. There was a late afternoon inauguration mass Thursday with principal celebrant Bishop Patrick McGrath and co-celebrants Engh, McGarry, Gerdenio M. Manuel, S.J., rector of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community, and Kevin F. Burke, S.J., acting president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

During the mass, a chalice from the Mission era and two from Fr. Engh's family -- a 100-year-old chalice from his mother's family and an Engh family chalice created for his ordination in 1981 -- were used.


In his homily, McGarry struck the theme of service as well, reminding attendees that the Jesuit heritage is to "bring our mission to the frontier" of marginalized people, and to recognize "the increasingly globalized world" and "the interdependence of all people."

"How should all of us live together and contribute together, each from his or her own gifts, to the betterment of the world?" he asked.

The Mass was followed by a reception in the University's Mission Gardens, and later a President's Club Dinner, at which Santa Clara junior Hector Vega spoke about how Santa Clara helped him move from a challenging childhood in Mexico and San Jose to becoming the first in his family to go to college, finding his inner activist and self-confidence in the process.

"It was SCU who placed a mirror in front of me and made me realize that I was worth something valuable," said Vega, a junior with a double major in communications and Spanish, who plans to go to law school after graduation.

Engh officially began his tenure as Santa Clara University president on January 5, 2009. His former appointment was dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. A third-generation California native, Engh is an historian specializing in the American West. He is the author of Frontier Faiths: Church, Temple, and Synagogue in Los Angeles (1992) and has published extensively on the history of Los Angeles and the Catholic Church's role in settling California.

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its 8,758 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contact: Deborah Lohse, SCU Media Relations Assistant Director, 408-554-5121 or

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