The Swag Behind the Ceremony
By Tracy Seipel
A historical look at Santa Clara’s presidential inauguration
At her historic Oct. 7 inauguration as Santa Clara University’s first lay person and first woman President, Julie Sullivan will proudly accept the reins of leadership of the 171-year-old Jesuit institution—along with some major bling. During the investiture portion of the ceremony, Sullivan will receive the President’s chain, attached to a large medallion. Reminiscent of the Jesuit seal, it is surrounded by the sun, and accented by three nails symbolizing the crucifixion. At its center is the University seal, similar to SCU seals before 1963, written mostly in Latin.
Here’s a look back at some Santa Clara presidential inaugural traditions:
Let’s get this party started
Surprisingly, public inaugurations at Santa Clara didn’t start until Oct. 24, 1968, when Thomas D. Terry, S.J., became the first SCU President to be feted during a campus ceremony. By then, according to a Santa Clara press release at the time, SCU had decided that, “Inasmuch as inaugurals are traditionally academic events without widespread appeal outside the University ‘family,’ it appeared that a civic program surrounding the installation of a new president might well provide the proper opportunity for such recognition and at the same time refocus community interest on some of its antecedent institutions, people, dates and activities.”
At his inauguration, Terry’s predecessor, Patrick Donohoe, S.J., presented him with a medallion inscribed with the seal of the office.
When not in Rome
Fr. Terry’s appointment as the 25th President of Santa Clara had followed a significant milestone in University history: the Feb. 16, 1968 legal separation of the Jesuits from the University into a religious, non-profit corporation. This move assured that control over Santa Clara’s future now rested solely with the Board of Trustees. In December 1976, William Rewak, S.J., became the first SCU President to be elected to the office by the Trustees. Until then, the Superior General of the Jesuit Order in Rome had selected SCU’s “rector,” who effectively served as president.
Even though we associate the President’s chain with inaugurations, it began as a "Regent's chain," and was worn for the first time by Edward J. Daly, Chairman of the SCU Board of Regents, at Santa Clara’s June 1966 commencement, based on the first known photograph of the chain. A March 15, 1966 sketch of the chain (suggesting a commission), presented to the University by Robert Coleman, a San Jose State associate professor of art, became the basis of its design.
Fr. Rewak, Santa Clara’s 26th President, is seen wearing the same chain and medallion in a photograph taken not during his Jan. 12, 1977 inauguration, but at the University’s 1980 commencement. It wasn’t until President Paul Locatelli, S.J., wore the accessory at his inauguration as Santa Clara’s 27th president on Nov. 11, 1988 that it became an SCU presidential tradition. Presidents Michael Engh, S.J., and Kevin O’Brien, S.J., would follow suit at their respective inaugurations in 2009 and 2019.
Seal of the Signet
The chain features a series of distinctive crosses decorated by one of four accents. The attached medallion features an older SCU seal that depicts the shield containing the signet of the Jesuit order: the first three letters—iota, eta, sigma—of the Greek spelling of the word Jesus (IHS), surmounted on a cross at the base of which are the three nails of the crucifixion.
An American eagle with fully extended wings perches atop the shield, holding the olive branch of peace in its talons. The almost simultaneous dates of the formation of the United States of America and the founding of the Mission Santa Clara are symbolized in the 13 stars above the eagle. Surrounding this inner core are the words “Universitas Sanctae Clarae in California.”
A side note: After the “University of Santa Clara” officially became “Santa Clara University” in 1985, a new seal was required for the name change on marketing materials (but not for the chain). Slightly modified since then, today's official University seal contains the words “Santa Clara University” and its founding year “1851.” It too features the 13 stars, above an American eagle perched upon a shield, with the Jesuit seal of the cross (IHS) and the three nails.
Santa Clara’s Bearer of the Mace will carry SCU’s ornamental staff that symbolizes the University’s academic authority. The mace harkens back to medieval times, when clergy, forbidden to use swords, carried club-like staffs into battle. Santa Clara’s two-foot long mace was hand carved from basswood by Alex Zeller of San Juan Bautista; he had sculpted his first mace for a Hollywood film in 1925. SCU’s mace, made especially for Fr. Terry’s 1968 inauguration, has a hand rubbed finish with gold leaf lettering that reads “The University of Santa Clara — 1851.” Its torch-light appearance alludes to the eternal flame of truth, while the inaugural emblem of the open book of learning and the freshly blooming flower of youth appear in the three sides of the crown. The growth and strength of the institution are symbolized in the fern-like, leafy carvings on the handle. The mace is traditionally carried at formal University occasions by SCU’s longest-tenured professor, now Tom Turley of the history department.
As President Sullivan stands on stage at Leavey Center, Santa Clara University’s red and white banner, which features the University seal, will be draped prominently behind her. Sullivan’s robe, in official Santa Clara red, is another nod to medieval times when such academic attire surfaced in Europe’s first universities. By the late 1890s, similar gowns appeared on U.S. campuses and are now customary for solemn university functions. Some SCU presidents have entered their inaugurations wearing the robe of their alma mater.
Sources: Nadia Nasr, Santa Clara University Library Archives & Special Collections; Arthur Liebscher, S.J., Professor of History, Emeritus; Mary Johnson, University Protocol & Events; "The University of Santa Clara, A History, 1851-1977," by Gerald McKevitt, S.J.
Oct 5, 2022
President Julie Sullivan will receive the President’s chain at her inauguration. Reminiscent of the Jesuit seal, it is surrounded by the sun, and accented by three nails symbolizing the crucifixion. At its center is the University seal, similar to SCU seals before 1963.