SCU President Delivers Opening Prayer at U.S. Capitol
By Tracy Seipel
Kevin O’Brien, S.J., offers consoling words amid worried nation.
It was less than two minutes long, but Santa Clara University President Kevin O’Brien’s opening prayer to the U.S. House of Representatives on March 5 said it all:
Godspeed in our nation’s battle against coronavirus; a blessing for the Congressmen and women as they “do the hard work of justice building and peace making;” and a plea to “always listen to the most vulnerable and voiceless in our land.”
The address was the SCU Jesuit leader’s first time delivering an opening prayer as House guest chaplain.
“I always consider the audience and how I might share a consoling word with them,” said Fr. O’Brien upon returning to campus and explaining how he develops a prayer.
“Given the growing concern about coronavirus in our country, I mentioned those needs first. And then I prayed for the elected members and staff in the House, that God might give them wisdom and courage.”
Finally, he noted, “It is always important to bring to our minds and hearts the needs of the poor and voiceless, particularly in Congress, which is called to serve the common good.”
Fr. O’Brien’s whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. also saw him meet with a number of Bay Area elected officials to discuss issues central to SCU.
In a brief session with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, he talked about legislation before Congress authorizing funds to respond to the coronavirus, and federal government backing for tuition support.
He had longer meetings on the same topics with others, including U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, J.D. ’75, to whom he spoke about protecting SCU’s DACA students, as well as local issues involving housing and transportation. Lofgren also addressed her House colleagues to praise Fr. O’Brien’s efforts at SCU, and tweeted her thanks.
“We covered a lot of ground,” said Fr. O’Brien of his day in D.C. “Zoe, Anna (U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo), and Dianne (U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein) talked about their long association with Santa Clara and prior presidents.”
He also met with U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, J.D. ’96, son of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63, to discuss agricultural technology initiatives; Michael Panetta ’19 is a staff assistant for the House Committee on Agriculture.
The entire Bay Area contingent, he noted proudly, “spoke so highly of Santa Clara and the impact we have as a university serving the community.”
Rounding out his visit to D.C. was a stop in New York City. In both places, Fr. O’Brien attended “Meet the President” events, where he connected with East Coast Bronco alumni, parents and friends for the first time since he started as SCU President last July.
The virus outbreak was never far from his thoughts. In a matter of days, the House had passed an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus package, followed by the U.S. Senate. President Trump signed the bill into law on March 6.
By March 9, after lengthy consultation with his leadership team, Fr. O’Brien announced Santa Clara would suspend face-to-face meetings of classes and move to a virtual format until April 13. He has since extended that period to the end of the school year.
While acknowledging that the decision was disruptive, the SCU President pointed to the strength and resilience of the Santa Clara community.
“In our 169-year history, we have faced many challenges,” he wrote, “but we have faced them together, as we will now, with clarity and conviction.”